Activists on both sides still await President Trump's reset with Cuba
Ledyard King and Alan Gomez, USA TODAY Published 5:41 p.m. ET May 18, 2017
WASHINGTON — Four months after he was sworn in, President Trump has yet
to make good on his vow to undo his predecessor's Cuba policies.
There were reports the president would unveil his plan on Saturday to
coincide with the 115th anniversary of Cuba's independence. But those
who oppose Barack Obama's thawing of diplomatic relations with the
communist country 90 miles south of Key West will have to wait until
Trump initially applauded Obama's decision to ease sanctions. But he
shifted during the last few months of last year's presidential campaign.
In media interviews, campaign speeches and tart tweets last fall, Trump
condemned Obama's Cuba policy saying it gave away too much without
requiring human rights guarantees from the Castro regime.
Then on Nov. 28, three weeks after he won the election and two days
following the death of Cuban President Fidel Castro, Trump tweeted an
"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."
Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio expects he'll follow through.
"The president has committed to addressing U.S. policy towards Cuba in a
way that supports our national security, democracy and human rights,"
said Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and one of Congress' fiercest
anti-Castro voices. "I have no doubt it is a commitment he will keep."
A top State Department official told reporters last week the
administration is conducting a "comprehensive policy review" that will
include an assessment of human rights progress in Cuba.
"I suspect that there will be important differences that will emerge
between how this administration plans to address the situation in Cuba"
and those under Obama, said Francisco Palmieri, acting Assistant
Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Because most of the steps Obama took to open up relations with Cuba,
such as opening an embassy, loosening the ability of Americans to visit
the island nation, easing trade and financial barriers, were
presidential orders, Trump could reverse them without congressional consent.
But whenever the president decides to announce his policy, anti-Cuba
hardliners might face some disappointment. Cuba experts don't expect
Trump to make the kind of wholesale changes to Cuba policy that he
hinted at during his presidential campaign.
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, has been
a long-time advocate of maintaining the economic embargo on the
communist island and opposed Obama's decision to open up relations with
But even he doesn't expect — or want — Trump to change some of the core
aspects of the opening, such as the reestablishment of diplomatic
relations, the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana, and some
of the new business opportunities available to American companies who
have already invested millions in new ventures.
"You can never go back," Calzon said.
Instead, many believe Trump will tinker around the edges of Obama's
opening. That could include revoking some business opportunities that
are too closely tied to the Cuban government, or making it more
difficult for Americans to visit the island.
Frank Mora, director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean
Center at Florida International University in Miami, said Trump has
never been adamant about shutting down Obama's Cuba opening, but feels
he must do something to satisfy Cuban-American voters, and members of
Congress, who supported him in Florida.
"They can't say, 'We were wrong, we're going to continue with Obama's
policy,'" Mora said. "They need to deliver something. They need to be
able to say, 'Promise made, promise delivered.' That way, they can go
home (and) declare victory. End of story."
But that's probably not a victory Cuban-Americans in Congress who remain
critical of the Castro regime are likely to salute.
They point to continued reports from rights groups suggesting very
little has changed since U.S-Cuba relations began thawing in 2014
"The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and punish public
criticism," according to a report from Human Rights Watch, "It now
relies less than in past years on long-term prison sentences to punish
its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders,
independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in
recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government
include beatings, public shaming, and termination of employment."
"Despite all of the propaganda, despite all of the misguided policy over
the past years, the reality is that the regime's repression is only
getting worse," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami-Dade, said on the
House floor Wednesday
"We must be honest about what is really going on in Cuba. We must not be
placated by the regime's lies or by those who repeat them," she said.
"We must fight for the truth and show the Cuban people that they are not
alone, that together we all stand in solidarity with them in the pursuit
Source: Cuba policy: Activists on both sides still await President
Trump's reset -