WebWire: Altamar: New Podcast Navigates the High Seas of Global Politics



In an increasingly turbulent moment of uncertainty and unpredictability in global politics, there is something missing from the public policy debate: sanity.
“We live in a world that is being tossed and turned. The only thing that seems certain is uncertainty,” says Altamar co-host Peter Schechter. “This podcast is all about navigating the rough seas of today’s global politics and finding our way back to shore – rejecting the partisan polarization, getting past the populism, and debating pragmatic solutions.”
Altamar, a Spanish term for “high seas,” is a half-hour podcast show that will regularly feature special guests across a range of foreign policy topics and regions, from Latin America to Africa, Asia, Europe and beyond.
Schechter co-hosts Altamar with Muni Jensen, a former Colombian diplomat, television political analyst, and a highly regarded international columnist.
“At Altamar, we’re responding to the fatigue we’re all feeling over fake news and fake political correctness, intolerance; the source of so much confusion over crucial events,” says Jensen. “It’s time for frank discussion on these issues, challenges and dissent are welcome on this podcast, here we figure out why the news matters to you, no matter where it takes place.”
The Altamar podcast is launching its first two episodes, featuring James Williams of Engage Cuba on Trump’s reversal of the opening with Havana, and John Avlon of The Daily Beast and French historian Jean Garrigues discussing the viability of Emmanuel Macron’s challenge to populism. Future episodes will feature expert guests exploring whether Russia is winning, how to find an off-ramp in the Qatar crisis, and South Africa’s collapsing soft power, among other issues.

Miami Herald: U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties: What a difference two years and a new president makes

Miami Herald


As the clock ticked past midnight two years ago, the United States and Cuba officially reestablished diplomatic relations and later in the day that July 20, diplomatic missions in Washington and Havana once again became embassies.

During a flag-raising event at the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C., Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez hailed the rapprochement, saying: “Today marks an opportunity to begin working to establish new bilateral relations unlike anything that has existed in the past.”

Three weeks later, the United States held its formal flag-raising event in Havana and the Stars and Stripes flew over the U.S. Embassy. Former Secretary of State John Kerry — the first secretary of state to set foot in Cuba since 1945 — hailed the event as a time to “unfurl our flags, raise them up, and let the world know that we wish each other well.”

But what a difference two years and a new president makes.

During a speech in Miami when President Donald Trump announced his new policy on Cuba, he said: “Now that I am your president, America will expose the crimes of the Castro regime and stand with the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.”

He called the rapprochement that former President Barack Obama began with Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014 — after 18 months of secret negotiations — a “terrible and misguided deal.” His intent, Trump said, was to keep cash from U.S. travel and trade out of the hands of the Cuban regime by eliminating individual people-to-people travel to the island and drafting regulations that would bar U.S. business dealings with companies owned or controlled by the Cuban military or intelligence services, which includes a broad swath of Cuba’s better hotels and travel services.

At the same time, Trump said he wanted to support Cuba’s fledgling entrepreneurs. U.S. travelers also are expected to be under more scrutiny to make sure they are traveling to Cuba legally and not making tourism trips to the island.

For some in Miami, it was a much needed reset of Cuba policy.

“I’m glad Trump came along and said this has to change,” said radio commentator Ninoska Pérez. “I think he knows as a businessman that there is no point in investing in Cuba under current conditions. What is the point in promoting travel to a military dictatorship if you know the money is going to end up in the hands of the dictatorship?”

Essentially, she said, U.S.-Cuba policy stands where it was before the rapprochement began with the Cuban regime is still abusing human rights: “In the end, nothing was gained during the Obama era and a lot was lost.”

Cuban exiles Alexis Herrera and Magaly Mendoza expressed their disagreement in Miami with the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba. They took part in a protest called by several Cuban exiles organizations at Versailles restaurant on Friday, August 14, 2015, the day of the formal flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

But Carlos Saladrigas, a South Florida business executive and chairman of the Cuba Study Group, said Trump’s stance harkens back to an era of confrontation between the two countries and “gives enormous impetus to hardliners on the island who are fighting reforms in Cuba. If he ends up hurting the progressives in Cuba and encouraging the hardliners, what is the point of all this?

“I don’t see this as a climate where Cuba will think it can loosen up,” Saladrigas added. “I think the economy will get worse and repression will increase.”

Helms-Burton Act

While Obama tried to chip away at the embargo by issuing a series of executive orders and regulatory changes that made it easier for Americans to travel to the island and to engage in business and trade, the Trump administration has made it clear that it wants to hew closely to U.S. law on Cuba.

That would be the Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996 in the heat of Cuba’s shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes, resulting in the deaths of four South Florida pilots. Lifting the embargo used to be a presidential decision, but Helms-Burton sets a series of conditions before it can be lifted such as release of all political prisoners, legalization of all political activity and a public commitment in Cuba to organize free and fair elections for a new government that would be held within 18 months.

During testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June after Trump’s announcement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized that Cuba policy needed to be brought into alignment with “statutory obligations.”

While developing business ties with Cuba is “the sunny side of the relationship,” Tillerson said Cuba “continues to be a very oppressive regime” and there are concerns that as new business relationships are being developed, “are we inadvertently or directly providing financial support to the regime?

“We are supportive of continued economic development as long as it is done in full compliance with our existing statutes to not provide financial support to the regime,” he added. “We think it is important that we take steps to restore the intent of the Helms-Burton legislation, which was to put pressure on the regime to change.”

In Miami, Trump made his bottom line clear: Cuba needs to meet the conditions set forth in the Helms-Burton Act as well as return fugitives from American justice such as Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, a former Black Panther who fled to Cuba after escaping a new Jersey prison where she was serving a life sentence for the murder of a state trooper.

Further negotiations with Havana, Trump said, will depend on “real” progress toward these and other goals. “When Cuba is ready to take concrete steps to these ends, we will be ready, willing, and able to come to the table to negotiate that much better deal for Cubans, for Americans,” he said.

President Donald Trump signs a memorandum on strengthening Cuba surrounded by Cuban Americans and Vice President Mike Pence at the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana.

Cuban leader Raúl Castro, meanwhile, has said repeatedly that Cuba wants to continue negotiating with the U.S. on areas of common interest as long as such meetings are carried out with mutual respect and equality.

While denouncing efforts to strengthen “the blockade,” the Cuban term for the embargo, and to manipulate the human rights issue against Cuba, Castro nevertheless said: “Cuba and the United States can cooperate and coexist, respecting differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples, but it shouldn’t be expected ... that Cuba will make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence … or negotiate its principles or accept conditions of any type.”

Saladrigas said making demands isn’t the way to bring Cuba to the negotiating table. “We keep forgetting that just like the Cubans here, the Cubans on the island are proud people. We don’t negotiate under pressure. It’s never happened.”

