What Lies in Wait for Cuba after the US Elections?

A Western Union office in Havana. Photo: cubanencuentro.com

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.

By Cubaencuentro

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.

5 thoughts on “What Lies in Wait for Cuba after the US Elections?

  • Good to read the utopic comment by Dr. Jones. I see that you are alive and well. Unfortunately, the last vestiges of the Castro dictatorship in power today in Cuba are incapable of the adaptations proposes in Dr. Jones comment. I also agree with Carlyle MacDuff’s suggestion that Cuba will barely register on Biden’s radar. The determining factor is the role that Florida will play in Biden’s election. If he wins Florida, Cuba is in play. If Biden wins the White House without winning Florida, Cuba is a non-event. If, God forbid, Trump is reelected which by definition means he won Florida…Cuba is screwed. We all are.

  • The best thing is for some elderly Cuban Americans to join with Cuban Americans in the Democratic Party to hand Florida to Joe Biden because they are disenchanted with Trump shutting down consular services at the US Embassy in Havana.

    When Karen Bass was floated as a possible running mate for Joe Biden, Florida Democrats wooed Joe Biden to not pick Bass as VP because she mourned the death of Fidel Castro and traveled to Cuba as a teenager in the 1970s. Biden thankfully rejected Bass for VP.

  • Without opposing the views expressed herein by well known and respected analysts on this matter, I would like to include my views as a old, non-specialist/analysts on Cuba, who cares very much about everything related to the wellbeing of the Cuban people.

    My perception is that most of this analyses is based upon: What will happen if Trump is reelected, will Biden re-instate the Obama policy, will they lift the sanctions affecting investments and oil imports?, and what will happen to cruise ships and flight restrictions?

    Because all analysis reverberate around a one-sided approach of these hypothetical questions, I am inclined to add to that a few things Cuba is not limited to do by anyone, such as, what could happen, if Cuba contributed to influence this outcome by:

    1.- Given the extreme risks that a second term of Donald Trump could have on the lives and future of Cuba, it is imperative for Cuba to do everything within its reach to prevent such possibility by:
    1a.- Encourage tens thousands of Cubans living abroad to return to their homeland, by suspending all prohibitions except for those having pending legal issues in their country. Reduce Passport cost by 50%, eliminate the use of Visa and invite them to invest in the mini, micro and small investments in Cuba.

    1b.- Open Customs and allow entrance of illimited amount of food, medicine etc., for their families at low a no tariff until the December 31, 2020, which will contribute to increase substantially the availability of goods in the country, which will improve good will for all.

    Simple, cost-effective measures like these can be introduced by Cuba, which will improve its relation with her community abroad, as it occurred when Obama promised in Miami, that his government would bring better relation with Cuba in 2016.

    No possibility should be ignored by Cuba, that may reduce the likelihood of a victorious Donald Trump on November 4 and more pain and suffering for our country.

  • Lots of conjecture. A few observations:

    Firstly the sonic attacks – they are I think a reality as they affected both the US and Canadian Embassy staffs. Cuba has consistently denied responsibility for the attacks, but not their reality. That poses the obvious question of if not Cuba, who else? Cuba has obvious reasons for wishing to see the end of the lines of Cubans waiting at both embassies in the hope of obtaining visas. The alternative is Putin’s Russia, which has a known practice of using rare poisons to kill individual opponents of totalitarian power, and the former KGB Colonel has a record of using the electronic world to promote international chaos by meddling in democratic elections.

    It is rather odd that Duany speaks of Trump’s “campaign against socialism, both in Cuba and the US. As an American, he is well aware of the difference between communism as practiced in Cuba, and the Bernie Sanders version of democratic socialism, and if paying attention, will have heard Sanders repeatedly express his opposition to communism. Also, the US has a communist party, and longer term contributors to these pages, may recall one commenting in these pages. Duany also drifts away from the current reality of the position of the cruise ship industry. Who would want to take the risk of such recreation – even if Biden were to encourage it – which would be a contradiction in itself.

    Lopez-Levy is much more realistic in saying that: “this isn’t a top priority for better or worse.”

    As for Barata, he is somewhat obviously correct in saying that: “Cuba won’t be one of Biden’s priorities.” Biden has matters to address that are for the US much more significant than Cuba, which is but an irritating mosquito on the buttock, whether it be of an elephant or a donkey. Also, Biden will well recall as Obama’s Vice-President, the Castro regimes rejection of overtures.

    i would advise Cubans and academics, to not bother holding their breath, this will not be a time for change in Cuba. The Castro regime will continue to cling onto power and control, irrespective of the cost for Cubans.

  • This article addresses how the U.S. may (or may not) improve relations with Cuba. As with most articles of this type, it is silent about what Cuba could do to improve the situation.

    The recent removal of the tax on dollar conversions is a small, but helpful, first step. It was part of the earlier agreement with Obama, that Cuba had not previously fulfilled.

    Protection of U.S. and Canadian diplomatic personnel in Havana is important. It is the host country’s responsibility under international law. To date, Cuba has not addressed the injuries to diplomatic personnel. That is why the U.S. Embassy was closed. If Cuba were to provide appropriate protection, in all likelihood, diplomatic relations could be re-established.

    Termination of Cuba’s support for the evil dictator and human rights abuser (Maduro) in Venezuela is hugely important. Cuba’s support of his illegitimate regime is the primary reason for increased sanctions.

    If Cuba were to do these things, relations with the U.S. would improve dramatically, and the Cuban people would benefit. It is really pretty simple…..to have a good neighbor, you need to be a good neighbor.

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