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The change in policy toward Cuba, announced June 16 in Miami by U.S. President Donald Trump, implies a setback in several aspects of bilateral relations, while remaining in place are a portion of the modest advances made under the Obama administration, since December 17, 2014.
Granma shares the opinions and analysis of important academics, politicians, and media on both sides of the Florida Straits, with the goal of providing context to Trump’s statements and clarifying their possible impact on the future of relations between the two countries.
1. THE PRESIDENT WAS REPAYING A DEBT TO THE RIGHT WING IN MIAMI
The content of his statement, the place chosen to make it, and the audience joining the President in a Miami theater that bears the name of a Playa Girón mercenary, Manuel Artime, confirm the suppositions of many analysts that the head of state took the advice of a handful of individuals who do not represent majority public opinion in the U.S., or the Cuban emigre community there.
U.S. attorney Robert Muse, who has much experience studying relations between Washington and Havana, told Granma, “I believe the President is repaying political debts to Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Díaz-Balart.”
Thanks to their proximity to Trump, their regular political maneuvering and use of their positions on important Congressional bodies as bargaining chips, the two Republican legislators have become key White House advisors.
“Trump’s new policy toward Cuba is dictated by domestic political considerations, not foreign policy interests,” noted William Leogrande, professor of Government at American University, adding, “The President himself said he was repaying a political debt he owes conservative Cuban-Americans for their support during the election campaign.”
2. CHANGES IMPACT U.S. INTERESTS AND HARM THE CUBAN PEOPLE
In hiseagerness to please the far right in Florida and undo the legacy of his Democratic predecessor, Trump chose to ignore the interests of broad sectors in the United States and reinforce the blockade policy that causes great harm to the Cuban people. His slogan, “America First” does not appear to apply in the case of Cuba.
“The changes are serious: no transactions with Cuban enterprises affiliated with the armed forces, and a return to travel rules that require people-to-people educational travel to be in groups under the auspices of licensed organizations,” commented Phil Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center.
“This is a hollow retreat from normalization that takes a swipe at Americans’ freedom to travel, at our national interest, and at the people of Cuba who yearn to reconnect with us – all just to score a political favor with a small and dwindling faction here at home,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, who has long favored better relations with Cuba.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recalled the importance of its exchanges with the Cuban Academy of Sciences over the last two years, noting that the countries share weather, waters, and diseases.
“Science has no borders,” the organization insisted after indicating that efforts will continue to foster ties with its Cuban counterpart.
Agricultural groups criticized Trump’s position, noting that the policy change could slow the increase in exports to Cuba, which, according to Reuters, were valued at 221 million dollars in 2016.
This figure was reached despite the fact that prohibitions remain in place on the granting of credit to Cuba to buy food, obliging the country to pay in cash, up front.
Another contradiction cited by experts is the new policy’s alleged focus on defending national security.
Close to a dozen former high-ranking U.S. officials sent a letter to Trump’s National Security Advisor, General H. R. McMaster, in April, stating that cutting ties with Cuba would have negative repercussions on the country’s security, and that the island could be an important ally in combating drug trafficking and responding to emergencies.
3. SANCTIONING COMPANIES LINKED TO THE REVOLUTIONARY ARMED FORCES (FAR) AND INTELLIGENCE SERVICES IS A LONGSTANDING ASPIRATION OF THE CUBAN-AMERICAN RIGHT
The aspiration to deliver a blow to this sector dates back years among Cuban-American politicians, who despite their success in reinforcing the blockade have not been able to sink the Cuban economy.
In June of 2015, Marco Rubio presented a bill in the Senate to prohibit any transactions with companies affiliated with the Cuban military.
Likewise, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for 2017, considered by the House of Representatives, contained a clause toward the same end, proposed by Díaz-Balart.
Both initiatives failed to win approval in Congress, so the two politicians took advantage of the opportunity to include their pet projects in Trump’s policy change directive.
Many companies administered by the FAR are among the most efficient and productive in the country, creating goods and services of added value and employing hundreds of thousands of people. Their earnings, unlike those of businesses in other countries around the world, are re-invested to improve the people’s quality of life.
4. RUBIO & DÍAZ-BALART FACE MAJORITY REJECTION OF THEIR POLITICS
According to U.S. media, includingThe Hill, the first drafts of Trump’s Cuba policy directive included much more severe measures, from completely breaking-off diplomatic relations to again including Cuba on the government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Nevertheless, the more radical ideas of Rubio and Díaz-Balart ran up against extensive support for the rapprochement policy within U.S. government agencies themselves, and broad sectors of society.
Over the last few months, more than 40 companies linked to the travel industry, led by giants like Google and Marriot; Congress people from both parties; Cuban émigré organizations; and the principal U.S. media outlets; as well as a wide spectrum of political and social leaders of civil entities on the island, sent Trump messages expressing the opinion that ties between Washington and Havana should be maintained.
