What’s next with Cuba

Pres­i­dent Trump’s pol­icy change will leave some re­forms in place

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Kur­tis Lee kur­tis.lee@la­times.com

It’s a pol­icy change Pres­i­dent Trump in­sists will cor­rect what he called a “ter­ri­ble and mis­guided deal” by his pre­de­ces­sor.

Trump’s re­cent an­nounce­ment on new travel and trade re­stric­tions with Cuba aim to ful­fill a cam­paign prom­ise.

“Eas­ing of re­stric­tions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban peo­ple,” he said at an event in Mi­ami on Fri­day. “They only en­rich the Cuban regime.”

But while Trump’s pol­icy back­tracks on some of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ef­forts to en­gage with the is­land, key di­rec­tives will re­main in place. First, what did Obama’s re­forms with Cuba do?

In De­cem­ber 2014, Obama an­nounced a his­toric deal to grad­u­ally re­build the eco­nomic and diplo­matic re­la­tion­ships be­tween the two coun­tries.

As a part of the deal forged with Cuban Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, Obama eased eco­nomic and trade re­stric­tions that dated back to the U.S. em­bargo on Cuba that be­gan in the 1960s. As part of the agree­ment, the two coun­tries re­opened em­bassies in each other’s cap­i­tals.

Re­stric­tions on Amer­i­can agri­cul­tural and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment to Cuba were eased, and it be­came much eas­ier for Amer­i­cans to travel to Cuba as reg­u­lar air travel be­tween the coun­tries was re­stored.

In turn, air­lines and U.S. ho­tel chains be­gan in­vest­ing re­sources in Cuba, while agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers from the U.S. ex­ported tons of prod­ucts to Cuba. Cubans, who had lit­tle ac­cess to the In­ter­net, also found them­selves able to browse on­line.

More­over, Obama’s ef­forts al­lowed Amer­i­cans to use credit and debit cards in the coun­try and to send money to rel­a­tives in Cuba from the United States. Last year, Obama trav­eled to Cuba, be­com­ing the first U.S. pres­i­dent in nearly a cen­tury to visit the is­land. What did Trump say about it?

As a pri­vate cit­i­zen, Trump crit­i­cized the ef­fort.

This flowed over into last year’s cam­paign, with Trump vow­ing to end the agree­ment. In the weeks after his elec­tion vic­tory, Trump force­fully hinted at his plans for Cuba.

“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,” he tweeted. What’s new about Trump’s re­cently an­nounced Cuba pol­icy? Can peo­ple still travel to the coun­try?

Well, for starters, none of Trump’s re­forms take ef­fect im­me­di­ately. (They could take up to 90 days.)

Trump’s pri­mary ob­jec­tive is to keep money out of the hands of Cuba’s mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

The new rules in­clude pro­hi­bi­tions on Amer­i­cans spend­ing money on busi­nesses con­trolled by the mil­i­tary, which has a wide reach in the Cuban econ­omy. This is likely to af­fect pending ho­tel projects with Cuban com­pa­nies that have ties to the mil­i­tary.

Trump also will reim­pose the re­quire­ment that “peo­ple-to-peo­ple” trav­el­ers can only come to Cuba with heav­ily reg­u­lated tour groups. The abil­ity of Amer­i­cans to travel freely on va­ca­tion to the coun­try will be scrapped.

“Amer­ica is pre­pared to out­stretch its hand and work with the peo­ple of Cuba, but we will not, we will not em­power their op­pres­sors,” Sen. Marco Ru­bio (R-Fla.), who helped craft the new reg­u­la­tions, said at Fri­day’s event with Trump. (Ru­bio and many Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress had as­sailed Obama’s di­rec­tive with Cuba, say­ing Cuba’s Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary were ben­e­fit­ing.) What re­mains in place from Obama’s pol­icy?

Trump will not close the U.S. Em­bassy in Ha­vana, and com­mer­cial flights and cruise ships will still be al­lowed.

More­over, it ap­pears there’s a will­ing­ness to keep in place Obama’s ef­forts to com­mu­ni­cate with Cuba.

In a memo from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, it notes “any fur­ther im­prove­ments in the United States-Cuba re­la­tion­ship will de­pend en­tirely on the Cuban gov­ern­ment’s will­ing­ness to im­prove the lives of the Cuban peo­ple,” and also man­dates reg­u­lar re­port­ing of progress to­ward this ob­jec­tive. What’s been the re­sponse to Trump’s ef­forts?

Repub­li­cans like Ru­bio, who is Cuban Amer­i­can, lauded the ef­fort.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) also praised Trump for keep­ing a cam­paign prom­ise.

“You have not be­trayed us. You kept your prom­ise; you stand in sol­i­dar­ity with the Cuban peo­ple and free­dom-lov­ing peo­ple ev­ery­where; and you are putting Amer­i­can val­ues and U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests first,” he said.

But there were reser­va­tions both in the U.S. and in Cuba.

In a state­ment, My­ron Bril­liant, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, said the new rules limit the “pos­si­bil­ity for pos­i­tive change on the is­land and risk ced­ing growth op­por­tu­ni­ties to other coun­tries that, frankly, may not share Amer­ica’s in­ter­est in a free and demo­cratic Cuba that re­spects hu­man rights.”

Re­spond­ing to Trump’s an­nounce­ment, the Cuban gov­ern­ment said in a state­ment that Amer­i­can at­tempts to fun­da­men­tally change the is­land were un­likely to suc­ceed.

The state­ment said a “strat­egy aimed at chang­ing the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial sys­tem in Cuba, whether it seeks to achieve it through pres­sures and im­po­si­tions, or by em­ploy­ing more sub­tle meth­ods, will be doomed to fail­ure.”

Ra­mon Espinosa As­so­ci­ated Press

CA­SUAL TRAVEL to Ha­vana be­comes again more dif­fi­cult for Amer­i­cans with Pres­i­dent Trump’s new re­stric­tions on busi­ness with Cuba. But com­mer­cial f lights and cruise ship dock­ings will con­tinue.

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