MIAMI (Reuters) - The international development community, especially financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and the United States should reach out to communist Cuba as it pursues economic reforms and bring it "in from the cold," a new think tank report says.
The report published by the Brookings Institution in Washington says incipient economic reforms set in motion by Cuban President Raul Castro should be encouraged by the world's economic policy makers because history suggests that such reforms can foster political pluralism.
"In approaching Cuban economic reform, the United States should join with the international development community in nudging forward that irresistible flow of history," said the report, which will be released Friday.
The report's author, Richard Feinberg, is a non-resident senior fellow with the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He served as special assistant to President Bill Clinton for National Security Affairs and senior director of the National Security Council's (NSC) Office of Inter-American Affairs.
The Brookings publication is one of several reports by U.S. think tanks and institutions that have appeared in recent weeks urging President Barack Obama's administration to pay close attention to the reforms currently under way in Cuba, which remains the target of a long-running U.S. economic embargo.
President Castro's reforms, endorsed by Cuba's ruling Communist Party in an April Congress, include ground-breaking measures such as allowing Cubans to buy and sells cars and homes. They also widen self-employment and private business opportunities for tens of thousands of Cubans in a bid to soak up worker layoffs in the stagnant centralized state economy.
Feinberg said Cuba's moves to promote more market-oriented systems and its increasing openness to the international economy provided a "golden opportunity" for engagement, despite the persistence of conservative elements in the leadership resistant to significant political and economic change.
"My argument precisely is not to deny that there are forces of inertia there; clearly there are and they remain strong. But it is the role of the international community in circumstances such as this to lend their weight to the positive forces of change," Feinberg told Reuters.
He cited the examples of Nicaragua and Vietnam, which despite their socialist governments still maintained successful relationships with international financial institutions (IFIs) like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
"IFI staff economists and sector specialists are chomping at the bit to engage in Cuba - they should be allowed and encouraged to do so," the report said.
Revolutionary Cuba withdrew from the World Bank in 1960 and from the IMF in 1964, and since then has kept up a thunderous propaganda drumbeat against financial institutions which its leaders dismissively refer to as "tools of imperialism."
The report blamed what it called "the unyielding Cuban-American lobby" in the United States for bullying the U.S. government into blocking any outreach toward Cuba from the Washington-based IMF and World Bank.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman