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Baker Institute Update: Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia visits; 5 Questions on U.S.-Cuba relations

October 11, 2016: In this edition
Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia discusses challenges in the Caucasus

His Excellency Edward Nalbandian, foreign minister of the Republic of Armenia, discussed the geopolitical challenges in the Caucasus and Armenia’s foreign policy direction as part of a Director’s Lecture Series event on Sept. 26. The Director’s Lecture Series was created and endowed by Baker Institute Director Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian and Mrs. Françoise Djerejian to provide a specific forum for Baker Institute Roundtable members, faculty and students to engage in the most relevant and pressing issues we face today.

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Five questions on U.S.-Cuba Relations

The Oct. 27 Baker Institute event “U.S.-Cuba Relations Beyond 2016: Trade, Investment and Political Outlooks” will convene experts from Cuba and the United States to discuss the rapidly developing political, business and legal ties between the two countries and the reforms necessary to facilitate trade and investment opportunities. In advance of the event, Erika de la Garza, program director of the Latin America Initiative, responded to five questions about the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

So far, what steps have had the most significant impact in the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba?

The Obama administration announced policy changes toward Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014 — a landmark day that Cubans refer to as “D-17.” A few months later, President Obama traveled to Cuba. To have a sitting U.S. president visit the island for the first time in 88 years was a huge step — the most significant one as far as perceptions about the U.S. are concerned. From the Cuban standpoint, after decades of what they considered U.S. harassment toward their country — which included the failed assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, potential invasions and economic sanctions — the U.S. was finally extending an olive branch. Removing Cuba from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism was another important step, one that opened the door for the U.S. to lift certain economic restrictions and paved the way to restoring diplomatic relations.  

What types of reforms are needed to facilitate trade and investment opportunities between the two countries?

From the U.S. side, there have been significant changes to help facilitate trade. The U.S. Department of Commerce, for example, has revised license exceptions and modified licensing policies in certain export categories. One license exception was Support for the Cuban People (SCP), which allows exports of certain items to Cuba to support quality of life, economic activity and other social conditions. Under this and other exceptions, building materials, tools and equipment for use of private sector agricultural activities, and certain personal computers, mobile phones and other devices that facilitate the free flow of information can now be exported and re-exported. However, many restrictions and sanctions are still in place under the U.S. trade and travel embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress. Our panelists at the conference will discuss in-depth what Cuba is doing and needs to do to improve trade opportunities.  

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, one of the featured speakers for the conference, and the Greater Houston Partnership visited Cuba last week on a trade mission. What kinds of opportunities could Texas and Houston capitalize on through improved U.S.-Cuba relations?

There are a number of interesting economic opportunities for Texas to explore with Cuba in the areas of health care, sports, agribusiness and hospitality, among others. Mayor Turner traveled to Cuba with representatives from the Texas Medical Center, the Port of Houston Authority, the Houston Airport System, other government agencies and the business community. Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food. Texas agricultural exports, for example, could certainly benefit from looser trade restrictions on Cuba. For instance, Congress is considering measures that would allow Cubans to use credit to buy American goods. Under current U.S. trade policy, Cuban importers are forced to pay cash, which has put Texas (and U.S.) farmers at a disadvantage in the region. Houston can also position itself as a gateway to and from the United States. United Airlines will begin operating a nonstop flight between Houston and Havana starting in December. However, travel restrictions will still apply, and U.S. citizens can only travel to Cuba if they qualify under the allowed categories — tourism is not one of them.  

What political or economic issues could cause setbacks in the continued strengthening of ties? Is there anything that could trigger a return to the previous severed relationship?

I would say the genie is three-fourths out of the bottle and it would be extremely hard to put it back in. However, numerous sticking points that are challenging to resolve still remain between the two nations. The U.S. trade and travel embargo — or bloqueo, as Cubans refer to it — is a major barrier that needs to be addressed by Congress. The U.S. military base in Guantánamo is another sore spot in the relationship and one that isn’t easy to resolve. Furthermore, the settlement of claims, which is an extremely complicated issue, will need to be addressed. The U.S. government, on behalf of U.S. companies and citizens, is seeking compensation for property confiscated by the Cuban government, while the Cuban government has its own claims for damages allegedly imposed by U.S. aggressions.

Has the transformation in the U.S.-Cuba bilateral relationship improved the United States' image in the region?

Absolutely. Latin America pays a lot of attention to what happens in Cuba. U.S. policy toward Cuba has been regarded negatively, and the embargo is considered a failed, intransigent policy. The change in direction the Obama administration has begun has been extremely well received throughout the region, and it’s been long overdue.

The rapprochement between the United States and Cuba is the single most important “event” in U.S.-Latin American policy in recent decades. Unfortunately, the next steps and changes will come about at a slower pace than the events that preceded them. Despite the many challenges and unwanted consequences the changes will bring, this historic period is thrilling to witness. 

Click here for more information about the conference and to register to attend.

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Upcoming Events
  • The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East. Featured speaker Marc Lynch discusses his new book,"The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East," which examines the international dimensions of the wars devastating the Arab world. October 13 | 6:30 pm
  • Political Reform in China. Four experts examine the current state of reforms in China and examine what lies ahead for China’s political future and economic development. This event is co-sponsored by the Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University. October 17 | 4 pm
  • Science Advice for Policy Decisions: Is Anyone Listening? Featured Speaker Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, discusses the importance of policy-relevant science that is also policy neutral. This event is part of the Civic Scientist Lecture Series. October 21 | 8 am
  • The Will to Lead: America's Indispensable Role in the Global Fight for Freedom. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO secretary general and former prime minister of Denmark, talks about his latest book, "The Will to Lead: America's Indispensable Role in the Global Fight for Freedom." October 24 | 6 pm
  • India Still Rising? The Honorable David C. Mulford, former U.S. ambassador to India and current vice chairman international of Credit Suisse, offers his views on India's economic progress and geopolitical challenges. October 25 | 5:30 pm
  • U.S.-Cuba Relations Beyond 2016: Trade and Investment Outlook. Experts from Cuba and the U.S. analyze political and economic outlooks between the two countries, as well as the current investment framework in Cuba and the reforms necessary to facilitate trade and investment. October 27 | 8 am
  • Global Competitiveness and the Texas Economy. A panel of representatives from government, business and academia offers firsthand feedback on the role government can play in helping Texas workers and businesses compete and succeed in the global economy. October 28 | 8:30 am
  • Veterans and Viewpoints: Member Mixer and Book Signing. The Baker Institute Roundtable and Roundtable Young Professionals host a special Veterans Day celebration featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Robert Olen Butler and Bruce Weigl, who both served in the Vietnam War and will offer unique perspectives on their military experience. November 2 | 6 p.m.
  • Roundtable Exclusive: Election Night Watch Party. Join fellow members of the Roundtable and Roundtable Young Professionals for a night of fun, food and politics and watch the election results roll in live on the big screen. November 8 | 6:30 pm
  • Impunity, Corruption and the Rule of Law in Mexico. At this event, three leading experts discuss their research findings and activism on impunity and corruption in Mexico, and the challenges ahead. November 10 | 6:30 pm
  • De Lange Conference X: Humans, Machines and the Future of Work. This conference, hosted by the De Lange Conference, focuses on issues that will be created by the impact of information technology on labor markets over the next 25 years. The event will be held at Rice’s Bioscience Research Collaborative Building. December 5-6 | 7:30 am

For a complete list, visit our event page.

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