During the Obama era, Cuba released dozens of political prisoners as a gesture of goodwill, not because the United States demanded it.

During the Obama administration, Cuban and American delegations traveled back and forth between the two capitals negotiating agreements and signing memorandums of understanding on everything from cancer research and migration matters to environmental and counter-narcotics cooperation. The first regularly scheduled commercial flights to Cuba from the United States in more than half a century resumed, as did direct mail service. U.S.-based cruise ships once again are visiting Cuban ports.

Since Trump took office, there haven’t been any bilateral talks between Washington and Havana, although the areas of cooperation hammered out between Cuba and the United States remain in effect. Educational, sports and cultural exchanges that have brought Major League Baseball players and iconic ballerina Misty Copeland to Cuba continue to flourish.

Dozens of U.S. trade and political delegations have visited Cuba since the opening, although Cuba has been slow on the uptake in approving business deals with U.S. companies that were allowed under the Obama rapprochement.

As one of his final actions on Cuba, Obama rescinded the controversial “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed Cubans who reached U.S. territory, even if brought by people smugglers, to stay and generally sent back Cubans interdicted at sea. Trump doesn’t plan to reinstate it. Trump also hasn’t mentioned restoring Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Although individual people-to-people travel will be eliminated, other categories of permissible travel for Americans will remain the same, and Trump hasn’t touched Obama’s more liberal remittance policy.

“Despite the red meat in Trump’s Miami speech, there is a lot more continuity [with Obama policy] than change,” said Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California, San Diego and a senior director of the National Security Council’s Office of Inter-American Affairs in the White House under President Bill Clinton.

“During the last two years, the U.S. and Cuban governments succeeded in building solid constituencies for normalization in both countries — among governments, businesses and public opinions — such that the Trump administration felt compelled to abandon any plans for across-the-board rollbacks, deciding ultimately to maintain most of the engagement measures,” Feinberg said.

Frank Calzon, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba, said the rapprochement with Havana has largely been a one-way street: “The normalization of relations and making concessions to Havana wouldn’t have been a mistake if something had been obtained in return.”

Calzon said he welcomed Trump’s statements in Miami and the memorandum he signed to strengthen U.S. Cuba policy, but hopes that many key positions on Latin America and human rights issues that are still vacant will be filled soon by the Trump administration so that his policies can be implemented. “I’ve learned that personnel is policy,” he said.

While Saladrigas agrees that on the face of it, the Trump changes might appear minor, “the implications of what he has done could have quite far-reaching and dangerous results.” He’s especially worried how the changes will impact Cuba’s budding self-employed sector, which now numbers more than 500,000 workers.

“When the regulations do come down and tighten up American travel to Cuba, I expect there will be dire consequences for the entrepreneurial class,” Saladrigas said, adding that some businesses, dependent on serving American travelers to the island, will fold.

The new regulations could be written rather benignly or broadly so that they could stifle big chunks of trade and travel to the island.

“We’ll have to wait and see how the regulations are actually written, but the confusion already surrounding the recently announced directive could have far-reaching negative consequences,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a public policy group that supports normalization. “Cuba’s private sector has already been hit with a wave of cancellations from American visitors who are confused about whether they can even legally travel to Cuba.”

While he was pleased that Trump had said he wants to help the island’s private sector, Williams said he hoped that the administration would engage more with Cuba’s entrepreneurial class and “get their insight when writing these regulations so that they do not cause greater harm to this important change in Cuba.”

A group of Cuban entrepreneurs who were in Washington this week sent a letter to the Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce in which they said they were encouraged by Trump’s declaration of support for the private sector. But they recommended keeping individual people-to-people travel, allowing Cuban entrepreneurs more access to U.S. exports and making it easier for Cubans to open U.S. bank accounts.

Travel Pulse: Cuban Businesses Urge Trump to Allow Individual Travel

Travel Pulse


A handful of Cuban entrepreneurs penned a letter to the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce, outlining several policy recommendations for President Donald Trump's administration.

Trump revealed his National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba policy last month, partially rolling back some Obama-era policies that eased restrictions on American travel to the island nation in an effort to aid the country's emerging private sector.

While Americans can still travel to Cuba under certain licenses, getting there is expected to be more challenging under Trump's policy

"First, we recommend policymakers allow U.S. travelers to continue to travel as individuals to Cuba. U.S. travel to Cuba directly benefits private entrepreneurs and their families," the business leaders wrote. "The vast majority of U.S. individual travelers (vs. groups) frequent private lodging, restaurants and transportation services."

"Fewer travelers will have a direct negative impact on businesses in the hospitality sector as well an indirect negative impact on connected enterprises."

The entrepreneurs urged the administration to restore the ability for U.S. travelers to participate in self-directed people-to-people educational travel and to clarify that individuals who support the Cuban private sector by using private goods and services are eligible to visit.

They also want the U.S. government to clearly define new regulations so potential travelers aren't discouraged from visiting Cuba.

According to a recent study, three-quarters of U.S. travelers stayed in private B&Bs in Cuba. What's more, 99 percent say they ate at a privately-owned restaurant.

"If President Trump is serious about helping Cuba's private sector, he will listen to Cuban entrepreneurs. Today, they are telling him that additional regulations on Americans who wish to travel to Cuba will harm their businesses and harm Cuba's private sector," said Engage Cuba President James Williams in a statement.

"Americans are staying in private B&Bs, eating at private restaurants and taking private taxi cabs. Following President Trump's Cuba directive, Cubans across the island are concerned that a rollback of engagement will hurt the Cuban people." 

"President Trump’s new policy has created confusion and fear among U.S. travelers and Cuban entrepreneurs,” said Collin Laverty, President of Cuba Educational Travel, in a statement. "We should be promoting the flow of people, ideas, goods and services, not pumping the brakes.”

In addition to freeing up U.S. travel to Cuba, the business leaders encouraged the Trump administration to make it easier for Cubans to open U.S. bank accounts, ease access to U.S. exports and continue a bilateral dialogue. 

Miami Herald: As Trump writes new Cuba rules, anti-embargo politicians present a compromise

Miami Herald


Jeff Flake sees an opening in Cuba.

The Republican senator from Arizona, a longtime critic of U.S. trade and travel restrictions on the island, is hopeful that the Trump administration is willing to compromise when it comes to writing out the rules that will comprise Trump’s Cuba policy directive announced in Miami last month.

“This is an area where Marco Rubio and I agree on,” Flake said. “We’ve had broad disagreements with policy on Cuba, but we want to make sure that American travel serves a purpose and that it empowers entrepreneurs. I think what we’ve all recognized no matter where we are on the policy is that over the past couple of years a lot more Cubans have enjoyed a lot more freedom because of American travel.”

Flake was on hand for an announcement on Tuesday by Engage Cuba and the Center of Democracy in the Americas outlining a number of policy recommendations as the White House figures out the nuts and bolts of the Cuba policy announced in June.

