Just three minutes here from today’s speech but it’s pure candy for Cuba hawks, straight out of a Marco Rubio internal monologue and onto the president’s podium. When the man’s right, he’s right, and he’s right about Obama’s Cuba giveaway having been one-sided, particularly in failing to demand human-rights guarantees for Cuban dissidents as part of the deal. The opposition in Cuba has its own political divisions, but per the Miami Herald, they all seem to be on the same page in believing that the U.S. needs to be tougher on the Castro regime than Obama was willing to be:
The leader of Cuba’s largest opposition organization, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), called on Trump to impose sanctions against Castro’s government, just days before the president is expected to make his announcement in Miami on Friday…
Another group of Cuban government opponents launched a petition on the change.org platform to ask Trump to support CubaDecide, a citizen initiative for a plebiscite seeking democratic changes in Cuba.
Obama’s Cuba policy strategy — favoring dialogue and betting on changes promoted by the private sector and not necessarily by dissidents — clearly divided the Cuban opposition. But many now support a policy change that emphasizes human rights and reduces the flow of foreign currency at a critical time for the Cuban government.
That’s exactly what Trump’s policy aims to do — “halt the flow of U.S. cash to the country’s military and security services in a bid to increase pressure on Cuba’s government” — although embassies will remain open and travel between the two countries will go on. Key question: Is he really angling to renegotiate Obama’s deal or is the idea of renegotiation just a fig leaf for returning to the pre-O status quo? If this is a bona fide offer to come to new terms with the regime, he’s starting with a very high ask. Free all political prisoners, he says, recognize freedom of assembly and expression, legalize all political parties, and hold internationally supervised elections if you want sanctions lifted. Essentially he’s asking a police state to stop being a police state. Won’t happen soon, but if he can get one of those things in return for economic relief and make it stick, that might be worth doing. There are benefits to Cubans potentially in liberalizing relations with the regime. Obama’s mistake was in thinking he could get Castro to soften up with nothing but carrots. Trump is bringing back the stick. For now.
The merits of this policy shift notwithstanding, it’s strange to see Trump in Rubio-esque high dudgeon about Castro when he spent the campaign softballing Russia and recently made some new best friends in Saudi Arabia, each human-rights abusers extraordinaire. His policy here isn’t so much “America First” as “Cuban Dissidents First.” Chalk that up to cold electoral calculus if you like: A Republican president can safely alienate some Russian-American or Saudi-American voters, but piss off Florida’s Cuban-Americans and you may be a one-termer. (Trump took 54 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida last November versus 41 percent for Hillary Clinton, a crucial victory in a state he won by slightly more than a point. He’s rewarding constituents who helped hand him the presidency here.) Or maybe it’s just Trump being Trump — you never know when he’ll be pro-NATO or anti-, or even pro-Qatar or anti-. Or both at the same time. He’s firmly anti-Obama, at least, which may be the deeper reason why this policy ended up in the trash.