By: Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
As and JetBlue celebrated the launch of daily air service to Havana on Monday, president-elect Donald Trump suggested he may undo recent business openings in Cuba, an alarming threat that could ground the fleet and so much more.
"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," Trump wrote Monday on Twitter.
The worst thing Trump could do upon taking office is to sever newly established economic ties with the island.
Doing so would hurt the Cuban people, who overwhelmingly believe their lives will improve if relations prosper between our countries. It also would hurt American farmers hurt by the restrictions on sales to Cuba. And it would harm the many American businesses that have made financial investments in Cuba since President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations in July 2015.
Listen to what former commerce secretary and Kellogg chief executive Carlos Gutierrez told the Financial Times on Monday: "We've now gotten to a point where we have an embassy and we have commercial flights that are starting, U.S. companies managing hotels. To unwind all of that and go back to the Cold War would be a shame."
Or what James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, told Bloomberg Politics: "Mr. Trump was brought into Washington on the backs of rural white America and the ex-urban community, which is dominated by agriculture … It seems counter-productive that the first thing he would do would be to slap farmers in the face and close a potential market to them."
It's true that Cuba has done little to advance the cause of human rights since the normalization of relations. It's horrible to see people imprisoned for speaking their minds or a dictatorship survive because citizens cannot vote in free elections.
But though Cuba released some political prisoners and lowered some barriers to improve economic ties, it never said it would change its system of government.
A 50-year standoff didn't make it make that change, either. Instead, it let Castro use America as the bogeyman he could blame for all the country's problems.
Far better we try to influence gradual change by working shoulder to shoulder with the Cuban people, who ultimately hold the future of their country in their hands.
It's worth noting that as a candidate, Trump said he supported the administration's opening with Cuba, saying "50 years is enough," though he also said "we should have made a better deal."
And as a businessman, Trump understands the upside of opening up the Cuba market.
In September, Newsweek reported that a Trump-controlled company was so intrigued by doing business in Cuba that it conducted secret business there as far back as 1998, a violation of the Cuban embargo.
Trump told CNN in March that he'd be interested in opening hotels in Cuba "at the right time, when we're allowed to do it."
But Monday, the same day American Airlines and JetBlue launched the first U.S. commercial flights to Havana in more than 50 years, his tweet threatened to shutter the door.
Business opportunities reach far beyond the travel industry. Earlier this year, Pompano Beach-based Stonegate Bank became the first bank licensed to offer credit cards that can be used on the island.
And earlier this month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce organized a Cuban trip with representatives from companies that included Dow and GE.
While continued constructive engagement would work best on the business front, there are other areas we'd like to see Trump tackle regarding Cuba policy.
The first would be to end the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that lets Cubans stay if they make it here.
That 1995 executive order, enacted by President Clinton, has led to Cubans making life-threatening trips to the United States by sea or across land via Mexico, where many end up stuck in limbo and susceptible to trafficking. There's been a significant uptick in the last two years. Most are coming for economic opportunity, not political asylum.
During the election, Trump was asked about the policy and said: "I don't think that's fair." He noted that other immigrants wait years to enter the United States.
The second would be to encourage the GOP-controlled Congress to end the automatic refugee status for Cubans, a program the Sun Sentinel has exposed as exploited. Sen. Marco Rubio attempted to end the entitlement in April, but the Senate refused to back him.
We encourage Trump to use his enormous influence to bring positive change in immigration policy, not roll back the business progress poised to help both Cuban and American workers.