Their recommendations include allowing individual people-to-people travel, lifting restrictions on remittances and lifting limitations on bank transactions for Cubans who open U.S. bank accounts.

“Ever since the speech by President Trump we’ve seen a lot of cancellations in our reservations by American travelers. The Americans are scared to come to Cuba,” said Julio Alvarez, co-founder of a restoration garage for classic American automobiles in Havana. “It’s affecting my ability to come to the U.S. to get parts for my cars. I’m not allowed to have a bank account here. This affects my business greatly.”

The entrepreneurs also sent a letter to the departments of State, Treasury and Commerce outlining their recommendations.

“The vast majority of U.S. individual travelers frequent private lodging, restaurants and transportation services,” the letter said. “Fewer travelers will have a direct negative impact on businesses in the hospitality sector as well as an indirect negative impact on connected enterprises.”

Flake was joined by Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, two longtime proponents of ending the Cuban embargo.

“Our government now criticizes that new opening,” Leahy said, after he warmly embraced some of the entrepreneurs on hand and showed them pictures of the view from his home in Vermont. “They say the only Cubans who benefited were Raúl Castro and the Cuban ministry. Well, the Cuban government has benefited, that’s unavoidable in any country where there’s state-owned enterprises. There’s a whole lot of countries like that; China Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, we have no restrictions on travel there.”

James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, said the recommendations announced Tuesday should appeal to politicians like Rubio who have made it clear their intention is to hurt the sprawling Cuban military apparatus and help private citizens engage in free enterprise.

“Senator Rubio since the announcement has been very active in publicly pushing... that this is not against the private sector,” Williams said. “He’s going out of his way to say how much he’s supporting it so we would hope that there should be common agreement.”

Williams added that their recommendations represent the best chance of a compromise between Cuba hardliners and anti-embargo politicians, as they do not address ending the embargo or allowing tourism on the island.

“If we can’t find agreement on this, I don’t think we can find an agreement on anything,” Williams said. “I’m sort of less optimistic about Congressman [Mario] Diaz-Balart than I am about Senator Rubio.”

Diaz-Balart and Rubio worked closely with the Trump administration to draft the new policy directive that rolled back portions of Barack Obama’s policies in Cuba. The Republican pair argued that additional restrictions on business and tourism will stymie cash flow to the Cuban government and pressure communist leaders to let the private sector grow.

“It is my hope that in five to 10 years — or less — Cuba will look very different, and people will point to this as the moment that kind of triggered those changes,” Rubio said in June after the policy directive was released.

Flake said that he and Rubio met with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the Office of Foreign Assets Control and the State Department since the policy directive was announced and that the conversations between the two senators with different philosophies toward the island has been productive.

“We have a policy directive, but it has to be written into regs,” Flake said. “That takes time and that’s extremely important.”

Flake also introduced legislation earlier this year that would eliminate travel restrictions to Cuba for American citizens, and he garnered 54 other co-sponsors, including Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, for his bill. Flake said Tuesday that a bill lifting the embargo would get close to 70 votes in the Senate, but that Republican leadership likely won’t put the measure up for a floor vote.

“We’re going to be looking for vehicles,” Flake said, adding that anti-embargo senators could add the provision into government funding bills in the coming months. “It’s going to be difficult to motivate them to put it on the floor but to the extent it could be attached to anything, even if it’s a vote that won’t move the policy, it will show people where the Senate is.”

Flake said 70 votes on any piece of legislation related to Cuba, even if symbolic, would send a strong message to Trump.

Williams said the only reason Republican leaders in Congress haven’t moved forward on the issue is because a small minority of members are very vocal in rolling back some of Obama’s policies.

“The policy should reflect the will of Congress and the American people,” Williams said, adding that 75 percent of the American people want to end the embargo. “We can get 70 votes in the Senate and yet we can’t get a vote. That’s crazy to people.”

My Champlain Valley: Sen. Leahy Meets With Cuban Entrepreneurs

My Champlain Valley


Trying to promote business between the two nations Senator Patrick Leahy met with Cuban entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C.
President Trump's administration is working to issue new restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba.

Representatives from the island nation are in the nation's capitol trying to spot that.

Some business owners say they've already felt the impact of the Trump administration's plans.
Celia Mendoza, a Cuban business owner says "we've had around nine cancelations of groups that were coming to Cuba that had schedules accommodations, itineraries, restaurant reservations and they decided to cancel their trips last moment."
The Engage Cuba coalition tweeted pictures Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy meeting with people from the island nation.

NBC News: Cuban Jewish Leaders Pen Open Letter In Support of U.S.-Cuba Relations

NBC News


Leaders of the Jewish community in Cuba have sent an open letter today to their “brothers and sisters” in the U.S. expressing concern that reversing policy towards the island could have an impact on religious institutions, which have benefited from increased ties between the countries.

“The Jewish Community of Cuba, since its founding, has maintained ties of friendship and brotherhood and sisterhood with the Jewish people of the United States, even in moments when diplomatic relations between both countries did not exist,” states the letter. It is signed by 7 Jewish leaders, including Adela Dworkin, President of the Jewish Community of Cuba, as well as its Vice President, David Prinstein, leaders of Havana's Sephardic center and Jewish community coordinators in different parts of the country.

"North Americans played a substantial role in the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, and some of them have even visited our synagogues in Havana," states the letter. "There is a permanent desire to promote the continual development of this relationship and to strengthen the benefits that are starting to take shape, mainly for our people."

The pro-engagement lobbying group Engage Cuba are helping the Jewish leaders disseminate the letter in the U.S.

“Through an organic conversation they decided they wanted to write a letter to their counterparts here in the U.S. voicing their concern and explaining how increased travel has helped religious institutions in the Jewish community in Cuba," said Michael Maisel, Direcor of External Affairs for Engage Cuba.

The group worked with the Jewish leaders on translating the letter to make sure they were comfortable with it.

Maisel said they decided to spread the word and release the letter now because the U.S. government is currently in the phase of the regulatory writing; it's important to see how the Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury write the regulations around travel and trade.

Since diplomatic relations were reestablished between the U.S. and Cuba in 2015, the amount of Americans traveling to the island has soared with renewed commercial air service.

Last month, President Donald Trump reversed some Obama-era executive orders by tightening restrictions on trade and travel with the communist island. The administration banned U.S. trade with Cuban entities linked to the military. Trump’s changes also eliminated the individual “people-to-people” category under which Americans could go to Cuba without booking a trip with a travel group. Details of the new policy are currently being written.

The Jewish community in Cuba is small and numbers around 1,000. The island was once a popular destination for Jews that fled after the break up of the Ottoman Empire, and later Europe and Russia after World War II. In the 1950s there were around 15,000 Jews living in Cuba, mostly in Havana. But after the 1959 Cuban revolution, the majority fled the nation. There are still three active synagogues in Havana.

