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.