How will President Trump change Obama’s Cuba policy?
Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
Sunday, June 11, 2017 9:12pm
?President Donald Trump is expected to announce his changes on Friday.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to roll back parts of
President Barack Obama’s improvement of relations with Cuba, siding with
hawks who oppose detente and rejecting demands from U.S. businesses that
see the island as a ripe potential market.
The decision follows an interagency administration review of Obama’s
initiative and would be a return to some polices that date to the Cold War.
The review is believed to have been completed some time ago, with White
House officials waiting for the best time to release it. Trump could
make the announcement Friday in Miami, the Miami Herald has reported.
The action could dull a boom in tourism by Americans to Cuba and hurt a
burgeoning cottage industry of private enterprise on the socialist-ruled
The Tampa Bay area — home to the third-largest Cuban-American population
in the United States — has made full use of the Obama policy changes:
• There are cruises from Port Tampa Bay to Havana, and daily commercial
flights now link Cuba and Tampa International Airport.
• The Florida Aquarium has forged a partnership with the National
Aquarium in Havana on finding ways to restore dying coral reefs in the
Caribbean; cultural exchanges with the island nation involve interests
from both Tampa and St. Petersburg; local universities are involved in
educational opportunities in Cuba.
• Parishioners of St. Lawrence Catholic Church of Tampa raised $95,000
to construct the first new Roman Catholic Church in Cuba in nearly 60 years.
• Perhaps most importantly to those locals in favor of normalized
relations with Cuba — especially Cuban-Americans — has been the
opportunity to reconnect with the nation whose immigrants helped to
establish the city of Tampa, its culture and its cigar rolling industry
that when allowed to use Cuban tobacco was the largest in the world.
Some Trump supporters argue, however, that President Raúl Castro has not
improved human rights or expanded political freedoms and does not
deserve better relations with the United States.
Human rights is “something that’s very strong to him. It’s one of the
reasons that he’s reviewing the Cuba policy,” White House press
secretary Sean Spicer said in a recent briefing.
Two Cuban-American Republican lawmakers from Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio
and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have lobbied Trump against Cuba. Proponents
of continued dialogue and trade, including farm states, businesses, the
tourism industry and even a group of retired military officers, have
similarly lobbied Congress.
Two years before he left office, Obama revealed the results of what had
been a long series of secret negotiations: The United States and Cuba
were renewing diplomatic relations after half a century of hostility.
In the months that followed, American entrepreneurs, tourists and
congressional delegations beat a path to the shores of the island that
was for so long largely forbidden.
U.S. hotel chains signed deals, and airlines and cruise ships scheduled
dozens of tours to Havana and other Cuban cities. Chicken, grain and
other agricultural producers in Louisiana, Kansas and other farm states
exported tons of products to the island nation.
Cuba and the United States reopened embassies in each other’s capital,
which had been closed in 1961.
Ordinary Cubans, long denied access to the Internet, suddenly were able
to go online. Castro allowed Cubans to travel out of the country more
easily, and an estimated 20 percent of the economy is now in private
hands for the first time since Fidel Castro consolidated control after
the 1959 revolution.
Obama did not end the U.S. embargo imposed on Cuba in 1960. Only
Congress can do that, and Trump’s actions would stop the momentum to
repeal the embargo.
Trump is not expected to reverse all of the Cuba openings, according to
people familiar with the review process. He is not likely to close the
U.S. Embassy in Havana, nor would he reimpose restrictions on the
remittances that Cuban Americans in the United States send to their
families in Cuba, which would anger a large Florida voter base.
He would probably also leave in place Obama’s ending of the so-called
“wet foot, dry foot” special immigration status only for Cubans. Obama
scrapped the policy in January, saying that normalized relations meant
Cubans should follow the same rules as other migrants and refugees.
Trump would likely revert to pre-Obama restrictions on travel by
Americans to Cuba. The new policy allows Americans who are making
educational or cultural trips to Cuba to initiate their own travel there
without special permission from the U.S. government and without a
licensed tour company.
Reversing it, or intensifying enforcement to require travelers to show
evidence that their trips are legal, would probably slow the recent
influx of American tourism to Cuba to a trickle, leaving airlines that
have started direct flights there with fewer customers to serve.
Trump could also restore limits on the amount of rum and cigars that
American travelers can bring home.
And the president is weighing an increase in funding for the U.S. Agency
for International Development for programs that promote democracy in
Cuba, initiatives that the Castro government has long condemned as
covert efforts to overthrow it.
Leading Cuban dissidents say the situation for human rights has
worsened. José Daniel Ferrer García, head of Cuba’s largest opposition
group, said harassment and arrests of dissidents have increased in the
“The United States must continue to be the first defender of those who
lack rights and freedoms in the world,” Ferrer wrote in an open letter
to Trump. He called for sanctions against the Castro regime.
Rubio, one of the chief hard-liners on Cuba, said recently, “I am
confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by
making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the
Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty.”
As the White House labored in March to corral Republican votes for an
unpopular health care overhaul measure, Diaz-Balart asked for assurances
from Trump that he would hold to the hard line on Cuba he laid out in
his campaign. Diaz-Balart supported the measure and has played an
influential role in shaping the new Cuba policy.
“It is my duty to advocate for the issues that are important to my
constituents, and I will not apologize for using every available avenue
to effectively resolve them,” he said in a statement.
Among the measures the Trump administration is considering are proposals
pressed by Rubio and Diaz-Balart to block transactions between American
companies and firms that have ties to the Cuban military. Such a
restriction could have far-reaching consequences for existing deals,
such as the one struck by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to
manage hotels in Cuba.
“This is a return to the old playbook of creating ambiguity and
uncertainty so that nobody knows what is permissible and what isn’t, and
it would add another level of legal exposure to doing business in Cuba,”
said Robert L. Muse, a Washington lawyer who specializes in U.S. law
regarding Cuba. “It would add one more obstacle to the obstacle course,
which is already pretty complex.”
Times staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed to this report, which contains
information from the New York Times.
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