Marcos Kerbel is the past president of the Cuban Hebrew Congregation of Miami. He says Jewish people from around the world have traveled to Cuba throughout the years including Americans.

He told NBC News that strictly from a humanitarian, religious, and educational point of view, “it’s important in order for the community to continue its existence that they continue to have people visit, and that they receive individual help from tourists traveling to the island and from global Jewish institutions."

Kerbel said this is important in order for the community to continue their mission.

For example, he said, there is a pharmacy that not only helps Jewish members of the community, but also aids the larger non-Jewish community.

The letter states that “in the case of the Jewish communities, it would be excellent to continue deepening the relations, exchanges, and collaboration that have been offered to support the progress and development of the Jewish Community of Cuba. The programs and projects that are carried out in our synagogues also benefit the people in need in our community.”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency: Cuban Jewish leaders call on US Jewish community to strengthen ties

Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Leaders of Cuba’s Jewish community sent an open letter to the U.S. Jewish community calling for a strengthening of ties and expressing concern over a reversal of policy by the United States toward the island nation.

“The Jewish Community of Cuba, since its founding, has maintained ties of friendship and brotherhood and sisterhood with the Jewish people of the United States, even in moments when diplomatic relations between both countries did not exist,” said the letter issued Wednesday.

“North Americans played a substantial role in the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, and some of them have even visited our synagogues in Havana. There is a permanent desire to promote the continual development of this relationship and to strengthen the benefits that are starting to take shape, mainly for our people,” the letter continued.

“Knowing that the Jewish communities and institutions of the United States have an interest in the relations with the Jewish people of the world, and especially towards Latin America, we request that we work together so that our countries do not go backwards in what has been accomplished and assure that the Cuban and American people enjoy a peaceful and prosperous future.”

Seven major Jewish leaders in Cuba signed the letter, including Adela Dworkin, the community’s president; David Prinstein, its vice president; leaders of the Sephardic center in Havana, and the country’s Jewish community coordinators.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed a presidential directive on Cuba limiting business and educational travel to Cuba and restricting commerce. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had lifted travel and commercial restrictions with Havana.

Havana has three operating synagogues, including one Orthodox. The government has been supportive of the community in recent years, with President Raul Castro attending Hanukkah ceremonies at Beth Shalom Synagogue, according to the Engage Cuba coalition, a nonprofit group working to end the trade and travel embargo of Cuba that is helping the Jewish community distribute its letter in the United States and get the word out.

 The Jewish community of Cuba numbers about 1,000.

KDLG: Can Cuban Charcoal Turn Up The Heat On U.S.-Cuba Relations?




To Cuba now, where a weed runs rampant across the country, spoiling millions of acres of what could be productive agricultural land. Some people, though, have found a way to turn the weed into wealth. And those people include an American lawyer, who thinks the invasive plant can sprout some goodwill in Cuba-U.S. relations. NPR's Carrie Kahn brings us the story from Cuba.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The weed is called marabou and grows as tall as a tree, with trunks as thick and heavy as the hardest of woods.

ALEXI RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Alexi Ramirez harvests the marabou trunks behind his one-room house next to the railroad tracks outside the city of San Antonio de los Banos, about an hour south of Havana. He says it's one tough plant to cut down.

RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I use gloves and a machete and a big axe," says Ramirez as he shows me several scars on his legs from too many missed whacks. After chopping it down, Ramirez says he burns the marabou slowly for days in this big pit he shuffles through, now cool and filled with ash. The charred wood is cut into chunks, bagged and ready for sale. Ramirez and other small farmers have found a use for this weed that's been a scourge on Cuba for decades.

MARIO DORTA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "You can't get rid of it," says Mario Dorta, the commercial director at the joint U.K.-Cuban company Havana Energy. He says machines can plow it under, but it grows back unless a crop is put in its place. In the 1990s, during Cuba's so-called special period when it lost its subsidies after the fall of the Soviet Union, much of the island's agricultural land went foul. Marabou took off. It's estimated as much as 5 million acres of Cuba's arable land is now covered in a thick, thorny weed.

DORTA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Dorta says it was Cuba's small farmers who figured out the hard marabou trunks burn strong and long. He says it's great for everything from backyard barbecuing - he just roasted a whole pig on the slow-burning charcoal - to energy production. Havana Energy is building a new plant on the island to generate electricity from burning marabou.

But just as Cuban entrepreneurs found value in the noxious weed, so did an American lawyer, not just economically but politically too. His name is Scott Gilbert. He's the same attorney who represented Alan Gross, a former USAID contractor who spent five years in a Cuban jail on espionage charges. After Gross's release in 2014, just as President Obama made his historic opening with the Castro regime, Gilbert began working his new high-level Cuban contacts.

JAMES WILLIAMS: He was able to put the pieces together.

KAHN: James Williams heads Engage Cuba, a group that advocates to end the U.S. embargo. Under U.S. law, the only product that could be exported to the U.S. had to be sold by private businesses, not the state. Williams says marabou charcoal not manufactured on a large scale, only by small farmers and private co-ops, fit the bill.

WILLIAMS: This just happened to be one of those sweet spots where it's an interesting product. There's a demand for it in the United States. You know, it's actually something to keep looking to get rid of. And so it really created sort of a, you know, a natural connection on both sides.

KAHN: Gilbert declined NPR's request for an interview. The commercial environment between the U.S. and Cuba is in flux now, at least for the next few months after President Trump's recent reversal of some of Obama's trade and tourism exemptions. Details of the new regulations are being drafted now, but observers believe marabou charcoal exports will probably remain intact. The first shipment made it to Florida in January. Cuban charcoal is now being sold in the U.S. online. The price - 42.95 for a 33-pound bag. And so far, the reviews are pretty good.

The Gazette: Some Iowans worried about Trump's new Cuba restrictions

Cedar Rapids Gazette


Since President Donald Trump signed a directive last month outlining his plans to tighten travel and spending restrictions on Cuba, some Iowans say they’re disappointed with his administration’s decision.

From agricultural leaders to veterans looking to help others, some residents who were optimistic about the trajectory President Barack Obama set for more open relations worry about the implications of further limiting American interactions with Cuba.

Inspired by documentaries that showed a thriving skateboard culture amid widespread poverty in Cuba, Cedar Rapids resident Jason Everett is flying to Cuba on Wednesday to bring skateboards to disadvantaged kids. He said if he’d scheduled his trip much later, it’s unlikely he’d be able to go at all.

“There’s a very small window for people to do what I’m doing,” he said.

Trump’s policy differs from Obama’s in two main ways, said Martina Kunovic, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and visiting researcher at the Cuban Institute for Cultural Research in Havana.

