Trump aims to roll back Obama’s Cuba poli­cies

Tiller­son: Havana has yet to ad­dress hu­man rights is­sues

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY GUY TAYLOR

Pres­i­dent Trump is ex­pected to an­nounce a roll­back of his pre­de­ces­sor’s de­tente with Cuba dur­ing a visit Fri­day to Mi­ami, likely to in­clude a reim­po­si­tion of U.S. travel re­stric­tions to the com­mu­nist is­land as well as a lim­it­ing of busi­ness in­ter­ac­tions be­tween Amer­i­can com­pa­nies and en­ti­ties con­trolled by the Cuban mil­i­tary.

The changes are ex­pected to be in line with those sought by Cuba hard-lin­ers on Capi­tol Hill, in­clud­ing Sen. Marco Ru­bio, an in­flu­en­tial Florida Repub­li­can on the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee whom Mr. Trump seeks to gain as an ally.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on whether Fri­day’s speech will be a cul­mi­na­tion of a month­s­long re­view of Cuba pol­icy, which has been a sub­ject of spec­u­la­tion since Mr. Trump’s ad­vis­ers sig­naled in Novem­ber that he would undo Mr. Obama’s de­tente un­less the Cuban gov­ern­ment moved swiftly to ad­dress hu­man rights abuses and loosen re­stric­tions on free­dom of speech.

Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son told the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee this week that “Cuba has failed” to do that, and sug­gested im­pend­ing pol­icy changes will fo­cus on re­strict­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween U.S. and Cuban busi­nesses that “in­ad­ver­tently or di­rectly” sup­port what “con­tin­ues to be a very op­pres­sive regime.”

An­a­lysts say that could mean only mi­nor ad­just­ments to the open­ings put in place in 2014 by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which sought to thaw hos­til­ity that had per­sisted be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Havana since the 1962 Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis.

But the uncer­tainty has prompted warn­ings from some re­gional ex­perts and push­back from groups seek­ing a full lift of the decades-old trade em­bargo. “Any roll­back in U.S.-Cuba en­gage­ment would ad­versely af­fect the many U.S. busi­nesses who have in­vested cap­i­tal in build­ing av­enues for trans­ac­tions with the is­land,” says Ja­son Mar­czak at the At­lantic Coun­cil in Wash­ing­ton.

“Com­pa­nies like Airbnb, Google and dozens more in the tech, tourism and agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries have al­ready in­vested mil­lions,” Mr. Mar­czak said. “Their in­vest­ments should not be jeop­ar­dized by out­dated poli­cies that have proven detri­men­tal in the past.”

On Tues­day 55 Cuban fe­male en­trepreneurs sent a let­ter to Mr. Trump’s daugh­ter, Ivanka, seek­ing her sup­port for U.S. travel and trade with Cuba, ar­gu­ing such de­vel­op­ments have em­pow­ered Cuban women and strength­ened a nascent pri­vate sec­tor.

“There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cuban women work­ing in the pri­vate sec­tor,” the group wrote, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease cir­cu­lated by the En­gage Cuba coali­tion, a U.S.-based group push­ing to lift re­main­ing el­e­ments of the em­bargo. “A set­back in the re­la­tion­ship would bring with it the fall of many of our busi­nesses and with this, the suf­fer­ing of all those fam­i­lies that de­pend on them.”

Michael Shifter, who heads the In­terAmer­i­can Di­a­logue in Wash­ing­ton, said a se­ri­ous lim­it­ing of U.S. travel and busi­ness will not only un­der­mine the growth of cap­i­tal­ist ac­tiv­ity on the is­land, it “will strengthen Cuban gov­ern­ment hard-lin­ers at a time when Cuba des­per­ately needs help and re­forms.”

“The hard-lin­ers will tell the Cuban peo­ple, ‘We told you we shouldn’t trust the Amer­i­cans. We tried to work with them, and this is what we get,’” Mr. Shifter said. “Trump is go­ing to in­voke hu­man rights as his mo­ti­va­tion for any changes to the pol­icy,” he said. “This is ironic be­cause hu­man rights have so far not been a hall­mark of his ad­min­is­tra­tion in other parts of the world, such as Turkey, Egypt, the Philip­pines and Rus­sia.”

Mr. Trump also has a clear do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal rea­son for restor­ing bareknuckle pres­sure on Havana, Mr. Shifter added. The pres­i­dent, he said, wants to ap­pease a clutch of Cuban-Amer­i­can Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, who were out­raged by Mr. Obama’s de­tente but are still mulling whether to back Mr. Trump at a mo­ment when his new ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­der fire on sev­eral fronts.

Mr. Ru­bio is chief among them. He and the pres­i­dent went toe to toe in last year’s Repub­li­can pri­maries, dur­ing which Mr. Trump re­ferred to the Florida se­na­tor as “Lit­tle Marco.” The two ap­peared re­cently to be try­ing to mend fences, a de­vel­op­ment that could help Mr. Trump as the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee con­tin­ues to probe al­le­ga­tions of prox­im­ity be­tween his 2016 cam­paign and Rus­sia.

Mr. Ru­bio was among a hand­ful of Repub­li­cans who had din­ner at the White House last week, just days be­fore he was seen to de­fend Mr. Trump dur­ing a com­mit­tee hear­ing in which for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James B. Comey in­sin­u­ated that the pres­i­dent had en­gaged in an ob­struc­tion of jus­tice by fir­ing him over the bureau’s own Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Ru­bio is on the in­tel com­mit­tee; he was a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. If Trump de­liv­ers and rolls back Obama pol­icy on Cuba, I think Ru­bio is go­ing to de­fend him no mat­ter what hap­pens,” said Mr. Shifter. “And when you’re in some trou­ble, like I think Trump is, and it’s be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, it’s good to have friends in the Se­nate like Marco Ru­bio.”

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