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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs > Releases > Fact Sheets > 2003
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
July 30, 2003

U.S. Cuba Policy

U.S. policy toward Cuba is intended to encourage a rapid, peaceful transition to a democratic government characterized by open markets and respect for human rights. The policy seeks to encourage change in Cuba so that it joins the democratic hemisphere, becoming a good neighbor to other nations in the region. President Bush introduced his Initiative for a New Cuba in a May 20, 2002 speech. The initiative is based on the President's commitment to reward even incremental moves by Cuba toward greater political and economic openness with improved relations with the U.S. and removal of some of the punitive elements of the policy. It also proposes a number of humanitarian measures.

U.S. policy has both persuasive tools and dissuasive tools to reach these goals. Persuasive tools include an outreach program, initiated in 1999, which encourages contacts between ordinary Americans and ordinary Cubans in the belief that such contacts will increase Cubans' understanding of the U.S. system of government and could aid them in the development of civil society, which could play a central role in a democratic transition. The U.S. also supports the development of civil society in Cuba through targeted funding of NGOs. The President’s initiative calls for increased support of NGOs as well as a program of scholarships for Cubans not associated with the Cuban Government.

Dissuasive tools include the embargo and travel restrictions on U.S. residents. The embargo was codified in the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Libertad or Helms-Burton Act), although the 2000 Agricultural Appropriations Act removed the embargo on food sales to the Cuban Government, albeit while prohibiting financing by U.S. persons. That same act codified the travel restrictions.

Sanctions, specifically the embargo and travel restrictions on U.S. residents, are central components of U.S. policy. As long as Cuba is not free, the administration intends to keep U.S. policy elements designed to bring about a democratic transition. It does not make sense from an overall policy point of view, nor in particular with respect to dealing with Fidel Castro's regime, to make unilateral concessions.

On human rights, the U.S. works to provide assistance (through independent third parties) and aid to dissidents and independent thinkers on the island. At every opportunity we urge freedom for all political prisoners. In the international arena, the U.S. strives for recognition of Cuban’s poor human rights record and assistance in pushing that country toward freedom and democracy. We have successfully worked to have strong resolutions on Cuba's human rights practices adopted at the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR). In 2002, Latin American nations for the first time drafted and introduced a CHR resolution critical of Cuba’s human rights situation. The resolution was adopted with the support of almost all Latin American nations.

On migration, U.S. policy is to encourage only safe, legal, and orderly migration. The Cubans agreed to accept interdicted Cuban migrants whom we find do not have a claim to protection, and not to persecute such returnees. We agreed to document 20,000 Cubans annually for migration to the United States.

Ever since Castro came to power 44 years ago, the U.S. Government has been thinking about, preparing for, and especially seeking to encourage the end of his regime.

The Cuban Government argues that a transition is already underway and that the system will not change once Fidel Castro is gone. As Castro still controls the day-to-day functions of the government, often down to the minutest details, the U.S. has seen no sign of a transition. Most foreign observers believe the immediate post-Castro government will be dominated by his brother and present ministers, but will, in a period of time, be forced to change by public demands for reform.

Other foreign governments agree with the United States that the key to a peaceful transition is the development of civil society in Cuba. This is easier said than done. The communist regime’s tight control on all aspects of Cuban life leaves no room for independent institutions. The Catholic Church, while independent, is limited in its operations and relatively weak in influence. The island has seen a growth in evangelical churches, but they remain loosely organized and for the most part non-political. The dissident community struggles against a powerful police apparatus, with its members being locked away for years for acts as small as criticizing the government. There is small, but growing, groups of independent librarians and journalists. Project Varela, a movement to raise 10,000 signatures to call for a referendum to institute democratic reforms, is a positive sign of citizens attempting to create a civil society.

Human Rights
The government's human rights record remains poor. It continues to violate systematically the fundamental civil and political rights of its citizens. Citizens do not have the right to change their government peacefully. Prisoners have died in jail due to lack of medical care. Members of the security forces and prison officials continue to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and prisoners. The government has failed to prosecute or adequately sanction members of the security forces and prison guards who have committed abuses. Prison conditions remain harsh. The authorities continue routinely to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain, imprison, and defame human rights advocates and members of independent professional associations, including journalists, economists, doctors, and lawyers, often with the goal of coercing them into leaving the country.

The government uses internal and external exile against opponents and it routinely offers political prisoners the choice of exile or continued imprisonment. The government denies political dissidents and human rights advocates due process and subjects them to unfair trials. The government infringes on citizens' privacy rights. The government denies citizens the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association. It limits the distribution of foreign publications and news, reserving them for selected party faithful, and maintains strict censorship of news and information to the public.