The new regulations limit individual “people to people” travel — the kind of trip Everett is taking, which opened up under the Obama Administration and allows travelers to visit for non-academic educational purposes — and prohibit American spending in businesses affiliated with the Cuban military, intelligence or security services, which reportedly control most of the tourist industry, Kunovic said.

During his June 16 speech in Miami, Trump said he was canceling “the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba” and implementing a new policy taking aim at what his administration sees as a repressive government.

“We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” he said at the event, adding that the Cuban regime “exploits and abuses the citizens.”

However, embassies set up by President Obama won’t be eliminated, and commercial flights and cruises to Cuba will continue. The Treasury and Commerce Department will begin issuing regulations in mid-July, Kunovic said. Changes will go into effect once the policies are finalized, which will likely take months, she said.

‘Wrong Direction’

Though there wasn’t significant change in economic relations with Cuba under Obama, the administration’s diplomatic improvements gave some Iowa farmers hope that open trade policies were on the horizon.

“The (Trump Administration’s) rhetoric is a step backward,” said Kirk Leeds, chief executive officer of the Iowa Soybean Association. “It’s headed in the wrong direction.”

The nearly 60-year-old embargo is harmful for Iowa farmers while other nations benefit from trade with a country just 90 miles from U.S. shores, added Jerry Mohr, an at-large director of the Iowa Corn Growers Association and a member of Iowa’s Engage Cuba Coalition state council, a national nonpartisan organization working to end travel and trade restrictions on Cuba.

Logically, Iowa would be the dominant soybean supplier in Cuba if Congress lifted the embargo, said Leeds, who is also a member of Iowa’s Engage Cuba Coalition council.

However, since the island is relatively small and poor, Leeds isn’t sure open trade would provide a significant economic boost for farmers. At the same time, every market is important, he said, and the expanding tourism industry would present the best opportunity for Iowa agriculture as travelers often expect quality beef and produce, which the U.S. produces efficiently.

So far, it’s unclear if the policy will further limit agricultural exports to Cuba, Kunovic said. However, if the Cuban entity responsible for imports is determined to have ties to the Cuban military, there could be increased restrictions, she said.

The embargo — one of several U.S. policies intended to contain communism — can only be dismantled by the Senate, Kunovic added.

The economic restrictions cause more than just financial troubles, said Craig Hill, director of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Engage Cuba Coalition member. In part because many Cuban farmers don’t have access to modern production methods, the nation struggles with food insecurity, he said.

“We want to be a reliable supplier, a responsible supplier and a cheap supplier,” Hill said. “It’s a (diplomatic) and humanitarian need as well to be reliable suppliers for Cubans.”

After years of economic sanctions, Mohr said, it’s clear that the embargo isn’t effective.

“Why do we want to keep punishing (the Cuban) people?” he asked. “They’re great people. Let’s open things up.”

Study Abroad Programs

Iowa State University associate professor Rose Caraway first traveled to Cuba on a study abroad trip in 2002. Now, she hopes to launch an Iowa State study abroad program there.

After the Obama Administration loosened travel restrictions, Cubans were optimistic that continued change might allow them to communicate more easily with family and friends in the U.S., said Caraway, who researches the relationships between religion and sustainability in Cuba and has traveled there regularly for more than a decade. She worries that the new development could negatively impact Cubans’ perceptions of America.

Caraway doesn’t have concrete program arrangements yet, but she said the ambiguity makes it hard to move forward in the planning process because, at this point, it’s impossible to assess how the policy will impact education and travel.

At the same time, officials at another Iowa university with an existing Cuba study abroad program say Trump’s regulations don’t pose concerns for educational travel.

The University of Iowa offers an official study abroad opportunity in Cuba that predates the loosening of academic travel restrictions under Obama, said Autumn Tallman, associate director of International Health and Safety and Security at the university.

The new policy doesn’t prevent the university from sending students to Cuba, said Dimy Doresca, director of the university’s Institute for International Business. Doresca, who leads the school’s Cuba trip, said a spring 2018 program is in the works.

If relations open up, Caraway said, Americans may be able to learn from the emphasis on community she’s observed in Cuban culture.

“I think that’s something to look at and maybe ask ourselves about,” she said. “In terms of all these issues that we’re dealing with here in the United States, (they) may be connected to this central question of community.”

Thriving subculture

Everett, a veteran and member of the Iowa Army National Guard, said his own international travels prompted his upcoming 15-day trip to Cuba. He feels fortunate to have experienced the kindness of strangers around the world and wanted to give back, he said.

“Subculture is really thriving there. The kids are hungry for ways to express themselves,” he said.

Friends from as far away as China have sent Everett money to buy skateboards to bring to Cuba, he said.

But there’s not much time left for people who want to take on similar projects, Everett said. He received government approval for the trip under the “people to people” category, but rules governing that type of travel will be stricter under Trump.

Nate Sherwood, co-owner of Cedar Rapids skate shop EduSkate, has helped Everett pick out supplies for the trip, which Sherwood sees as a chance to help passionate skaters who might not have the resources to buy a skateboard.

“There’s so many cats in Cuba that are so talented, but accessing quality equipment is so hard,” Sherwood said.

Everett is also working with Rene Lecour, founder of Amigo Skate, a Miami-based organization dedicated to sending instruments, art supplies and skateboards to kids in Cuba. Lecour has traveled to Cuba about once a month for the last seven years.

Having a positive impact on other people’s lives makes the risky business of bringing goods into Cuba worth it, he said.

“We’ve gotten to meet a lot of really sweet people over the years like (Everett), who are just taking time and energy and money and doing something to help somebody else,” Lecour said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than that.”

The Tennessean: How Trump's Cuba reversals could hurt Tennessee, nation

The Tennessean


Donald Trump reversed some of the Obama-era initiatives easing Cuban travel and business restrictions that thawed United States-Cuba relations.

This is a bad move by anyone’s politics. It impedes recent American progress and Tennessee’s long-term gain.

Obama’s 2014 policy changes benefited American businesses. Agriculture, manufacturing, shipping, and tourism jobs and opportunities have been created because of Cuban trade. Cuba received delegations from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, Florida, and Louisiana, often led by the governors themselves.

A June letter to Trump from three Republican senators cautioned against Trump’s reversal. Trump’s rollback could cost the U.S. economy $6.6 billion, according to nonprofit group Engage Cuba.

“If President Trump rolled back our Cuba policy, he would add job-killing government regulations on U.S. businesses,” said Engage Cuba President James Williams, according to a statement on the group’s website. “This directly conflicts with President Trump's campaign promises of removing onerous regulations and red tape on U.S. businesses.”

A 2015 GOP pollster found 71 percent of Tennesseans supported improving relations with Cuba. Engage Cuba established a council for Tennessee-Cuba engagement. The prognosis: engaging Cuba yields positives for Tennessee industries and workers.

