Trump Threatens to End the Thaw in Relations between the US and Cuba

He has warned the Communist regime that if they resist a “better deal” he will terminate Barack Obama’s policy of rapprochement.

This time Donald Trump threatens to bring back the Cold War, or at least one of its most emblematic chapters: the historic rivalry between the U.S. and Cuba, countries that two years ago began a thaw in relations, a rivalry which could resume if the U.S. president-elect fulfills his warning to Raúl Castro’s regime that he will “terminate” the deal to normalize diplomatic relations if there are no political advances on the island.

“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 yesterday.

With his message, Trump seemed to reinforce the hard line that he has adopted since the death of Fidel Castro last Saturday. When he announced the death of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, it was not known if the Republican was reporting the news, if he was shocked by it or if he was celebrating: “Fidel Castro is dead!” was his first reaction on Twitter, with an undiplomatic exclamation mark. Shortly after, he clarified his opinion about someone he defined as “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” And yesterday he went even further by threatening to terminate what is probably Barack Obama’s most important policy regarding Latin America.

Yesterday the Trump team attempted to clarify the policies that the future head of state will adopt toward Cuba when he assumes power on Jan. 20. “The president-elect wants to see freedom in Cuba for the Cubans and a good deal for Americans where we aren’t played for fools,” stated his spokesperson Jason Miller, who stressed that the priorities will be “the release of political prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”

Previously, Trump’s future chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had already put forward the idea that the new administration is waiting for concrete gestures from the Cuban regime. “There isn’t going to be a one-way relationship from the United States to Cuba without some action from the Castro administration,” he said, insisting that they would be able to “terminate” the rapprochement initiated in December 2014 between both countries, which re-opened their embassies in July 2015 after 54 years of hostility.

In the White House yesterday, officials tried to defend the rapprochement with Havana. “After five decades of trying the same policy of isolation without seeing many results, the president believed it was time to try something different,” explained Press Secretary Josh Earnest, emphasizing that measures of goodwill such as starting commercial flights or the relaxation of embargos do not constitute concessions to Castro’s regime, which is currently going through one of its toughest times economically and views the rapprochement with the U.S. as a lifeline to keep it afloat.

In Havana yesterday there was silence in the face of Trump’s declarations. While thousands of Cubans marched through the Plaza de la Revolución in order to pay posthumous homage to Fidel Castro, initiating a week of tributes that will conclude on Sunday with his funeral in Santiago de Cuba, his brother Raúl did not appear in public.

But his supporters did react to the words of the next president of the United States. “The people will never cede a step backward. Fidel’s guidance is historic. Trump is an idiot! To declare these things right now when the people are in mourning,” said Mauricio Paz, a 76-year-old ex-guerilla fighter to the AFP.

For the experts, it is inevitable that the thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba will suffer from the arrival of Trump, who although initially welcoming the growing closeness, ended up rejecting it in order to win the electoral support of exiled Cubans in Florida.

“Everything seems to indicate that the president-elect will comply with his campaign promise to reverse all of Obama’s executive orders regarding Cuba,” commented Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “That which remains unclear is whether the new administration will reach the point of closing the embassy in Havana and placing Cuba once more on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism or suspending commercial flights,” he added.*

One measure that he could easily terminate would be the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.** “There could be significant change in the area of migration, since Trump has protested against the privileges enjoyed by Cuban migrants by virtue of the Cuban Adjustment Law of 1996,” stated Arturo López-Levy, expert at Texas University, who highlights the fact that removing this amendment would be a “strange overlapping” of interests between Trump and Castro.*

For William LeoGrand, author of “Black Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana,” Trump will have free rein to terminate Obama’s policies toward Cuba, but there are other factors in play. “It will depend which Trump arrives at the Oval Office: the businessman that wants to renegotiate a better deal, or the politician that promised Cuban-Americans to roll back everything done by Obama. Relations between Cuba and the U.S. are complex; they consist of many bilateral treaties and a maze of regulations. There is no single ‘deal’ to renegotiate and there are many interested parties.”*

López-Levy points out that Trump could be making a big mistake: “If he terminates this policy he is not going to achieve any more than the 11 U.S. presidents that failed in their attempt to create a rebellion by strangling Cuba economically. … History shows that nothing brings together Cuban nationalism with its allies in the region more than a U.S. president being aggressive toward Cuba.”*

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this statement could not be independently verified.

**Editor’s note: The “wet foot, dry foot policy” is the name given to a consequence of the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that essentially says that anyone who fled Cuba and entered the U.S. would be allowed to pursue residency a year later.

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