Repub­li­cans di­vided as Trump re­v­erses some Obama Cuba pol­icy

South Florida Times - - CARIBBEAN - By As­so­ci­ated Press


WASHINGTON - Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's de­ci­sion to re­verse some Obama-era Cuba poli­cies landed with a thud among many con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans who say the new ap­proach sur­ren­ders a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive mar­ket for Amer­i­can goods and ser­vices to com­peti­tors.

While anti-Cas­tro con­ser­va­tives hailed Trump's par­tial roll-back of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama's de­tente, a num­ber of other GOP law­mak­ers, par­tic­u­larly from farm states, crit­i­cized the change as mis­guided and iso­la­tion­ist. They urged him to ease bar­ri­ers with Ha­vana that will boost trade and cre­ate jobs in both coun­tries.

Rep. Rick Craw­ford, R-Ark., said Trump's shift is more than just a missed op­por­tu­nity for ru­ral Amer­ica, which would ben­e­fit from greater ac­cess to Cuba's agri­cul­tural im­port mar­ket. He said Trump's pol­icy may put U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity at risk as strate­gic com­peti­tors move to fill the vac­uum the un­cou­pling could cre­ate.

“Fur­ther U.S. dis­en­gage­ment opens up op- por­tu­ni­ties for coun­tries like Iran, Rus­sia, North Korea and China to gain in­flu­ence on an is­land 90 miles off our coast,” Craw­ford said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a fre­quent critic of Trump dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, said in a state­ment that any pol­icy change “that di­min­ishes the abil­ity of Amer­i­cans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best in­ter­ests of the United States or the Cuban peo­ple.”

Flake has been among the most out­spo­ken law­mak­ers op­posed to rolling back Obama's out­reach to Ha­vana. He's warned that re­turn­ing to a “get tough” pol­icy hurts ev­ery­day Cubans whose liveli­hoods are in­creas­ingly rooted in travel and tourism.

In his state­ment, Flake called for the Se­nate's GOP lead­er­ship to al­low a vote on his leg­is­la­tion that he said would elim­i­nate ``ar­chaic re­stric­tions'' on travel to Cuba that “do not ex­ist for travel by Amer­i­cans to any other coun­try in the world.” Flake's bill has 54 co-spon­sors, in­clud­ing nine Repub­li­cans. Among them are Sens. John Booz­man of Arkansas, Mike Enzi of Wy­oming and Jerry Mo­ran of Kansas.

Dur­ing a speech, Fri­day in Mi­ami, Trump por­trayed his up­dated pol­icy as the ful­fill­ment of a cam­paign prom­ise to re­verse Obama's diplo­matic rap­proche­ment with Cuba af­ter decades of es­trange­ment. Trump's ap­proach is aimed at halt­ing the flow of U.S. cash to the coun­try's mil­i­tary while main­tain­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions. U.S. air­lines and cruise ships would still be al­lowed to ser­vice the is­land. Yet new moves will bur­den the U.S. gov­ern­ment with the com­pli­cated task of polic­ing U.S. travel to Cuba to make sure there are no trans­ac­tions with the mil­i­tary-linked con­glom­er­ate that runs much of the Cuban econ­omy.

By re­strict­ing in­di­vid­ual U.S. travel to Cuba, the new pol­icy also risks cut­ting off a ma­jor source of in­come for Cuba's pri­vate busi­ness sec­tor, which the pol­icy is in­tended to sup­port. Un­der the ex­pected changes, the U.S. will ban Amer­i­can fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions with the dozens of en­ter­prises run by the mil­i­tary-linked cor­po­ra­tion GAESA, which op­er­ates dozens of ho­tels, tour buses, restau­rants and other fa­cil­i­ties.

Among those with Trump as he an­nounced the pol­icy in Lit­tle Ha­vana were Sen. Marco Ru­bio and Rep. Mario Di­azBalart, both Florida Repub­li­cans strongly op­posed to Obama's out­reach.

Rep. Tom Em­mer, R-Minn., said Trump's new Cuba pol­icy ``will hurt the United States eco­nom­i­cally, mak­ing it harder for our na­tion's farm­ers to ac­cess new mar­kets and cut­ting the knees out from un­der our travel and man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries.”

Em­mer, who's been one of Trump's most en­thu­si­as­tic back­ers on Capi­tol Hill, echoed Craw­ford's crit­i­cism, say­ing Trump's Cuba di­rec­tive ap­pears to be in vi­o­la­tion of his prom­ise to keep the Amer­i­can home­land safe. Em­mer, Craw­ford and five other House Repub­li­cans have warned that rolling back U.S. Cuba pol­icy could threaten new bi­lat­eral agree­ments with Ha­vana to com­bat hu­man traf­fick­ing, il­licit drugs and cy­ber crimes.

Mo­ran said in a state­ment that “putting Amer­ica first means ex­port­ing what we pro­duce to coun­tries across the globe.” He said he re­mains fo­cused on find­ing ways to “in­crease trade with Cuba rather than cut off re­la­tion­ships that have the po­ten­tial to cre­ate new jobs, bring in rev­enue and boost our na­tional econ­omy.”

Mo­ran backs leg­is­la­tion to re­store trade with Cuba in ad­di­tion to sup­port­ing Flake's leg­is­la­tion.

Sen. John Booz­man, R-Ark., said Trump's pol­icy moves the U.S. back­ward.

“It would be more ef­fec­tive to con­tinue an open line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and work­ing re­la­tion­ship with a gov­ern­ment in need of demo­cratic as­sis­tance, in­stead of shut­ting them out,” Booz­man said. “Through this ap­proach, we not only trade goods, but ideas.”

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