Tennessee’s senators have unsurprisingly been noncommittal. Bob Corker has kept silent on Cuba. Lamar Alexander has attempted to simultaneously support Cuban embargo while saying “it's time to think seriously about what the relationship should be for the next 50 years."

Obama’s changes shifted from a Kennedy-era relations freeze and embargo intended to force Fidel Castro’s Cuban government to abandon dictatorial communism. However, Castro’s government survived, in part, by using the embargo to its political advantage.

Fifty years of Uncle Sam’s cold shoulder has failed.

Rapprochement succeeded with other communist nations such as China, Vietnam, and Laos, opening significant markets for American businesses. The U.S. never severed relations with communist Guatemala. It doesn’t take a policy wonk to draw the parallels.

Trump’s predecessors did just that. Bill Clinton began rapprochement groundwork until Cuba’s Air Force shot down aircraft of the anti-Castro Brothers of the Rescue. George W. Bush announced a 2002 initiative for better Cuban relations. Obama simply took the next logical step.

But a more sinister rationale emerges.

Consider Russia’s behavior months before Obama’s announcement. Putin agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s outstanding Soviet debt. Russia announced it would reopen a closed Cuban Soviet-era intelligence base. A Russian warship, previously ported in Havana, was spotted intermittently off America’s east coast.

Obama’s announcement appeared to strategically counter growing Russian influence over Cuba. If Trump wants to prove he isn’t Putin’s man, reversing current Cuban policy does not provide that optic.

Republicans have noticed. A letter to Trump from seven Republican House members, identifying Russia’s Cuban influence posing national security risks, advocated against Trump’s proposed policy.

If only Tennessee’s senators were among the Republicans cautioning Trump.

Celeb Cafe: Russia says Trump is using ‘Cold War rhetoric’ on Cuba

Celeb Cafe


The move is seen as an attempt to roll back parts of Obama’s policy of normalizing U.S. -Cuba diplomatic ties, which was introduced in December 2014.

While Trump explained in a Miami speech that he was ending Obama’s “terrible and misguided deal” because of the Cuban government’s “repression” of its people, the Washington Post noted that Trump’s policy change could benefit, well, Trump – specifically, his hotel business. “The examples they set and the lessons they impart about hard work, dedication to family, faith in God, and believing in ourselves establish the moral foundation for success that allows us to live up to our full potential”, Trump said on Friday in a proclamation declaring June 18 as Father’s Day. The government remained willing to engage in “respectful dialogue”, it said in a statement.

He announced plans to restrict USA businesses and citizens from doing business with Cuban companies owned by the country’s military – amounting to vast swaths of the island nation’s economy, experts said – and to forbid American individuals from traveling to Cuba while also imposing additional restrictions on group tours.

President Donald Trump on Friday shifted from President Barack Obama’s policies with the communist country. In practice, however, many recent changes to boost ties to Cuba will stay as they are.

Trump’s new policy will eliminate such self-certified visits by individuals while still allowing them to be done as group tours, and also retaining some individual travel under other authorized categories such as religious, artistic and journalistic activities, officials said.

Online lodging booker Airbnb was allowed into Cuba, and commercial flights between the USA and Cuba resumed after more than half a century.

But Trump’s action fell well short of doing so. However, it will affect a large community of entrepreneurs – both in the USA and in Cuba – that had been at the forefront of establishing economic ties between the two nations, according to the Washington, D.C. -based group, Engage Cuba, a coalition of pro-Cuban business companies that includes P&G, Viacom, Honeywell and Choice Hotels. Nor are there plans to reinstate limits that Obama lifted on the amount of the island’s coveted rum and cigars that Americans can bring home for personal use.

However, President Trump is not rowing back on all parts of Obama’s deal. Before, the United States always voted against the U.N. resolution.

According to the Cuban Ministry, 74 percent more American citizens visited the island in 2016 than in 2015 and, following through on a pledge to Obama, Castro opened almost 400 new public Wi-Fi access points around Cuba.

“Any strategy to change the political, economic and social system in Cuba, whether through pressure. or through more subtle methods, will be doomed to failure”.

The Cuban government rebuked those statements in a lengthy response Friday, writing that Trump’s executive order betrays a double standard on human rights.

Obama and his aides argued that commerce and travel between the countries, which has blossomed since he relaxed the rules, would make his policy irreversible.

“This is the simple truth of the Castro regime”, Trump said. The Cuban government, which has made clear it will not be pressured into reforms, had no immediate comment.

“The growth of the private sector was linked to tourist demand which was growing in part due to the flow of United States tourists”, said Vidal.

Rubio appeared on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, State of the Union among others to discuss the speech, where he applauded tougher policies with countries with poor human right’s records such as Cuba. Washington had severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, two years after communist rebels led by Fidel Castro toppled the right-wing government of Fulgencio Batista.

Russian Federation said it was reaffirming its “unshakeable solidarity with Cuba”. Colorado has a tremendous amount to gain from the U.S. -Cuba relationship.

United States citizens will not be able to plan their own private trips to Cuba and their incorporation into educational excursions will be subject to strict rules and possible audits by the Treasury Department.

Miami Herald: The Trump whisperer: Marco Rubio has the president’s ear on Latin America

Miami Herald


Donald Trump has a distaste for the State Department and its legions of diplomats tasked with crafting the nation’s foreign policy.

So when it comes to Latin America, the CEO-turned-president is listening to a man he derided on the campaign trail a year ago: Marco Rubio.

It was Rubio who set up a White House meeting with Lilian Tintori, a human-rights activist married to jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo Lopez. After the meeting, Trump tweeted his support for Lopez, a public rebuke of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

It was Rubio who helped draft a changed Cuba policy in recent weeks, culminating in Trump’s first presidential visit to Miami to fulfill a campaign promise to the conservative Cubans who helped him win the White House.

And Rubio is well-positioned to take advantage of a vacuum of leadership in the State Department and communicate directly with a president who dislikes diplomacy-as-usual on Latin American foreign policy, according to interviews with former Rubio foreign policy staffers and State Department officials.

“They’ve asked for my input on basically every issue in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere and … we’ve been engaged with them and they’ve been very open,” Rubio said. “In some ways, the fact that they didn’t come in with preconceived ideas of what to do has created the space for that debate to occur.”

There’s plenty of space.

Six months into his administration, Donald Trump has yet to appoint dozens of high-level State Department employees, including the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the top diplomat in charge of Latin America.

And the president bucked the advice of some of his own senior officials and a slew of congressional Republicans in favor of Rubio to finish the Cuba deal.

Rubio “found a way to say, ‘You don’t want to listen to the experts, listen to me,’ ” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group that lobbies for closer Cuba ties and is opposed to Trump’s policy changes. “He found a really successful way to tell Trump, don’t listen to your own bureaucracy.”

Not that Trump needs an excuse to eschew the federal bureaucracy, which will be massively downsized if the White House gets its way.

