By Guillermo Nova (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Donald Trump entering the White House meant a return to the times when hostile language was used against the Cuban government, but, this time, without becoming a confrontation similar to the Cold War years.
After two years of a historic rapprochement process between the US and Cuban governments, which translated into signing bilateral agreements that allowed the first direct flights to the island and cruise ships to arrive after years of these being suspended, Trump taking power has been like a bucket of cold water for Cuban expectations.
“Up until now, Trump’s policy towards Cuba has been one of open confrontation, which can not only be seen in the economic measures that have been taken which reinforce the embargo, but also in Trump’s own rhetoric which is becoming more and more bitter and repetitive,”
Harold Bertot, professor and researcher at the Center for Hemispheric and United States Studies at Havana University, told dpa.
His swearing into office put many Cubans on the alert as they waited for Trump’s hard-hitting reaction against the island and the Cuban government remained strategically silent to see what would happen. However, the Republican waited until last June to announce his first measures.
Trump banned US companies from doing business with Cuban companies that are run by Armed Forces and has reinforced restrictions on US citizens traveling to the island, saying they can only travel in groups.
US citizens were already banned by their own government from traveling to Cuba for tourism purposes before Trump, their trips had to be made and fall under a dozen categories such as cultural, religious or academic exchanges.
In spite of these restrictions, the Obama Administration made the application to travel more flexible and US citizens traveling to Cuba went up by 74% in 2016 alone, when compared to figures from the year before.
Tourism is one of the main sources of hard-currency revenue for Cuba’s badly damaged economy and so standing in the way of this has been the Trump Administration’s main objective.
The most tense moment in US-Cuban relations came when the US government denounced that its diplomats living on the island had suffered a series of alleged “sonic attacks” which caused them symptoms such as nausea, dizziness or hearing loss, to name a few.
The United States first withdrew the majority of its diplomatic personnel in Havana even though it wasn’t able to identify the concrete cause of these ailments, while the Cuban government opened up its own investigation which ended up concluding that this was all just a lie.
In spite of this diplomatic crisis, Trump kept the US Embassy in Havana open and, especially, didn’t put Cuba back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism.
However, the United States closed down its consulate in Havana which dealt with Cuban visa applications and now people must travel to Colombia or Mexico in order to apply for visas to travel to the United States, whether that’s a part of its family reunification program, for a holiday or any other reason.
Even though Trump had promised to reverse all agreements made under Obama with the Cuban government if it didn’t change its political system, he didn’t suspend cruise ships traveling to the island, direct flights or remittances.
He didn’t reverse the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy which Obama revoked in his last days at the White House, which gave Cubans who set foot on US soil immigration privileges.
“It’s hard to know how much Trump, and the rest of his Government, are interested in Cuba to consider it a priority on its foreign policy agenda,” Bertot pointed out. “It was in Obama’s last years in office. It’s very likely that isn’t right now, but we don’t know if it will,” he reflected.
That’s why many people in Cuba are asking themselves what measures Trump will take and in what direction. “Trump has proven himself to be very unpredictable in many aspects and it’s very hard to bet on what his next steps will be in the future,” Bertot concluded, highlighting the fact that “everything seems to indicate that US policy can or might not get even more hardline, but it won’t seek to normalize relations right now.”