Key leaders of groups promoting better U.S.-Cuban relations have denounced the Trump administration's announcements April 17 that it will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts against American and foreign companies doing business in Cuba over the use of property nationalized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution and new regulatory restrictions on remittances, non-family travel and financial transactions.
Announcing the crackdown in Coral Gables, Fla., on Wednesday, national security adviser John Bolton called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua the "troika of tyranny" and said the new measures would "end the glamorization of socialism and communism," NPR reported.
It is unclear what impact the changes will have on the legal sale of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba or the ability of U.S. farmers and agribusiness leaders to travel to Cuba to promote the sale of U.S. farm products, but the changes will undoubtedly sour the relationship between the United States and Cuban governments, which had improved under the Obama administration.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said that for the 5,913 certified claimants for Cuban property, "the currently-implemented strategy by the Trump administration is not viewed as viable or efficient or serious because there is no focus."
"The result thus far suggests not a government strategy, but a child-like exercise — there is no core, no 'what do we want and when do we want it and how do we get it,' only a what-comes-next impulse; no review of whether announcements lessen the distance between the issue of the certified claims and a settlement for the certified claimants," Kavulich said.
"Why is this a rational view of certified claimants? Because neither the White House (including the National Security Council) nor the United States Department of State have held a formal briefing, let alone briefings, for the two largest certified claimants (who represent 24% of the total value of the certified claims) or the 30 largest certified claimants (who represent 56% of the total value of the certified claims).
"If the Trump administration wants to assist the certified claimants, wouldn't sound decision-making processes require formal input from the injured parties? Yes, it would. Why hasn't there been a formal outreach to the largest certified claimants? Because the Trump administration does not want to resolve the issue of the certified claims; formal briefings would hold them accountable for action or inaction; no formal briefings, no formal accountability for what is done or left dangling for future presidents."
James Williams, president of Engage Cuba said, "President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election."
"The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table. This lets the Cuban government off the hook and shifts the burden to American, European and Canadian companies. American companies and our closest allies will now be paying instead of the Cuban government," Williams said.
"The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe. President Trump himself tried for years to open up a Trump hotel and golf resort in Cuba."
"U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba," Williams said.
"These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba. The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse. We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida."
Earlier, Engage Cuba also criticized the Trump administration's change in policy to make it difficult for Cuban baseball players to come to the United States.
National Foreign Trade Council Chairman Carlos Gutierrez said, "The changes announced today will undermine the ability of Americans to engage with the Cuban people and threaten to further poison relations with key U.S. allies."
"We've seen this movie before. The United States limited travel by U.S. citizens and remittances for years without achieving our stated foreign policy goals. Today's announcement repeats mistakes of the past and does nothing but harm the Cuban people," Gutierrez said.
"In addition, by activating Title III and stepping up enforcement of Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act, the administration is needlessly picking a fight with key American allies whose businesses and citizens could be subject to U.S. court proceedings and travel restrictions."