Trump wants to cut the State Department’s budget by 30 percent, repeatedly rails against foreign aid and openly disagreed with his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, during a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“It is a genuine problem not to have people that are diplomats, trained people that really are very loyal and dedicated American citizens who want to represent their country,” said former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, a Democrat who served under Bill Clinton. “I’ve just been traveling abroad, and our embassies don’t have enough people.”

Since Trump hasn’t bothered to fill many of the positions that report to Tillerson, Rubio has more space to shape Latin America policy.

In the absence of a well-functioning State Department, Trump is relying more on the National Security Council, a group composed of Cabinet secretaries and senior military officials, to make foreign policy decisions.

The NSC has been more focused in recent months on the Middle East, North Korea and fighting ISIS, the big-ticket foreign policy issues that could require military intervention and demand Trump’s daily attention.

Usually, the State Department takes the lead on situations that still require U.S. attention but may not be an immediate threat to national security, but the current upheaval at the agency leaves it unable to effectively do its job.

A former senior State Department official who maintains contact with numerous diplomats says “everyone’s kind of winging it” when it comes to Latin American issues.

“The problem right now is without any kind of leadership, you have these embassies but the ambassadors don’t know what to do.”

Ever since taking office in 2010, Rubio has been outspoken on Latin American foreign policy issues, notably opposing Barack Obama’s changed Cuba policy and pressing the State Department to take a strong stance against left-leaning leaders like Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

But under Obama, Rubio was confined to publicly opposing a White House that preferred to negotiate behind closed doors through the State Department instead of a wielding a heavy hand.

Under Trump, the roles have changed.

“I think the problem with the State Department is less about the philosophy — you have career service people there who are aligned with an Obama-type agenda. But I also think that’s the truth of when you work 20 to 30 years in government, your perception changes, you’re just fine taking it slow,” said Alberto Martinez, who worked as Rubio’s chief of staff until March. “For sure, Marco Rubio is not a guy to take things slow.”

If Rubio wants to maintain his clout in a region often ignored by Trump, implementing the changed Cuba policy, overseeing the deteriorating situation in Venezuela and playing a role in the Colombian peace process are the three issues likely to command immediate political attention in the coming months.

“He’s been following these issues for a very long time, and there are very few other members who have the personal knowledge and experience in Latin America,” said Otto Reich, a former assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs under George W. Bush and a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. “There are some who speak Spanish, but he speaks native Spanish.”

Reich said the Obama administration was willing to “sit down” with leaders like Maduro, a policy that Rubio would never support. Now that Trump occupies the White House, Rubio has an intraparty ally who won votes with his tough rhetoric toward certain world leaders.

Take, for instance, the meeting with Tintori, a former professional athlete who was thrust into the international spotlight after her husband, Lopez, was jailed by Maduro in 2015.

Under Obama, Tintori never publicly met with the president, even though Vice President Joe Biden told Maduro during a brief 2015 encounter that Venezuela must release political prisoners.

Under Trump, Rubio organized the meeting, which led to the president’s symbolically important tweet.

“Sen. Rubio was the man to get this done,” said Jared Genser, an international human rights lawyer who works for Lopez and Tintori. “I had been pressing for Lilian Tintori to meet with the Obama administration for six months, and they refused to meet.”

Genser said the Obama administration was concerned with the deteriorating situation in Venezuela but worried that public appearances with an opposition leader would undermine the behind-the-scenes work by the State Department and the Vatican.

Trump, master of the late-night tweet, had no such qualms.

“Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/@marcorubio) out of prison immediately,” Trump tweeted.

Rubio is a voice on Latin American issues outside of the White House.

In March, he said it would be difficult to protect the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Haiti from possible cuts in U.S. foreign aid if they voted against Venezuelan sanctions at the Organization of American States.

“This is not a threat, but it is the reality,” Rubio said in March. “We have a very difficult situation in Washington, where massive cuts in foreign aid are under consideration. And it will be very difficult for us to justify assistance to those countries if they, at the end of the day, are countries that do not cooperate in the defense of democracy in the region.”

All three countries, who have voted against sanctioning Venezuela in the past, ended up voting against the measure again despite Rubio’s statements.

Rubio also pushed for sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, which were announced in February, and in May the Trump administration sanctioned eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges, freezing their assets and banning them from traveling to the United States.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of very interesting and different approaches,” Genser said. “I’m very pleased that Sen. Rubio is having the influence he’s having with the new administration. Despite the rocky start to their relationship, from the outside in it appears that Rubio has influence.”

Caribbean News Now: Commentary: Trump takes two steps back on normalization with Cuba

Caribbean News Now


On June 16, President Trump tightened Cuba travel and trade restrictions that had been liberalized under the Obama administration. On the surface this may look like a minor roll back of the normalization process, but Trump has derailed an otherwise modest welcome change in a US Cuba policy that was beginning to have positive reverberations throughout the region. 

In referring to what could be a significant shift in the normalization process, President Obama had stated: “Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections. A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together -- not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.” 

Yes, let us leave a somewhat failed policy behind. But in an abrupt about face in Washington’s posture, President Trump has tweeted that if the Cuban government is “unwilling” to dramatically change its political system, he will be self-funded and “terminate”, the former deal made between the Castro government and the Obama administration. This is tough talk that is likely to be of little practical avail and could lead to nothing else but greater isolation for US hemispheric interests. 

Just days after Trump’s announcement, the Commission of Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament approved the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation for the normalization of relations between the European Union (EU) and Cuba, a move also in line with years of UN votes, by overwhelming majorities, to end the embargo.

The Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, responded on Monday that “As established in the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, we will never negotiate under pressure or threats” or “make concessions that violate [our] sovereignty and independence.” It appears that the last half century demonstrates that the Cubans are not inclined to rethink their politics under pressure from the Goliath to the North.

Late in his electoral campaign, Trump visited Café Versailles in Little Havana, Miami’s most-famous Cuban restaurant, in order to appeal to an older more conservative grouping of Cuban-Americans who favor the imposition of tough sanctions on Cuba. Concerning Cuba, President Trump prefers to secure the backing of this voting bloc (which he did, with support from over 50 percent of Cuban-American voters in Miami), rather than continue with the somewhat more pragmatic policies set by Obama. 

This regressive move has sent a message to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that Washington may be pivoting to the right not only with regard to Cuba, but in regard to the rest of the region as well.

President Trump’s Cuba policy is in line with the lingo some of his most indefatigable advocates of the embargo: Miami Republicans Marco Rubio and Mario Diaz-Balart, whose hard-line views reflect the US government’s traditional approach to Cuba for nearly sixty years. Rubio, with whom Trump has privately met on a number of occasions before and since his election, states that the Obama doctrine is one meant for “coddling dictators”. 

US foreign policy towards Cuba, however, has been almost completely unsuccessful in bringing the Cuban government to its knees or imposing the demanded “democratic reforms” envisioned by Washington.