The government restricts some religious activities but permits others. Before and after the January 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II, the government permitted some public processions on feast days, and reinstated Christmas as an official holiday; however, it has not responded to the papal appeal that the Church be allowed to play a greater role in society. In 2001, two new priests from Paraguay entered the country. However, the applications of many priests and religious workers remained pending, and some visas were issued for periods of only 3 to 6 months.

The government keeps tight restrictions on freedom of movement, including foreign travel. The government is sharply and publicly antagonistic to all criticism of its human rights practices and discourages foreign contacts with human rights activists. Violence against women, especially domestic violence, and child prostitution is a problem. Racial discrimination occurs. The government severely restricts worker rights, including the right to form independent unions. The government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children; however, it requires children to do farm work without compensation during their summer vacation.

Cuba Since September 11, 2001
The Cuban Government's attitude and behavior after 9/11/2001 has been unrelentingly negative to the objective of the global coalition against terrorism. While Cuba responded with apparently authentic humanitarian concern on the day of the tragedy – offering to land planes and donate blood products – its rhetoric since then has been little different from that of, for example, Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It has blamed the attacks on U.S. policies; suggested that Cuba itself has been the victim of worse "terrorism" (at the hands of Cuban-American exiles); and repeatedly cast doubt that bin Laden and al-Qaida were behind the attacks. Worse still, Cuba calls the global coalition's war on terrorism a "war for terrorism."

In his November 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Perez Roque made the following deeply offensive and patently false remarks:

"The war in Afghanistan must be stopped. The Government of the United States must acknowledge that it has made a mistake ... (it) has targeted children, the civilian population, and the International Red Cross facilities as enemies."

Cuba claims to want to work with us on terrorism matters, but continues to attack the global coalition's efforts to root out terrorism. When asked in the weeks following 9/11 to provide information on al-Qaida and the international terrorism network, none of the data it provided was timely or useful.

Following the U.S. decision to use Guantánamo for detainees, Cuba made no official negative statements on the use and temporarily lessened its overall rhetoric against our anti-terror campaign. This lessening only lasted a couple of months, however, until public attacks against our efforts again rose both in the Cuban press and in public statements by Cuban officials, such as its foreign minister’s remarks at the UN Commission in Human Rights. The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs has been singled out for grossly false personal attacks, a practice we have told the Government of Cuba (GOC) to stop, so far without success.

Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism
Initial Designation
Cuba was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982, principally for supporting terrorist groups in Latin America.

  • Cuba was providing support for terrorist organizations, including Puerto Rican nationalists FALN, the FMLN of El Salvador, and the FSLN of Nicaragua.

  • Cuba helped transship Soviet arms to Nicaragua and El Salvador, for use by terrorist organizations, trained anti-American insurgents elsewhere in Latin America, and supported insurgencies or war efforts in Angola and Ethiopia.

Current Status 

  • Cuba remains on the list for supporting designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and for harboring fugitives from U.S. justice, including domestic terrorists.

  • Cuba provides a safe haven to U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, including the FARC, ELN and ETA. The longtime official IRA representative in Havana also was arrested in Colombia in 2001 along with two other IRA members on suspicion of providing advanced explosives training to the FARC. Their trial is ongoing in Bogotá.

  • Cuba harbors fugitives from U.S. justice, including domestic terrorists from the FALN - Macheteros.

Statutory Requirements for Deletion From the Terrorism List
[Current List of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations

The Cuban Government has taken no action -- nor indicated any intention to take any action -- to satisfy the statutory requirements to get off the list. By statute, in order to rescind the Secretary's determination that a country should be placed on the Terrorism List, the President must submit a report to Congress in advance certifying that:

  • There has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the listed country;

  • The government of the country no longer supports international terrorism; and,

  • The government of that country has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

Alternatively, the President can rescind the determination by submitting a report to Congress certifying that:

  • The government of the Terrorism List country has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6 months; and,

  • The government of the Terrorism List country has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
Cuba Doesn't Pass the Test

It would be impossible to make such a certification with respect to Cuba at this time.
  • There has been no fundamental change in the leadership or policies of the Cuban Government.

  • The Cuban Government supports known foreign terrorist organizations, including the evidence of its support for wanted Chilean terrorists, and sheltering domestic U.S. terrorists.
Additional Considerations
  • Notwithstanding its decision not to oppose the placement of unlawful combatant detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba's reaction to the global war on terrorism was little different from that of Iraq.
  • The Cuban Government called our response worse than the original attacks -- militaristic, and fascist.

  • In November 2001 Cuban Foreign Minister Perez Roque told the UN General Assembly that the United States was intentionally targeting Afghan children for death and Red Cross hospitals.

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