President Trump on Friday rolled back some, but not all, of his predecessor’s historic opening to Cuba, making it more difficult to travel to and do business with the Communist-ruled island.
In a speech in Miami, during which he greeted Cuban dissidents and denounced the Cuban regime, Trump said Cuban rulers were profiting from better relations with Washington but that ordinary Cuban citizens continued to be repressed.
“The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people, they only enrich the Cuban regime,” he said.
The result has been “only more repression.”
“I am canceling the previous administration’s completely one-sided deal,” he declared.
Trump’s actions will restrict the ways U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba and block business deals by American companies that might give revenue to the Cuban military.
But the announcement leaves intact many of the new Cuba policies adopted under President Obama, including the restoration of normal diplomatic relations, the elimination of special immigration rules for Cuban refugees and the permission for U.S. airlines and cruise ships to travel directly to the island.
Trump rarely cites human rights in his foreign policy decisions, and doing so now seemed to be in part a rhetorical nod to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and others who lobbied the president to completely shut down the opening with Cuba.
In December of 2014, Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro announced they were reopening diplomatic ties after a half-century of hostility.
Soon, Americans could travel to Cuba and businesses, including the tourism industry and food-producing farm states, were involved in commercial deals.
But conservative members of Congress, especially those based in southern Florida, objected. It was mostly the Communist government and Cuban military who were benefiting, they said. Until Cuba’s human rights situation improved, they argued, deals with Cuba should be limited.
The timing and place of Trump’s announcement raised some eyebrows. His vice president and three cabinet secretaries have been hosting leaders of Mexico and Central America in Miami for a two-day conference on immigration and regional prosperity.
All of the visiting Latin Americans were among the hemisphere’s leaders who welcomed Obama’s decision to recognize Havana. Until then, the United States was the only country in the world that continued to maintain a hostile position toward Cuba, and Obama’s decision to reverse that gained enormous goodwill for the United States throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Trump’s announcement will anger Latin America and erode U.S. ability in the region, including Washington’s efforts to pressure Venezuela’s abusive, leftist government.
“The optics are not the best,” said a senior international Latin American finance official in Miami for the conference. Like many diplomats, he spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about the Trump administration.
“The entire region welcomed the United States’ normalization of relations with Cuba,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the nonpartisan Wilson Center think tank in Washington. “The hardening of policy can only add to the growing distance between Washington and the region’s democracies.”
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton denied that the timing was a “slap in the face” to Latin American leaders.
“There’s nothing intentional about the timing. It’s not a slap in the face,” he told reporters on Air Force One as Trump flew to Miami.
“We hope we can get support from other Latin American leaders for this policy,” Anton said. “This is a policy that favors the Cuban people over and against an oppressive regime.”
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