Had he been finalizing an offensive against Barack Obama’s political strategy of rapprochement with Raul Castro, first announced Dec. 17, 2014, Donald Trump would have warned his party in advance that a visit to the island would be inopportune and the U.S. Republican governors’ and legislators’ visit to Cuba likely would not have occurred, as it did. This scenario appears not to have played out because Trump continues to struggle with what to do with Cuba.
Nor would Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have happily acquiesced to a high-level visit to the island “as soon as possible” if Washington had cautioned him against doing so. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that, in spite of the magnate-turned-president’s bellicose campaign promises, defining a new policy toward the U.S.’s Marxist neighbor is no easy task; after all, decision-making must take into account a web of political and business interests. And while it is true that the unstable president once promised to tighten the noose around the Castro regime, he’s not considering invading the island or using an atomic bomb against it.
At the same time, while not at the same levels seen during the initial diplomatic thaw under Obama, the number of visits still being carried out by Republicans to the island sheds light on the complex coexistence between the Cuban-American hawks in favor of hardening U.S. policy toward Cuba, on the one hand, and the businessmen doves on the other, who are proponents of a policy that would unconditionally ease tensions between both countries.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant landed this week at José Martí International Airport with a delegation of businessmen and officials related to the tourism, agriculture and food export industries. In February, Mississippi Senator William Thad Cochran also visited Cuba in order to sign agreements related to the use of ports for trade. Before that, Colorado’s Democratic governor, as well as the mayor of Newark, an economic lobbyist from Chicago and two congressional delegations, visited the island.
As we await the White House’s decision on the future of bilateral relations – whether it will respect, adjust or annul Obama’s executive orders – the success of Cuban Minister Bruno Rodríguez’s visit to Madrid reflects the international tendency toward peaceful coexistence with the Castro regime, in spite of the irritation it causes for those within the United States, Latin America and Europe who still prefer the iron fist applied by Republican administrations over the past half century.
The European Union passed a Common Position on Cuba in 1996, put forward by José María Aznar, which sought cooperation as a means of encouraging democracy. Then, in 2011, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation José Manuel García-Margallo changed course, going along with socialist activism. He agreed with Obama that taking a hard stance against Cuba had not brought democracy to the island; on the contrary, this policy had complicated Madrid’s relations south of the Rio Grande. New elections and governments criticized Cuba’s isolation, and Ibero-American summits ran into problems whenever leftist executives from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia or Chile raised challenges.
But given that nearly everything in Latin America is short-lived – that is, except corruption, crime and populism – the regional pendulum has now swung to the right, with Brazil, Argentina and other nations distancing themselves from Havana. The European Union had itself been trying to mimic [the Obama Administration’s policy toward Cuba] but it fell out of sync with Washington when Trump won the election. In its attempts not to trip itself up, against the backdrop of [the new U.S. administration’s] yet-undefined policies, the EU is now carrying out its negotiations with Cuba more with a carrot than a stick.