Trump’s Cuba Policy Still in Limbo
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.
7 thoughts on “Trump’s Cuba Policy Still in Limbo”
Obama could care less about Cuba or the Cuban people, his sole reason for opening up Cuba was to stick it in the eye of Republican Cubans in Florida and to prop up the Castro government so they could create Venezuela style problems for Trump. Half the Cuban population is delusional and actually believes in socialism as do the folks in Venezuela–eventually you run out of other peoples money and assets and the system collapses. The government in Cuba is running off the US by “skimming” all remittances. Rather absurd to say the least. I also have to laugh at the proposed fracking ban in Florida and outrage over offshore drilling rights when the Cubans and Chinese are drilling 50 miles off the Florida coast for oil.
Trump’s Agriculture Secretary nominee says he doesn’t oppose Congress allowing credit-based ag exports to Cuba (http://www.cubatrade.org/blog/2017/3/24/former-georgia-governor-sonny-perdue-at-confirmation-hearing-supports-exports-to-cuba), suggesting possible schisms in the Trump administration over how much of Obama’s economic overtures to Cuba to keep. However, as I’ve said before, Trump should mollify pro-sanctions Cuban-Americans in Congress by ignoring the bill and focus on a good deal to have the property claims and sanctions cancel out because Rubio complained that Obama gave any all economic leverage to Havana for nothing in return.
You are almost right. Except that without the Castros, the ideological anchor for their failed socialist experiment, the Cuban leadership is less likely to resist a change in government toward a more reasonable and productive economic strategy. Has it been 5 years. Wow! The Castro boys just won’t die, will they?
You have been saying that for more than five years and it hasn’t achieved anything. Secondly, why will Raul’s successor have to be more flexible? In order for the blockade to be dropped? According to you the blockade has little effect and that Cuba has all the rest of the world to trade with. So in that case Cuba has little reason to bother.
The best policy towards Cuba is to do nothing and wait it out. Raúl will likely die soon and Cuba will finally be rid of the Brothers from Biran. In order to survive, Raul’s successor will have to be more flexible and willing to make concessions to dissidents seeking a more democratic Cuba.
In the big picture Cuba is basically meaningless to Trump. He has countless issues on his plate that are way, way more important.
At some point I’m sure he’ll finally get around to doing something dumb, but it’s no surprise whatsoever that the White House hasn’t said peep since the election.
Obama made some very real progress, that for practical reasons makes little sense to reverse. Further progress could take place after a pause. Perhaps next year. Cuba’s $8 billion dollars in U.S. Nationalized Property from the 1960’s a prime starting point. It would be in Cuba’s interest to settle as did Vietnam with 100% payment. The form of payment, development rights and tax credits most likely means of payment. This work’s to Cuba’s favor as would drive dispretly needed investment. Cuba also needs to clear up the legal judgements against it in American courts to get access to U.S. Markets. Trump’s best move is to wait for Cuba’s offer, they need the deal a whole lot more. Trump knows they need it.
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