The infant stages of economic and diplomatic normalization have witnessed a measure success throughout the Cuban island. One revealing example of this is US-based travel service, AirBnB, which entered the Cuban market in April 2015. The company has delivered US$40 million income of travelers to its Cuban hosts. Cuban AirBnB hosts have earned a monthly average of US$220, which is an extraordinary increase from the previous average salary of Cuban workers (between 2008 and 2015) of roughly US$18.66 monthly.

These funds went directly to private parties, ensuring them of far more comfortable lifestyles than that of the vast majority of their compatriots. This enthusiasm, however, ought to be tempered by legitimate concerns that too much neoliberal medicine could eventually bring about a profound growing inequality and domination of the island by foreign interests, something the Cuban government is watching closely and seeks to avoid.

Rolling back the normalization process with Cuba is likely to prove very harmful to some US workers as well as taxpayers. ‘Engage Cuba’, an anti-embargo coalition of US businesses, released a report that estimates US taxpayers and businesses would be affected by a US$6.6 billion burden over four years if President Trump tightens sanctions.

Additionally, the US has cultivated a strong agricultural partnership with Cuba; in 2016, US agricultural interests sold US$195 million of agricultural products to Cuba. This figure is expected to rise to US$1 billion with the completion of normalized relations.

The Trump White House argues that by retracting some features of normalization with Cuba it can bring pressure for more democracy and address an array of charges of human rights abuses on the island. Change in Cuban politics and economics, however, is not likely to be formed and shaped by US policy makers through harsh formulas coming from the State Department. 

President Obama’s first steps toward normalization had initiated a pragmatic and rational process, applauded by a majority of Americans (North and South) which should have been started years ago. Trump, however, is taking this policy two steps backward.

The Villages Sun Times: Trump Reversal Threatens US-Cuba relations

The Village Sun Times


President George W. Bush cracked down on academic travel to Cuba, virtually stopping study overseas to the island, but regulations promulgated by President Obama in 2011 and 2014 opened the way for vastly expanded academic exchanges, as did the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba in July 2015.

Officials briefing journalists about the new policy were asked why human rights concerns had led to punitive measures in Cuba's case but were not playing a role in the administration's policy to other notable human rights offenders, like the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.

What followed over the next two years was the most significant change in US-Cuban relations since the 1959 revolution.

The revised Cuba policy is aimed at stopping the flow of USA cash to the country's military and security services, the White House announced.

Amongst things not expected to be affected by Trump's new policy: the embassy in Havana will remain an embassy, remittances will still be allowed to be sent to Cuba and agricultural and medical business will still be allowed.

"He's not opposed to any deal with Cuba-he's opposed to a bad deal, and this starts the process of making it clear to the regime that there are very specific benchmarks that there needs to be if they want to continue this kind of relationship", the official added. Sources have told ABC News Trump will likely redefine trade and travel policy, so you will have to prove your reason for travel instead of using the honor code.

That brings us to the second facet of Trump's rollback of former President Obama's engagement with communist Cuba.

Eliminating that category - in which individuals can travel to Cuba alone and not as part of an organized tour group, which has the "highest risk of potential abuse", an official said - still leaves 11 other categories under which Americans can visit Cuba legally.

The alleged justification for the new policy is that it will pressure the Cuban dictatorship to give concessions on human rights and political liberalization.

A Morning Consult poll released by the group Engage Cuba earlier this week said that 65% of voters surveyed support Obama's Cuba policy, including 64% of Republicans.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and placed an official embargo against the country in 1962.

When asked why the administration is setting up stricter regulations on trade and travel with Cuba over human rights after visiting Saudi Arabia during Mr Trump's first official visit overseas, White House officials said that the administration plans on fighting for human rights. As a Cuban-American, Sen.

President Donald Trump will announce new restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba.

"Cuba has failed to improve its own human rights record, political opponents continue to be imprisoned, dissidents continue to be jailed, women continue to be harassed", he said.

Yahoo Finance: How Trump's new Cuba policy will impact US travelers

Yahoo Finance


President Donald Trump, on June 16, announced he would reverse some of the steps President Obama made to normalize relations with Cuba.

During his speech in Little Havana, Miami, Trump criticized the previous administration, and promised to cancel the “one-sided deal” he claimed only enriched the oppressive Cuban regime.

“The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry,” he said. “The outcome of the last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement.”

Critics of Trump’s decision believe the opposite is true. According to James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a bipartisan nonprofit focused on ending trade restrictions to Cuba, the new policies will actually hurt the Cuban people.

“It takes money out of the pocket of Cubans in the private sector and puts it in the hands of the Cuban regime,” Williams told MarketWatch.

This political back and forth will likely have a big impact on US tourism to Cuba, which got a bump after Obama eased travel restrictions between the two countries in 2016. Airbnb says that Cuba was its ninth largest market for Americans traveling abroad in 2016, and tour companies, hotels and airlines have all invested time and money into making Cuba an attractive destination for US travelers.

Here’s what you need to know about booking a trip to Cuba in the Trump era.

Can Americans still go to Cuba?

Yes, but it’s going to be more difficult. Trump’s new policy will enforce the ban on tourism that many hoped would be lifted. While Obama’s policies loosened restrictions, it never technically removed the ban. Currently, there are 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, including visiting family, journalistic activity, religious activity or educational activity. These categories are very specific, so a lot of travelers chose the educational route because they can classify their trip as a “people-to-people” visit, which is intended to increase international understanding by interacting with people in different countries. As long as travelers sought out a “meaningful interaction with locals, Americans could plan their own itineraries and visit Cuba under the Obama administration.

Trump will remove the “people-to-people” visits, so those who want to tour Cuba will have to find another reason. Under Obama, travelers could choose one of the 12 categories, and no one really questioned their self-declaration. Under Trump this process will be more closely monitored, and travelers will be audited regularly to make sure the rules are being followed.

What if you already booked  a trip?

Don’t change a thing if you have a trip planned under the “people-to-people” category. The changes will not take effect until the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issues new regulations, so you can continue with your itinerary if you’ve already completed at least one travel-related transaction (like booking a flight) before Trump’s announcement on June 16.

Tourists walk in Havana, CubaView photos
In this May 24, 2015 file photo, US tourists walks outside the Bodeguita del Medio Bar in Old Havana, Cuba.
Do you still have time to book a trip?

Technically, but you’ll have to move fast. Trump is eager to get the policies enacted, and has asked the Commerce and Treasury departments to approve them within 30 days. Even so, it can take months to get the new rules finalized; in fact, it took Obama four months to enact his Cuba policies. So there might be a small window in the next couple of weeks, but it won’t last long.

Legal ways to visit

While individual people-to-people travel will be retracted, group trips are still permissible as long as they are with an approved organization. These organizations include a full-time schedule of educational activities “intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”