President Donald Trump is expected to announce changes today to former President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy. It isn’t 100% known what Trump is going to announce, but most reports suggest it will mostly involve business dealings and travel. Via Reuters:
The new policy will ban most U.S. business deals with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a sprawling conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy, but make exceptions related to air and sea travel, the officials said. This will essentially shield U.S. airlines and cruise lines now serving the island.
But even as he curbs Obama’s détente with Cuba, Trump will stop short of closing embassies or breaking off diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility, U.S. officials said.
He will also leave in place some other tangible measures implemented by his Democratic predecessor, including the resumption of direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights, though Trump’s more restrictive policy seems certain to dampen new economic ties overall.
And, according to one White House official, the administration does not intend to “disrupt” existing business deals such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by Marriott International Inc, to manage a historic Havana hotel.
The New York Times reports Trump is willing to put the Obama policies back in place, but only if Cuba follows through with certain benchmarks including “free and fair elections.” Cuban workers would also have to be paid directly and political prisoners released. It sounds a bit like Trump is trying to use a carrot and stick approach to Cuba, much like Ronald Reagan did with the USSR.
The apparent change is getting praise from more hardliners, including Mike Gonzalez from Heritage Foundation. He writes in National Intercept that Castro’s regime was only strengthened by Obama.
President Obama always said he was helping Cubans with his opening, and in a technical way that is true. Alejandro Castro Espin, the ideologically unbending Leninist son of military ruler Raul Castro, is a Cuban. So is Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Calleja, the economic czar in charge of the lucrative tourist trade. Oh, Lopez Calleja is also General Castro’s son-in-law and Alejandro’s brother-in-law.
U.S. recognition and sanction of the Castros helped these two Cubans enormously in their endeavor to inherit political and economic control when General Castro, a spry eighty-five-year-old man, effected a transition from one communist Castro to another in a short nine months.
Cuba’s eleven million other citizens were not helped so much. They would have had a much better hope of a real transition to a post-communist, post-Castro, free Cuba had President Obama not promised that, in exchange for nothing, the Castro dictatorship would benefit from selling their products in the United States and receiving credits to boot.
There’s no doubt Cuba is run by a bunch of scumbags in the Castro family and its minions, who have used their military boots to stamp out any sort of personal freedom dissidents are looking for. The Castros even rounded up political opponents before Obama visited the island last year. But those promoting weakened relations with Cuba are being short-sighted because the country hasn’t become a bastion of freedom and liberty. Let’s face facts, this wasn’t going to happen overnight, and probably won’t happen for at least 20 years. But it doesn’t mean Obama’s policy change is a failure which should be tossed on the trash pile of history.
Gonzalez is wrong to assert it’s only the Cuban government which is benefiting from strengthened ties with the U.S.. Cuban citizens are now renting out homes to American tourists who visit the island alone (through Airbnb, no less!), while others are basically becoming unofficial tour guides. From CheapAir.com:
There are a few high-end hotels in Havana, but they book out very early. If you’re looking for an alternative, you can stay at the Cuban version of the Bed & Breakfast – a Casa Particular. The Casas Particulares have been a cottage industry in Cuba for many years and are an amazing way to stay in a variety of Cuban homes and experience the real Cuba. It’s now very easy to book them, as Airbnb has scouted out the very best options for travelers. You book a Casa Particular exactly as you would any other Airbnb property…Also, don’t underestimate local interest in you. Most of the time, the connections you make in Cuba can lead you to an unofficial “cousin” who drives his 1950’s era car around the island for travelers or a guy who knows a guy that can get you to Santiago on Sunday. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Cuba, despite what the government would have you believe.
It’s important to look at how everyday Cubans in Cuba reacted to the 2014 announcement of a thaw. Texas Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel, who was in Cuba when the announcement was made, told The Dallas Morning News there were plenty of celebrations.
I have some friends in Havana, and that night I went to their apartment, where they were watching a Venezuelan version of CNN trying to piece together the day’s news…They were ecstatic. And when I went home, back to the hotel, in the street there was a lot of car-honking, a lot of people celebrating. Some cars had Cuban flags they were waving. I didn’t see it — others members of our group did — but there’s an ice cream parlor there where people wait in line for hours, and the three released prisoners drove around in a car waving. There were big crowds who were just celebrating in the street as the prisoners drove by.
This is why Trump shouldn’t be changing Obama’s policy on Cuba, and should consider expanding it to allow more people, not less, to visit Cuba. Yes, Cuba isn’t the wonderful land of liberty just yet, but they’ve only enjoyed expanded relations for a year and a half. It’s understandable why people like Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz want to crack down on Cuba. But they’re being short-sighted in thinking isolation will end the Castros. It’s too bad Trump is giving into this short-sightedness as well.