Trump a big question mark for people in Cuba
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
As Cubans adjust to life without revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, they
are also trying to get their minds around what the election of another
world leader — President-elect Donald Trump — might mean for their lives
and the future of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement.
But on the second anniversary of the surprise announcement on Dec. 17,
2014 that the United States and Cuba planned to work toward normalizing
their troubled relationship, there are more questions than clarity.
In the week leading up to Castro’s funeral on Dec. 5, Cubans across the
island talked about Trump, the future of Cuba’s relationship with the
U.S., and their worries about the sluggish Cuban economy and the steady
stream of young people abandoning the island to make their way to the
“I think all U.S. presidents must rise to a certain standard to reach
such a high office,” said Angel Ysern, a doctor from Santa Clara,
opening the conversation on a diplomatic note. “But after the last few
years of tranquility under President Obama, Trump seems a bit
aggressive, very strong. We’re in the 20th century now. We can’t go back
to the Cold War. I just hope we don’t lose what’s been accomplished
“We’re seeing real progress that is making life better for Cubans right
now,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and one of the
architects of the Obama administration’s Cuba policy, said during a news
briefing earlier this week. But he said there is “plenty of space for
improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations.”
For Cubans on the island trying to read the tea leaves on what they
might expect from the next U.S. president, information is limited. But
they’ve managed to piece together their opinions from Cuban media and
reports from Venezuela’s Telesur on Trump’s statements and Tweets about
Cuba, conversations with friends and family in Cuba and the United
States, talks with visiting Americans and to a lesser degree access to
During the early part of his campaign, Trump didn’t appear to oppose
engagement with Cuba but said he would get a deal than the one forged by
President Barack Obama. More recently he has talked of potentially
scrapping the normalization process and Cubans are concerned that small
improvements that have resulted from the new relationship may be lost.
In his most recent Tweet on Cuba on Nov. 28 — three days after Castro’s
death, Trump said: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the
Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will
Rhodes said he hopes the next administration will push for greater U.S.
business involvement on the island and more internet access and space
for independent civil society in Cuba.
Critics say Obama has overreached in six rounds of regulatory changes
that have opened U.S. travel and commerce opportunities on the island.
In addition to renewing diplomatic relations and reopening respective
embassies, Rhodes ticked off what he considers accomplishments of the
rapprochement: a 75 percent increase in travel by Americans to Cuba, 10
U.S. airlines flying regularly scheduled flights to several Cuban
cities, cruise lines authorized to sail Cuban itineraries, an increase
in cultural, educational and athletic exchanges, and 11 agreements with
Cuba on everything from cancer research and counter narcotics to
protection of marine environments and direct mail service.
Even though the embargo is still in place, new regulations have allowed
U.S. companies more leeway to operate in Cuba in the hospitality,
travel, aviation, telecommunications, banking, and credit card
industries. Business deals have been slow to gel, although in recent
weeks the pace has picked up with approvals for Google to install
servers that increase speeds to reach Google products and for multiple
cruise lines to call in Cuba.
“We want trade, travel, technology with the United States,” said Ysern,
the Santa Clara doctor. “The Cuban people are always ready for whatever
comes, but the population wants tranquility, peace, not aggression from
the United States. We want a better relationship.”
“The revolution will continue on its path,” said Manuel Rondón Medina, a
retired cultural promoter from Santiago. “But we’re near neighbors and
we don’t have to be forever…” He paused and then smacked his fists
together to indicate fighting.
“The new government in the United States should take into account the
progress President Obama has made after more than 50 years of
non-relations,” he said.
Seventy-two-year-old Eugenia Migalina Ramos, who lives in Ranchuelo, a
small central Cuba town where life revolves around the sugar mill and
agriculture, wasn’t exactly sure of the president-elect’s name, but she
had heard about him. “The people say he is bad and I’ve heard he is
going to tighten the screws on the Cuban people.”
“I am sure he is a fraud. I have heard he is a millionaire,” she said.
“But man doesn’t live from bread alone.”
Tania Pérez, who manages a vegetable warehouse in Ranchuelo, said she’s
concerned about the high numbers of young people who believe the
solution to their economic difficulties is to abandon the island in
hopes of reaching the United States.
“The young people who leave are pursuing the American dream — and for
some of them it doesn’t turn out to be such a dream,” she said. “But
they are leaving because of economic problems.”
It’s unclear whether Trump will tackle the current preferential
treatment for Cuban migrants under the Cuban Adjustment Act and the
wet-foot/dry-foot policy as part of his new immigration policy.
Pérez also is wary of what a Trump presidency may bring. “I saw some of
his campaign speeches and I believe there were a lot of inconsistencies.
We’ll have to wait and see in January — see if relations with the United
States continue, see if the U.S. Embassy in Havana keeps operating.
“I hope things work out for the benefit of everyone. We have so many
family members there [in the United States],” she said.
Since Obama took office, a remittance limit of $300 every three months
to close relatives has been lifted, allowing unlimited money transfers
to the island by Cuban-Americans. Last year, remittances from the United
States totaled more than $3 billion, helping some families keep afloat
financially and fueling small private businesses.
The new ease of travel between the United States and Cuba also has
helped pump up remittances.
Cubans worry if a Trump administration unravels the normalization
process, that remittance pipeline could dry up. “The flights and
remittances are very important to us,” said Ysern.
When the rapprochement was announced two years ago, Cubans hoped a new
relationship with the United States might rapidly perk up their ailing
economy, and many say they are disappointed there haven’t been more
Still, those who work in the hospitality industry or who are employed in
jobs where they interact with American companies or visitors, say the
new relationship has made a difference.
Earlier this month, a group of more than 100 Cuban private business
owners sent a letter to Trump urging him to build on the Obama opening
and do more: “As a successful businessman, we’re confident that you
understand the importance of economic engagement between nations. Small
businesses in Cuba have the potential to be drivers of economic growth
in Cuba and important partners of the U.S. business community.
“Additional measures to increase travel and trade and investment,
including working with the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo, will
benefit our companies,” they said.
Signatories included owners of private restaurants, bed and breakfasts
and design studios, clothing makers, event planners, private taxi
drivers, the operators of a vintage car service and other service
Four of the entrepreneurs recently traveled to Washington to take part
in a press conference with a bipartisan coalition of legislators,
business leaders and other advocates who favor lifting the embargo.
Julia de la Rosa and her husband Silvio Ortega have been slowly and
painstakingly renovating a 1938 mansion for more than 20 years and have
turned it into La Rosa de Ortega, a bed and breakfast in La Vibora on
the outskirts of Havana with stylish rooms and its own swimming pool.
Since San Francisco-based Airbnb launched its online booking service for
home stays in Cuba in April 2015, de la Rosa said the couple’s business
has grown dramatically and they have increased their employees to 17
“I hope that President-elect Trump recognizes how much these changes
have helped us. We don’t want to go back; we don’t want to focus on our
differences,” de la Rosa said at the press conference. “We want to
improve our relations with the U.S. and think about the future and what
our two countries can accomplish together.”
Manrique Nistal Bello, who rents out two rooms in his home near Parque
Cespedes in Santiago, wasn’t among the signatories to the letter but he
also hopes Trump the businessman is the one who will emerge when it
comes to Cuba policy.
“In my opinion and with my experience in life, I would say Trump will be
a good negotiator. He will do things in the interest of the United
States,” he said. “But he’s a businessman and I don’t think that would
include ending the flights and everything that’s been done under Obama.”
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Source: Cubans wonder if Donald Trump will end Obama policy toward Cuba
| Miami Herald –