Collin Laverty, president of the Cuba Educational Travel agency, told Granma, referring to the Trump administration, “They are stuck between public opinion, which favors travel and trade, and their concessions to Rubio and Diaz-Balart. For that reason they are still figuring it out. The President said he “cancelled Obama’s deal.” In reality, he only tinkered at the edges because he knows Obama’s opening to Cuba was popular.”
5. OBAMA MADE NO CONCESSIONS TO CUBA
One of the ideas asserted by the President in his speech was the need to put an end to supposed “unilateral concessions” to Cuba on the part of Barack Obama, after the December 17, 2014, announcements.
However, in not one of the 22 agreements signed over the last two years can a single measure be found which exclusively benefits Cuba.
To work jointly in the face of an oil spill in the Florida Straits; to combat cyber-crime, terrorism, and drug trafficking; reinforce the security of maritime navigation; or share experiences in the fight against cancer, benefit both the United States and Cuba equally.
Likewise, the limited changes Obama made in the implementation of the blockade are clearly in the interest of the United States and were intentionally meant to favor specific sectors of Cuban society.
6. TRUMP RESORTS TO COLD WAR RHETORIC
If many of the measures announced by Trump were expected by analysts, the big surprise was the crude, offensive rhetoric used in reference to Cuba, recalling the Cold War era the two countries had begun to overcome.
“It should not surprise us,” said Luis René Fernández, professor and researcher at the University of Havana’s Center for Hemispheric Studies and on the United States (CEHSEU), who recalled the President’s past as a reality show host, and said, “The real motive behind Trump’s rhetoric were the internal political difficulties he faces, and the setting in Miami, where he was surrounded by ignorant, reactionary groups.”
History has shown that even in the worse situations – like the special period in the 1990s after the collapse of the socialist camp and the tightening of the blockade – Cuba survived and begin a successful recovery, the Cuban academic noted, adding, “Obviously, today, we are in a better condition to confront this antiquated, failed policy.”
7. CUBA NEVER NEGOTIATES UNDER PRESSURE
Cuba and the United States have a long history of negotiations, both secret and public, that have taken place as early as the Kennedy administration, and through that of Barack Obama. One constant has been Havana’s position refusing to submit to pressure or coercion, or negotiate any aspect of the country’s sovereignty.
“Anyone who understands Cuba knows that finger pointing, name calling and threats will not produce results,” Laverty said.
The Revolutionary Government Statement released after Trump’s speech reaffirms this principle citing its declaration of July 1, 2015, released after the exchange of letters reestablishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, which reads, “These relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every state to choose its own political, economic, social, and cultural system, without interference of any kind; and on equality and reciprocity, which constitute irrevocable principles of international law, as stated in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by heads of state and government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), during its 2nd Summit, in Havana.” and concludes, “Cuba has not renounced these principles, and never will.”
8. NOT ALL DOORS ARE SHUT
Specialists consulted by Granma agree that the change in Trump’s policy constitutes a setback to relations, but that there is still room for the two countries to find ways to cooperate.
“Despite the political rhetoric, the Trump administration wants to work with the Cuban government on areas of mutual interest such as law enforcement and counter-narcotics cooperation,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, an organization lobbying in Washington for the lifting of the blockade.
To date, none of the 22 agreements signed between the countries in various areas has been vacated, Professor Leogrande noted, as a hopeful sign.
The Cuban academic, Luis René Fernández, points out that, despite the fact that Trump has chosen to return to a failed policy, Cuba will continue its successful process of updating its economic model, which is opening up many possibilities.
9. CONGRESS: ANOTHER FIELD OF ACTION
Although the President has broad executive powers to direct foreign policy, and to modify implementation of the blockade, the country’s aggressive policy toward Cuba is largely established by Congress.
There are, at this time, several Congressional proposals both in favor and against ties with Cuba. One of these has been introduced in the Senate by Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Patrick Leahy, to end the travel ban.
This is not the first time such initiatives have been attempted, but on this occasion, bipartisan support is evident, with more than 50 Senators signing on as co-sponsors of the bill.
“Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people. It is time for the Senate leadership to finally allow a vote on my bipartisan bill to fully lift these archaic restrictions which do not exist for travel by Americans to any other country in the world,” Flake wrote in a statement released after Trump’s speech..
According to Reuters, Flake believes that if the bill were put to a vote, it would be supported by 70 of the body’s 100 members. For it to become law, however, a similar bill would need to be approved in the House of Representatives, where the balance of support is not so favorable, although the environment is better than last year.
“We are already seeing an outpouring of criticism of this new policy from Republicans in Congress. We expect this announcement will serve as a catalyst for Congress to step up and remove restrictions on travel and trade once and for all,” Williams said.
10. WE MUST WAIT FOR NEW REGULATIONS TO BE DRAFTED TO SEE THE REAL IMPACT OF THIS POLICY CHANGE
The policy directive signed by Trump vacates the previous one issued by Obama and provides general guidelines on the implementation of new restrictions on travel and trade.
It nevertheless projects a time period of 30 to 90 days to allow for the preparation of specific regulations by the different agencies involved.
It is difficult to predict the exact scope and possible impact of Trump’s new policies before these regulations go into effect and the fine print that will guide their implementation is known.