Has Trump reversed his position on Cuba rapprochement?

Most of the attention paid to Donald Trump’s appearance in Florida this week was on his comments about taking the guns away from Hillary Clinton’s security detail, but there were substantive issues under discussion as well. Overlooked in most of the cable news feeding frenzy was Trump’s suggestion that the current White House policy regarding Cuba wasn’t working and would need a fresh look. (NBC News)

The Republican nominee also shifted his policy on Cuba Friday, telling the Miami crowd that cheered when he asked how many of them were Cuban that he would reverse Obama’s orders on Cuba “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”

“Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners, the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump outlined. Then, polling the crowd on his just laid out policy, Trump asked, “Right? Am I — is that right?” The crowd cheered.

Trump, who has been known to add spontaneous riffs into his prepared remarks, took it upon himself to add the caveat of freeing political prisoners to his list of demands from Cuba in order to keep diplomatic relations open.

The press is treating this as an “about face” on his Cuba policy, or a reversal or even a flip flop. That approach serves the media narrative that Trump isn’t a serious policy guy and hasn’t thought these things through. But is it really a change? The media is largely relying on a single statement The Donald made more than a year ago in the early stages of rapprochement, when he said, “I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba is fine.” Beyond that we only seem to have an offhand comment in July of this year suggesting that investing in Cuba might be a good idea at some point, but it wouldn’t be a good move now.

Excuse my lack of faith in NBC analysis here, but is this really a reversal? At the time Obama originally announced it, Trump said the move might be okay but that we needed a better deal. Now he’s telling Floridians that he would look at backing out of the deal Obama made unless the Castro regime meets our demands. That sounds like calling for a better deal to me.

I can’t take much issue with Trump’s position on Cuban rapprochement because I really didn’t have much of a position myself. I wrote here back when it first came up that I didn’t have high hopes for this really improving the situation, but what we’d been doing for most of my lifetime hadn’t worked at all so we might as well try something different for a while. I don’t know that Trump is being very realistic in saying that he would “demand” political freedom and the release of prisoners, but we’ve had plenty of presidents who made unrealistic demands in the name of a good photo op. Then again, who knows? Now that some business is actually underway, the Cubans have more to lose if we shut off the pipeline again. Perhaps some additional concessions could be extracted from the Castro family.


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David Strom 10:01 AM on February 06, 2023