President Donald Trump last week began symbolically undoing some parts of his predecessor’s historic opening to the island nation.
The new measures included tighter restrictions on tourism travel and a prohibition of financial dealings with entities tied to Cuban military and intelligence services. Cuba’s military conglomerate GAESA is estimated to control more than half the country’s economy. There was no mention of the $750 million U.S. investment banking firm, Goldman Sachs, paid last week to the government of Venezuela, one of the most repressive regimes in the Western Hemisphere, in exchange for some heavily discounted bonds.
The Cuban government responded in a statement that it “reiterates its willingness to continue with respectful dialogue and cooperation on issues of mutual interest” with the U.S. The statement said Cuba and the U.S. have demonstrated in the last two years that “they can cooperate and live together civilly, respecting differences and promoting that which benefits both countries and peoples.”
Cuba warned, however, that the U.S. “should not expect Cuba to make concessions on its sovereignty and independence, nor will it accept any type of such conditions.”
Some policies remain
White House officials, however, said many of the changes that occurred under former President Barack Obama would remain in place.
According to senior administration officials, Americans will still be able to travel to Cuba under approved categories, but there will be stricter enforcement to ensure travelers fit those categories. Essentially, travelers will be allowed to go to Cuba under approved tours.
Americans will be permitted to bring back souvenir items such as rum and cigars. Commercial flights between the United States and Cuba will continue, and diplomatic relations will not be affected, though Trump will not name an ambassador to Havana.
Obama had halted the so-called “wet foot/dry foot” policy that had allowed Cubans who arrived on U.S. shores to apply for work permits that could eventually lead to citizenship — a move that will not be touched by Trump’s rollback.
Obama initiated the move to normalize relations with Cuba and ease a long-standing trade embargo in 2014. He argued it was time to adopt a policy of engagement with the Cuban people because the decades-old embargo of the communist nation had failed to bring change to the island.
In 2016, he traveled to Havana to meet President Raul Castro, but not his brother Fidel, who led the overthrow of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista more than half a century earlier.
Several Obama-era officials derided the partial Trump rollback, arguing that more restrictive policies send the wrong signal to America’s friends and adversaries alike.
“I think history shows that the surest path to progress is through engagement. We’ve seen it in Vietnam, across Europe in World War II, in Iran and Burma, where our people-to-people diplomacy paved the way for change on the ground,” said Brett Bruen, who served as Obama’s director of global engagement.
Support on human rights
While business interests have cautioned against any move that would weaken growing U.S.-Cuba trade ties, Republicans’ reactions have been strongly supportive of Trump’s moves. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce of California said the U.S. must stand with the Cuban people in their fight for basic freedoms.
“President Obama’s new course with the Castros led to more brutality, more repression, and more political arrests in Cuba,” Royce wrote. “The administration is right to sideline the Cuban military and make human rights and internet access top priorities.”
Some Cuban-Americans praised the symbolism of Trump’s rollback, if not the substance.
“The Castro regime has done nothing about human rights,” said Mike Gonzalez.
On a recent trip to Saudia Arabia President Trump said, “We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values.” Yet the theocratic absolute monarchy controlled by the yoke of the Saud family carries out mass executions of dissidents, beheads drug dealers, systematically subjugates women and has supported and funded extremist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 attackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia.