Trump, the USA and Cuba’s Problems

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES — On January 20th, Donald Trump, the most controversial president in the history of the United States, was sworn in as president. The US influence in the world is often positive, and negative on so many others, but the truth of the matter is that its military power and economic control of production, finance and markets, gives it great supremacy in international politics. The United States is a dominant superpower and it seems like it’s going to be inevitable that the country acts and thinks as such.

Cuba is just an island and even though it isn’t at the heart of their agenda or anything of that sort, we are a neighboring country which has strategic value in many regards (economic, military and even political). You don’t have to be a chauvinist to accept that, all you need is a little bit of vision, to look back over history and to look at a map.

On the political side of things: ever since 1899, we were an international protectorate which allowed them to take their first step in controlling Latin American affairs, removing former partners; and also after the Revolution when our political importance was reversed, because Cuba then became a stronghold of anti-US politics within the region and the world.

One of the entrances to the Guantanamo Naval Base.

In a military sense: the Guantanamo Naval Base is proof of its strategic importance; and then there’s also the fact that they wouldn’t like another opposing power to influence Cuba, because of its geographic proximity (let’s remember the Missile Crisis and the rest of the Cold War and its effects on the Caribbean).

With regard to our economy: our country was a pioneer in the expansion area for US multinational corporations, to the point where over two thirds of the progress made in the six decades of Cuba’s pre-revolutionary Republic, were associated or completely driven by US capital. Our trade relationship was almost exclusive to our “turbulent and cruel” neighbor. We can’t deny the fact that we also benefitted while they did. It was a mutual relationship, just not equal.

The Revolution meant great losses for US companies. However, thus far, over five decades later and as a result of the political detente, they still haven’t received compensation. The new warming process which has taken place between the countries inevitably has to be different than the last two eras because it’s playing out in a different context.

Today, US politics towards Cuba are also focused on the economy, not so much revolving around the pending debt but around new business opportunities and trade expansion, which have been forbidden by the embargo and might now open. The longer the US waits to lift the embargo in a legal and practical sense, the longer they are at a disadvantage when compared to their European and Asian partners-competitors, who at the faintest sign of Cuba loosening their State control, reveal great interest.

Miami passenger arrivals to the Jose Martí International Airport of Havana.

Another point, which is just as important, are the inner workings and these are related to the different situations that both of these countries currently find themselves in. Thanks to the Revolution and the deep divides, persecutions and shortages it has caused within our nation, we have ended as a country of emigrants. And in the US, there are approximately 2 million Cubans and their children who have been born there who also still feel very much Cuban.

It’s an interesting scenario because the US President is also the president of these Cubans, who vote in that country but are always looking out for their own country and hope to return one day to a democratic and free Cuba. They have great political influence and have climbed up the ranks of power, they are also one of the most prosperous immigrant US communities and play an important role in the US elections.

Trump is a businessman, which will undoubtedly make him a pragmatic politician. Many of his promises won’t come to light and others will only partially come true in the best of cases, when they clash with political and economic realities. The same thing will happen here with Cuba. He will follow Obama’s plan, but seeing as he doesn’t have the first Afro-American President’s gift for caution, nor his concise and restrained speech, “he’ll end up sticking his foot in it,” like we say here in Cuban, by talking to Raul in an insulting manner.

He will therefore please the most obstinate sectors in the US who prefer the outdated and failed “hardline politics” approach, rather than a slow but crushing “intelligent politics” approach. He will give the Cuban government the chance to walk away from the “dangerous thawing process” which puts their remaining in power in jeopardy and shut themselves off, justifying this with whichever of the new President’s mistaken policies or statements.

US tourism grew considerably in 2016. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

It would be a victory for tyranny here in Cuba, as returning to its frozen state would inevitably mean that it wouldn’t return to how it was: only the government and upper echelons will benefit. The three (Cuban Five) prisoners (heroes) are already free; it would be difficult to stop all of authorized travel or increased remittances. Tourism wouldn’t grow very much but it wouldn’t decrease either and foreign investment encouraged by this thawing process, will continue on track. Revoking the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy is a pretty irreversible political victory; the cultural, scientific and sports-related exchange will not end, and is another source of income for the island, there’s no doubt about that. Just like so many other small steps forward which together imply a great advantage, which has already been achieved.

On the other hand, it would be the end of a chapter of hope for the political and social forces within Cuba who want and fight for democratic change on the island. Opening a gap in the airtight Cuban system can only be done with intelligence, to slowly filter through the idea of democracy and real justice, “with everyone and for everyone’s wellbeing.” Confronting each other, in the short or medium-term, will not put the end in sight.

Obama’s plan for Cuba promised this happy path; Trump’s plan supposedly promises “a better business deal for the US.” It might even be good for the politically powerful Cubans in South Florida, seeing as they are also US citizens and see the Cuban problem as such; and have adjusted their lives to this old and worn-out war.

He might be right, this might be the “better business deal”, but it isn’t for us Cubans living on and off the island who only see our future in Cuba: if the US changes its strategy, it will be the worst possible deal for the New Cuba we want to build.

One thought on “Trump, the USA and Cuba’s Problems

  • It is certainly true that Raul will need to be a little less thin skinned with Trump. I am sure many of us would prefer a more measured approach, but Trump is who he is. We all know he takes outlandish positions only to moderate latter. It is best to not play his game. Trump has some Cuban hardliners at treasury team, but close advisers Jason Greenblatt and Anthony Scramucci would favor travel and trade. There will be an opportunity for Cuba to work with Trump administration without compromising it’s sovereignty. Working out a settlement of the old claims would go along way to hastening the ending of the embargo.

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