End the Embargo and Press Forward on Improving Relations with the Island Nation

Houston Chronicle

President Donald Trump is reportedly preparing to roll back some of former President Barack Obama's historic opening toward Cuba in a political payoff for Cuban-American support in last year's election,

He has said he wants a "better deal" from the Cuban government than Obama got, but it looks like his main goal is to curry favor with the same old Miami crowd that has held U.S.-Cuba policy hostage for years.

Trump narrowly defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Florida last November in a victory attributed in part to a big margin in the state's Cuban-American community.

According to a recent New York Times article, Trump initially wanted to completely undo Obama's Cuba initiative, which unwound bits and pieces of the U.S. trade embargo put in place in 1962 to topple Fidel Castro after he took power in a 1959 revolution. It failed but remains in place.

Under Obama, U.S. policy shifted from permanent confrontation to cooperation and the building of economic links with the island 90 miles south of Florida. By executive order, he weakened economic prohibitions and travel restrictions imposed by the embargo and began joint efforts on numerous fronts, among them drug interdiction efforts, scientific research, intelligence gathering and oil spill containment and mitigation

He also rescinded the policy that allowed any Cubans reaching U.S. land an automatic path to citizenship, which had drawn hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees over the years.

When Trump took office, he found that a lot of people did not want a return to the bad old days with Cuba, so he reportedly has lowered his ambitions, though he's said to still be looking at some pretty prohibitive travel and economic restrictions.

We understand that Trump has political debts to the hard-core anti-Castro Cuban-Americans, but his notion of getting a "better deal" from Cuba envisions Havana committing to such things as democracy, free speech and a free press, which is the kind of pipe dream Miami has perpetuated for almost 60 years while supporting a policy that guaranteed it wouldn't happen.

Obama's strategy of engaging Cuba holds the best hope for gradual change.

However, Trump could top it if he put his vaunted "America First" philosophy into play and used his position as a Republican president working with a Republican-led Congress to do what needs to be done - end the embargo.

It shouldn't be that hard to sell his party on a policy that opens a market of 12 million people just off our shores and has a much better chance than confrontation of effecting positive change in Cuba.

Conversely, undoing Obama's advances to make Miami happy would cost the U.S. economy $6.6 billion and possibly 12,000 jobs, according to the anti-embargo group Engage Cuba.

The truth is that there is already significant Republican support in Congress for improved relations with Cuba - our own Sen. Ted Cruz being a loud exception - and polls show sweeping support for it among Americans. Even in Miami, polls show a majority of Cuban-Americans want the same thing.

So, we earnestly ask: What comes first, America or President Trump's political debt to a small, vocal interest group? We will learn much from his decision.