President Barack Obama proudly hailed the opening of U.S. ties with Cuba after 50 years of hostility and reacted diplomatically to the death of former President Fidel Castro, expressing condolences to his family.
President-elect Donald Trump has criticized Obama’s Cuba policies, and released a toughly worded statement calling Fidel Castro a brutal dictator. The differences in tone may signal a major shift in relations.
“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 terminate deal,” Trump tweeted Monday morning.
Nevertheless, Trump transition communications director Jason Miller told reporters later Monday on a conference call that “Cuba is a very complex topic and the president-elect is aware of the nuances and complexities regarding the challenges the island and the Cuban people face.”
“And to be clear, the president-elect wants freedom in Cuba for the Cubans and a good deal for Americans where we are not played for fools,” he continued. “Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, the return of fugitives from American law and political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”
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 terminate deal.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2016
When Trump was asked early during his presidential campaign about the U.S.’s warming of relations with Cuba, his response was largely positive.
“I think it’s fine,” Trump told The Daily Caller in a September 2015 interview. “We should have made a better deal, [but] the concept of opening with Cuba — 50 years is enough,” he said, referencing Washington’s longstanding economic and diplomatic sanctions against the socialist country.
Fast forward a year, and President-elect Trump’s public stance on the issue has almost completely reversed. Now, when Trump talks about President Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, it is almost entirely in negative terms.
U.S. commercial air traffic to Cuba has invested in and expanded dramatically in the last 12 months. The U.S. Department of Transportation has authorized 1.2 million seats for trips to Cuba by commercial U.S. carriers per year, below the 3.4 million airlines requested, but representing significant revenue.
There is some Trump history to consider with respect to Cuba. He expressed support for the U.S. embargo in an op-ed in the Miami Herald in 1999: “Several large European investment groups have asked me to take the ‘Trump Magic’ to Cuba. They have ‘begged’ me to form partnerships to build casino-hotels in Havana. With the influx of foreign tourists, we would make a fortune, they promise, and they are no doubt right. They are also right to say that this type of arrangement would allow me to skirt the U. S.-imposed embargo……I had a choice to make: huge profits or human rights. For me, it was a no-brainer.”