A year after Barack Obama’s historic visit to Havana
HAVANA TIMES — A year after Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba, the first visit a United States president had made to the island in almost 90 years, the euphoria which triggered the “thawing” of relations between the two countries has disappeared. It has given way to uncertainty ever since Donald Trump became president, and who still hasn’t made a move, EFE news agency reports.
Obama’s visit, landing in Havana on a rainy March 20, 2016, with his family, mother-in-law included, marked the climax of the process begun on December 17, 2014, when after half a century of enmity, the island and its powerful neighbor announced to the world that they had embarked on a path to reconciliation.
The whole world had its eyes on the Caribbean country when Obama’s Air Force One plane landed in what had been called in the US the “forbidden island” up until then, a landing which kicked off a busy schedule for the leader which included meetings with president Raul Castro, small business people and dissidents.
However, even though it has only been a year since Obama and Castro shook hands in Cuba, the political landscape has radically changed and a hypothetical handshake between the younger of the Castro brothers and the new resident of the White House doesn’t seem likely in the near future.
The reality is there was no Plan B in preparation for this kind of scenario.
After the initial astonishment in Havana when Trump was elected as US President in November, there was a race against the clock to consolidate the most bilateral agreements they could before the new Administration would come into power.
Ever since Trump has taken office, no new document has been signed – that we know of – and all high-ranking state visits have been put on standby.
In the last three months, only a large financial lobby from the city of Chicago and a group of senators have traveled to Cuba and been received by Raul Castro.
The new US President hadn’t revealed himself to be against the “thawing process” in the early stages of his presidentaial campaign, but just before the elections he changed his stance, something which was interpreted as an attempt to win over votes from the anti-Castro Cuban exile community in Florida.
Trump then promised to reverse his predecessor’s measures in Cuba, mostly presidential directives to moderate the embargo which the US has had on Cuba for nearly 60 years now, encourage the sector of self-employed workers and promote direct contact between citizens on both sides of the Florida Strait.
He said that he would get a “better deal” because the island hadn’t made any concessions with relation to freedoms and human rights, and when the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November, Trump celebrated the occasion on social media and called him a “tyrant”.
Since then, Trump’s allusions to Cuba have come bit by bit and are being analyzed with a magnifying glass in Cuba, in search of clues to indicate what this magnate’s intentions are.
In February, Trump met with Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, a hardline critic of the Cuban Government. The meeting caused concern in Cuba, but since then, Trump has seemed to forget about his socialist neighbors.
His limited mentions of Cuba and the complex multilateral political scene, which the leader is facing since he has arrived in Washington, suggest that the Caribbean island isn’t one of his priorities.
In independent media, the theory that the Republican won’t go further in the warming of relations process still takes precedent, but he won’t go back on the advances that have already been made either, and there are even experts who maintain that he will eventually give into his pragmatism as a businessman.
In this swarm of thoughts, Raul Castro’s Government has remained quiet, which has been broken a few times to repeat the fact that Cuba wants to continue to work with the US, but without US meddling in its domestic affairs, based on mutual respect.
The first reference the Cuban government made in relation to this matter took place in January 2017, at the 5th Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in the Dominican Republic, where Raul Castro extended his hand to “continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of mutual interest with President Donald Trump’s new government.”
However, on that same stage, Raul Castro also said that no one should expect Cuba to make “inherent concessions to its sovereignty and independence” and called for the new US Government to “choose to respect the region”.
Havana’s demand that the US lift the embargo hasn’t lost force either over these past few months, although it seems very unlikely that the Republican majority in US Congress will allow this in the short and medium-term.
The standstill in the thawing process and the permanence of the embargo have come at a terrible economic time for Cuba, which entered a recession last year, which still doesn’t receive enough foreign investment, and which has suffered a cutback in energy supplies from Venezuela, mired in its own crisis.