Caribbean News Now
WASHINGTON, USA -- As the serial clustercovfefe of the Trump presidency pursues its singular objective of making America great again by alienating, and isolating the US from the rest of the world – in other words, becoming North Korea except with nuclear missiles that might actually work – Cuba has reaffirmed its commitment to socialism, which of course includes universal health care and free education for all, something that is beyond the grasp of the wealthiest country in the history of the planet.
In Havana on Thursday, Cuban President Raúl Castro said that policy documents approved by the Central Committee are programmatic foundations that reaffirm the socialist character of the Cuban revolution, which of course was not the case initially, since the Cuban revolution did not start out as communist or even socialist in nature but was a grassroots response to the abusive autocracy of the then dictator Fulgencio Batista, culminating in his overthrow in January 1959.
On 15 April 1959, the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro began an 11-day visit to the United States and he said during his visit: "I know the world thinks of us, we are communists, and of course I have said very clear that we are not communists; very clear."
The Cubans were pushed some six years later in 1965 into formally embracing the Soviet Union and its communist doctrines by a series of arrogant miscalculations and missteps by the United States that have continued over the last 50-plus years – something that it is about to try again according to US media reports.
Clearly, it is truly said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Last week, after the Cuban Parliament, in extraordinary session, approved the latest economic and social model of socialist development, and the updating of the guidelines of the policies for the period 2016-2021, Raúl Castro said that these programs will enable continuity in the updating of the socio-economic model, "to change everything that must be changed."
Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed pro-business US President Donald Trump reportedly intends to reverse the US-Cuba rapprochement initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, a decision that could cost airlines and cruise lines alone some $3.5 billion and more than 10,000 jobs over the course of his four-year term.
Those persuading Trump to implement a back-to-the-future reversal in the improved relations with Cuba are Florida congressmen, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, both Cuban-Americans.
Rubio has been the object of some backlash from a vocal minority of his Cuban-American constituents for his perceived lack of effort to influence Trump to confront the Castro regime in Cuba, with some describing him as “pendejo” (an idiot or sucker), or worse.
Not everyone supports confrontation, however.
“If Rubio actually cares about the plight of his fellow countrymen being oppressed at the hands of two ruthless dictators, then it would better serve Rubio to purchase a $120 round ticket on American Airlines to Havana and attempt some sort of dialogue with Raul Castro on behalf of Cubans being persecuted by both Trump and Castro,” commented one Cuban-American.
Nevertheless, reinstating the preferential “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy for Cubans in order to satisfy Cuban-American voters would put Trump at odds with the Cuban president, who in such an event, according to intelligence sources, is planning another Mariel boatlift, named after the event in 1980, when 125,000 people fled to Florida on boats launched from the port of Mariel.
This time around, Raul Castro is said to be considering a Mariel 2.0, allowing as many as 250,000 Cuban refugees to leave, and US intelligence agencies have expressed concern that, if this is permitted to happen, Castro will use the opportunity to insert Cuban agents in the US under the cover of refugees.
But, after disparaging Rubio as “Little Marco” during the Republican primary campaign last year, and Rubio in turn implying that Trump had a small penis based on the size of his “tiny hands” – the first time in the history of US presidential campaigns that a candidate has been forced to defend the size of his manhood – Trump now wants to maintain good relations with both Rubio, who sits on the Senate committee investigating Trump’s relations with Russia, and Diaz-Balart, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Furthermore, every vote in the Senate and House is likely to count if and when Trump ever gets his putative signature legislation of healthcare and tax reform to the floor for debate.
In addition, some top Trump advisers mistakenly believe that a 2020 re-election victory will rest on keeping the loyalty of Cuban-Americans in Florida, who they see as essential to winning the critical swing state.
However, according to a recent report by nonprofit Engage Cuba, if the Trump administration were to reverse all of Obama’s Cuba policies, $6.6 billion and nearly 12,300 jobs would be lost over four years. More than 50 percent of the revenue losses and more than 80 percent of the job cuts would be in the cruise and airline business. A large portion of that business is based at the Port of Miami and Miami International Airport – an economic hit that is hardly likely to impress Florida voters.
For an administration that appears oblivious to human rights abuses everywhere else in the world, according to White House spokesman Michael Short, Trump believes “the current Cuba policy is a bad deal. It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba.”
In other countries, Trump and his advisers view human rights considerations as an impediment to trade and partnerships that create jobs in the United States.
