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Better ties between the U.S. and Cuba? Miami’s Cubans are divided
Les Neuhaus

When President Trump scaled back President Obama’s pact that broadened
relations with Cuba, he said he was “completely canceling” a “terrible
and misguided deal.”

There was a time in Florida when the Cuban American community would have
reacted to such an announcement with almost uniform approval.

But a paradigm shift has occurred over the last 20 years. Younger
generations of Cuban Americans have been looking for opportunities to
capitalize on trade and business with Cuba. According to a 2016 poll by
Florida International ’s Cuban Research Institute, a majority
of Cuban Americans oppose the U.S. on the island and want better
relations.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s announcement, made in Miami’s Little Havana,
left some cheering but many in the business community disappointed.

Vicente Amor, vice president of ASC International USA, a Florida-based
commercial agency specializing in executive-service trips to
Cuba, said that aside from the drop in business expected from the Trump
doctrine on Cuba, the president’s action signaled another issue.

“The problem is not only the impact of the changes,” he said. When the
Obama administration forged the pact to improve U.S.-Cuban relations,
the work was done without input from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida
and what Amor called “the Miami extremists.” This time, he said, they
were “at the center of the deal,” along with the Treasury Department’s
Office of Foreign Assets Control. For Amor, that’s a bad development.

Contrary to Trump’s sweeping statements, he did not completely gut the
Obama administration agreement. However, it will affect a large
community of entrepreneurs — both in the U.S. and in Cuba — that had
been at the forefront of establishing economic ties between the two
nations, according to the Washington, D.C.-based group, Engage Cuba, a
coalition of pro-Cuban business companies that includes P&G, Viacom,
Honeywell and Choice Hotels.

“We are encouraged that the Trump administration wants to help Cuba’s
private sector, but unfortunately, the people who will be most
negatively impacted by this directive are Cuban entrepreneurs,”
Madeleine Russak, spokeswoman for Engage Cuba, said Saturday.

“The confusion that will surround this policy will undoubtedly stifle
U.S. demand to travel to the island,” she said. “Additionally, by
requiring Americans to travel in tour groups, the administration is not
only making it more expensive for everyday Americans to travel to the
island, but it pushes them away from staying in private homes, which are
unable to accommodate large tour groups, and into state run hotels.”

Albert Fox, a Cuban American from Tampa, which has a generations-old
Cuban community descended from the war for independence at the turn of
the last century, said that although commercial flights might continue
under the new policy, Trump’s decision will hurt American and foreign
businesses.

“Overnight he’s eliminating hundreds and hundreds of people that were
going there on a daily basis,” said Fox, who serves as president of the
Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. “Do you
think Southwest could cancel flights eventually for a lack of passengers?”

On Saturday, Southwest Airlines responded to that very question.

“Southwest is now reviewing the president’s statements made in South
Florida and is assessing [the] impact any proposed changes could have on
our current scheduled service to Cuba,” spokesman Dan Landson
said by email Saturday.

Amor, the travel industry executive, said the trade embargo is patronizing.

“I don’t like President Trump’s policy,” he said. “It treats Cuba like a
colony and fails to recognize Cuba as a sovereign nation.”

Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to roll back Obama’s
Cuban initiative, and Rubio had lobbied Trump intensely to keep that
promise. Among other things, the new rules prohibit Americans from
spending money on businesses controlled by the military.

“Economic practices that benefit the Cuban military at the expense of
the Cuban people will soon be coming to an end #BetterDealforCuba,”
Rubio tweeted.

But in the Cuban community, the pact drew diverse opinions from
Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. On Saturday
he tweeted, “Whatever the intent, new Cuba regs help Cuban Govt and hurt
Cuban entrepreneurs.”

A day earlier, he suggested on Twitter that the Senate weigh in on
U.S.-Cuba ties: “There is overwhelming support in the US Senate to allow
all Americans the to travel to Cuba. Let’s vote!”

Despite the generation shift, many in Florida’s Cuban American community
resist any engagement with the Cuban communist government.

“The Obama administration’s policy towards Cuba consisted of a slew of
unconditional and unilateral concessions that placed business interests
over and democracy,” said Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat,
co-founder and spokesman for the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a
Miami-based “resistance” group to the Castro government. “These
unilateral concessions to the Castro regime actually emboldened them to
increase their repression against the Cuban people. … Only [the] rule
of law in Cuba would guarantee American and protect the Cuban
people.”

Source: Better ties between the U.S. and Cuba? Miami’s Cubans are
divided – LA Times –
www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-miami-cuba-20170618-story.html

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