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National Commentary

Trump Turns Back on a Future with Cuba

In his perverse fixation on overturning all things Barack Obama, President Donald Trump now turns his attention to Cuba, the island located 90 miles off our shore. Reports are that the president plans to travel to Florida to announce that he will reverse Obama’s opening to Cuba, reinstate restrictions on the right of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba and curtail business opportunities that Obama had opened up by executive order.

This is, in a word, ridiculous. The United States maintained an economic embargo on Cuba for more than 50 years. It plotted repeatedly to assassinate Fidel Castro and to overthrow his regime. It painted Cuba as a terrorist nation for its support of Nelson Mandela in the fight against apartheid.

For more than five decades, a succession of U.S. presidents – cowed by the right-wing Cuban community in Florida – enforced an economic embargo even though the policy increasingly isolated the U.S. from its neighbors in the hemisphere and its allies across the world. When Obama finally went forward with a limited opening, he was doing more to end the isolation of the U.S. than of Cuba.

Now Castro, the leader of Cuba’s revolution, is dead. His brother Raul has announced he will leave office next year. The Soviet Union is no more; the Cold War is over. A new generation is coming to power in Cuba and a new generation of Cuban-Americans is rising in Florida. The vast majority of Americans and the vast majority of Cuban-Americans support free travel to Cubans.

So why would Trump want to revive the failed policies of the past? The reasons range from the petty to the perverse. Trump’s hatred of Obama is apparent. From Obamacare to climate policy to Cuba, he seems intent on overturning whatever Obama did – no matter how great the cost to the American people.

In the campaign, Trump pledged in Florida to overturn Obama’s opening. Right-wing Cuban-American legislators –Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida – have lobbied Trump hard to revive the travel ban and embargo. According to the New York Times, Diaz-Balart exacted a promise from Trump as a price for his vote in favor of Trumpcare. He signed off on depriving 23 million Americans of health care coverage in order to tighten the screws on Cuba.

Obama’s policy of engagement, however halting, has already shown results. Engage Cuba, a U.S. business lobby group, published an economic impact analysis on the costs of reversing Obama’s policy. It put the cost at as much as $3.5 billion in lost revenues and 10,000 jobs lost in the travel industry over the next four years. Commercial contracts that will create $1.1 billion worth of U.S. exports to Cuba in the next five years would be broken, costing more than 1,000 jobs a year.

Once more the right of Americans to travel would be sacrificed, in the name of what? Petulance? Perversity? Undying hatred? The Trump administration has made it clear that in its America First foreign policy, America’s economic and security concerns will not be sacrificed in the name of human rights.

But it rationalizes its reversion in Cuba on the grounds of defending human rights and spreading democracy. This is at best what former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes called a “tragic irony,” given the Trump administration’s “complete lack of concern for human rights around the world.”

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Surely, after more than five decades we have learned that Cubans, proud of their revolution and their independence, will resist economic or military coercion.

One would think that Trump, who trumpets his business background, would understand that open relations with Cuba – trade, travel, human and cultural exchange – will have far more impact in generating pressure for change than a reversion to the failed embargo.

Under Castro, Cuban education and health care became the envy of Latin America. An educated generation now rises to power yearning for more. The U.S. should engage them, not seek to isolate them.

Also, they will be under scrutiny from the Treasury Department (OFAC) another spending will be limited.

“While it purports to restrict their use of government-owned facilities and services,” he said, “it, in fact, makes it impossible for a U.S. visitor to not commit fraud, since even the new private sector in Cuba is dependent on the government in a myriad of ways (not the least of which are credit and wholesale distribution).”

De Laforcade said the private businesses are also heavily taxed in Cuba, and foreign ownership of property is banned.

“In my opinion, the new policy penalizes American travelers and entrepreneurs much more than it affects Cubans who are benefiting from multilateral investment and from ongoing reforms,” the NSU Professor said.

Cuba’s military, the Revolutionary Armed Forces, has significant control over the country’s economy, especially the tourism sector. And with Trump’s new plan, the president and his administration hope to prevent additional U.S. money from reaching the Cuban military.

The new policy will ban any commercial dealings with the military and security services. Although Americans can stay in private hotels, Trump’s new policy prohibits them from using Cuban military-owned ones.

“The Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces are not a traditional military,” De Laforcade said. “The way the state is set up, the ‘property and investment management’ administration that implements joint ventures with foreign governments and corporate entities is the Army.

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“A very small private sector – particularly in tourism services – is inevitably linked to hotels, restaurants and food distribution companies that are owned and managed by military (meaning state) controlled firms. The military is under civilian control (the Communist Party), so the political leadership oversees a ‘socialized’ economy, managing assets and capital, especially foreign currency reserves, which are rarefied due to the U.S. ban on international lending and restrictions on foreign trade) that can’t be in private or individual hands.”

DeLaforcade said, in effect, Trump’s policy banning spending by U.S. citizens in Cuban companies controlled by the military or government will force visitors to violate the U.S imposed sanctions.

De Laforcade said many U.S. businesses (including President Trump’s) “have seen the opportunity for investment in Cuba as a positive development.”

Investments could be lost and thousands of jobs eliminated, he said, if the Obama-era reforms are reversed.

He explained that investments from Russia, China, and the Middle East have grown rapidly.

“If the U.S. government chooses confrontation over engagement, it will be harder for the government of President Raul Castro and his successor after 2018 (when he will go into retirement) to further economic reforms,” said De Laforcade.

He continued, “So it really is not in the interest of a Republican administration to rock the boat, unless the goal is to strengthen cooperation with a small hard line faction of Cuban-American legislators led by (U.S. Rep. Ileana) Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and U.S. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.”

De Laforcade said “the essential difference between the policies of Obama and Trump is that the former realized regime change could not be achieved through coercion, and the latter believes it can.

“I know for a fact that there is little stomach in Cuba for a surrender to the United States’ demands regarding political and constitutional issues.”

By Jesse Jackson

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