Big changes aren’t expected in US policy towards Cuba, regardless of who enters the White House next year. But the devil may be in the detail.
HAVANA TIMES – Five years ago, the US embassy in Havana reopened its doors in front of the sea, as part of a historic rapprochement which was cast into the shadows after Donald Trump became president. What lies in wait for Cuba after the November US elections?
The following are some questions that AFP news agency asked both analysts as well as citizens, when the US elections stand at less than three months away, between Republican Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
What will happen if Trump is reelected?
Trump reversed progress made in US-Cuba relations, which was spearheaded by his predecessor Barack Obama. Once in the White House, Trump came down harder with the embargo that the US has been applying against the island ever since 1962, amidst the new COVID-19 pandemic.
Washington accuses the Cuban government of oppressing its people and seeks the downfall of socialism on the island by applying sanctions. Cuba rejects these accusations and considers these measures “genocidal”.
“A second presidential term for Trump will mean more of the same old,” political expert Jorge Gomez Barata says, while Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, doesn’t believe that “relations will improve in any meaningful way.”
However, Arturo Lopez-Levy, professor at Holy Names University, in California, predicts a possible turn of events: “Trump is a strange president with a large ego. His policy towards any country is defined, to a great extent, by his gut and his vision of a legacy (…) I wouldn’t rule out him trying to negotiate with Cuba.”
Will Biden reinstate Obama’s policy?
“There was a lot of hope that both countries might be more at peace with another during Obama’s time as president,” 39-year-old Yaimi Blanco says, who lives near the embassy, whose neighboring streets were full of people trying to apply for a visa to visit their families, back in 2015.
However, in 2017, Washington suspended consular services, claiming alleged “sonic” attacks against its diplomats, something the Cuban government rejects.
“Democrats have always sought a rapprochement with Cuba more than the Republicans, and that’s what we hope for, for a Democrat to win. Even if everything doesn’t change it will at least get better,” retired 62-year-old Jose Maria Delgado believes.
He lives near the so-called Plaza de los Suspiros (Sighs Square), where visa applicants used to wait their turn to go into the embassy, and it’s empty today.
“Biden should reinstate Obama’s policy, but it’s symptomatic for a presidential candidate not to stress anything on this issue, and he is trying to win Cuban votes in Florida by appealing to matters on the progressive agenda,” Lopez-Ley points out.
Duany notes that Biden has promised that, once elected president, he would return to “the Obama-era policy towards Cuba” “to a large extent”. However, at the same time, he has insisted that Cuba “needs to meet the commitments made during the Obama administration. Nothing clear has been stated in this regard, about what specific measures he would take.”
“The ridiculous thing is that this promise (from Biden) is that these commitments (with Obama) never existed,” academic Jesus Arboleya points out.
According to Barata, “Cuba won’t be one of Biden’s priorities.”
Will the they lift sanctions affecting investments and oil imports?
Trump’s government activated the waiver on Title III of the Helms-Burton act, which allows the US to sue companies who do business with assets nationalized by Fidel Castro’s revolution.
Trump would uphold this measure, Duany feels. “It is a symbolic gesture more than anything else in his campaign against socialism, both in Cuba and the US.”
Lopez-Levy believes that sanctions on oil imports destined for Cuba will be lifted if Biden wins. These are justified by Trump for the island’s allegiance to Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela.
However, Lopez-Levy believes that this might also be possible under Trump. “He has been warned about the setbacks of Venezuela’s opposition movement,” which promoted this measure in the first place.
“Biden has declared that he will uphold financial sanctions against Cuba for its support for Maduro,” something that both candidates agree on, Duany says.
What will happen to cruise ships and flight restrictions?
The Trump administration suspended cruise ship visits to the island and restricted flights to Cuba. Last Wednesday, the suspension of private charter flights was also announced, except for those traveling for medical purposes.
“I doubt a Biden administration would allow cruise ships to immediately return,” Duany points out.
According to Lopez-Levy, “with COVID-19 rampant in the US, and especially in Florida, this isn’t a top priority for better or worse.”
Ionel Suarez, 51, and the owner of a bar in Old Havana believes, “There won’t be any choice with Trump, anyone will be better than him.” Suarez’s business benefitted greatly from the influx of US tourists during Obama’s time as president.