"Given their complete lack of concern for human rights around the world, it would be a tragic irony if the Trump administration uses that to justify policies that harm the Cuban people and restrict the freedom of Americans to travel and do business where they please," said Benjamin Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to Obama. "It's clear that the Cuban and American people want to move forward, and nothing can change that reality."
Other administration officials say privately that domestic political concerns are the main force driving any rollback on Cuba. In fact, during the transition, Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both privately expressed support for Obama’s Cuba policy.
“Cuba policy should not be determined by several hard-line Cuban-American legislators from South Florida,” pointed out Mavis Anderson, head of the Washington-based Latin America Working Group (LAWG), which is generating grassroots support to sustain engagement with Cuba. “Especially when the great majority of US citizens approve the changes President Obama made to Cuba policy, and want it to go further.”
In anticipation of Trump’s decision, a bipartisan group of senators recently reintroduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. When this bill was first introduced two years ago, it had only eight cosponsors; now it has 55 – a reflection of how normalisation, and the advocacy and lobbying interests it has unleashed, have dramatically changed the politics of the Cuba issue.
The legislation would lift remaining restrictions on travel and deprive Trump of his ability to interfere with the constitutional right of US citizens to visit whenever they want.
“Recognizing the inherent right of Americans to travel to Cuba isn’t a concession to dictators,” stated Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who co-sponsored the bill with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. “It is Americans who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban government.”
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said, “For far too long, US-Cuba policy has been defined by the conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities of the future. More than 50 years of isolating an island just 90 miles from our border has not secured our interests and has disadvantaged American business owners and farmers.”
Republican Senator Mike Enzi added, “…our strategy of isolating Cuba hasn’t been very successful. This bipartisan legislation would lift the travel restriction to Cuba, providing new opportunities for American businesses, farmers and ranchers. But trade is very powerful. It can be more than just the flow of goods, but also the flow of ideas – ideas of freedom and democracy.”
Opinion polls show that some 81 percent of the American public supports free travel to Cuba, and that 74 percent of Cuban-Americans do as well.
“The current travel restrictions,” noted the Cuban Study Group (CSG), a Miami-based Cuban-American association of business professionals, “have no parallel for any other country and are vestiges of over 50 years of failed policy. Rather than catalyze political or economic freedom on the island, they have only served to hurt the Cuban people in a misguided attempt to weaken their government.”
According to the impact analysis by Engage Cuba, “Manufacturing companies are finalizing commercial contracts that will create $1.1 billion worth of exports from the US to Cuba over the next five years. Ending this process could diminish US exports by $227.6 million per year, or $929 million over four years.”
Ending those export deals in progress, the study predicts, would affect 1,359 jobs a year.
However, even hard-line opponents of renewed ties don't expect Trump to shut down diplomatic relations and close the recently reopened embassies in Washington and Havana.
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba and one of the loudest critics of Obama's opening, acknowledged he doesn't want to see the embassies closed down again.
"You can never go back," he said.
Obama also allowed Cuban-Americans to send unlimited amounts of money to relatives on the island and it is unclear whether Trump will limit those remittances.
But, as Pedro Freyre, an attorney who brokered multiple deals between US companies and Cuba, pointed out, that decision should not be political, but a humanitarian one.
"Even staunch defenders of the embargo say 'Don't mess with the families,'" Freyre said. "If you now come out and say you can no longer send money to your grandmother, that's just mean-spirited."
In a recent editorial, a South Florida newspaper, the Sun-Sentinel, pointed out that Trump started out as a supporter of normalization efforts. Like a significant majority of Americans, he agreed with Obama that 55 years of isolation was both unfairly punitive and ineffective.
“If perceived voter sentiment drove Trump's reversal during the campaign, he should now consider this: A recent Pew survey showed 75 percent of Americans favor the Obama approach and a Florida International University poll found nearly two-thirds of Miami Cuban-Americans favor an end to the 55-year-old embargo.
“The days of an impenetrable bloc of hardline Cuban-American voters are as over as the embargo should be.
“Rampant violations of human rights have offended our sense of justice, and still do. Yet prompted by self-interest, our nation has looked the other way at human rights violations in countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and China, to name a few.
“Add to this irony Trump's recent assurance to the Saudis that he'll not be a human rights nag and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's pronouncement that concern over human rights will take a back seat to America's strategic interests.
“The Tillerson doctrine – strategic interests first – should apply to Cuba, too,” the newspaper said.