Cuba Libre Cuba Libre blog brought to you by History News Network. Wed, 06 Dec 2023 20:14:57 +0000 Wed, 06 Dec 2023 20:14:57 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 ( What Would a Trump Presidency Mean for U.S.—Cuban Relations?

Propaganda sign in front of the United States Interests Section in Havana  (2000)  By Idobi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Gonzalez is Assistant Professor of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies at Appalachian State University.

Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee for President of the United States, is famous for making controversial statements about U.S. allies (NATO, the Baltic States) and adversaries (Russia, China).  Even families of fallen soldiers who criticize him are not immune to his rebukes.  

But what has Trump said about Cuba, one of the U.S. government’s most long-standing adversaries?  And more important:  What would a Trump presidency mean for U.S.—Cuban relations? 

Trump’s statements regarding Cuba have been few and far between.  Shortly after declaring his candidacy, Trump broke ranks with his fellow Republicans and expressed approval for President Obama’s policy of normalizing relations with Cuba.  “Fifty years is enough,” said Trump.  “The concept of opening with Cuba is fine.”  This comment put Trump at odds with his Republican opponents; only Rand Paul expressed a view similar to Trump’s. Still, said Trump, President Obama “should have made a better deal,” though Trump, true to form, was short on specifics as to what a “better” deal would have looked like, much less how it might have been achieved. 

After the first few primaries, Trump made known his disagreements with current immigration policy regarding Cubans.  Cubans who make it to the United States, and set foot on dry land, may apply for and be given immediate asylum, unlike other immigrants, who must wait their turn.  (Cubans who are picked up at sea are returned to Cuba.)  Such a stance, it was noted, might prove controversial in Florida, where Cubans are a force, if not a dominant force, in the Republican Party.  Nonetheless, Trump won the state by a large margin, forcing Senator Rubio from the race.  

On a more controversial note, Trump accused the Cubans of snubbing President Obama last April:  President Raul Castro did not meet President Obama when he stepped off Air Force One, leaving his foreign minister to do the honors. (In reality, it is not common for heads of state to greet other heads of state at the airport, preferring to do so during formal arrival ceremonies.) Trump of course cast the issue as one of respect.  “Our rivals no longer respect us,” he said, echoing a familiar refrain. 

In perhaps the most interesting recent development, Trump’s executives may have violated the embargo when scouting for future investment opportunities in Cuba last year.  At present, U.S. law prohibits such tourism.  Trump has said that he would be open to investing money in Cuba, in a hotel or golf course for example, when such investments become legal.  

If you favor continued normalization of U.S.—Cuban relations, as I do, you might take comfort from these comments.  Perhaps they indicate a certain intelligence, perhaps even nuance, coming from a business-oriented candidate willing to question his party’s truths.  Could it be that Trump’s statements indicate a potential for sane and competent leadership, to paraphrase Michael Bloomberg?  

Not so fast.  Remember:  This is Donald Trump we are talking about.  When viewed in context, his comments are neither brave nor all that reasonable.  

First, Trump’s statements look brave only within the context of the Republican electorate, which, unlike most Americans, is committed to continuing the embargo.  In expressing a desire to end the embargo, Trump is only echoing what most Americans, even most Cuban-Americans, already believe.  

Which leads me to my second point.  Trump’s statements about Cuba, especially when we consider his comments about “respect,” are only reasonable in comparison to his other foreign policy statements—about Putin, NATO, and trade, for example, which are long on exhortations and short on specifics.  

When we look more carefully, we see the same sort of pattern at work with Cuba:  platitudes and bromides—and an ominous demand for “respect.”  

I say ominous because if we know one thing about Trump, it is this:  He is all charm and grace—until, that is, he feels insulted, something the Cubans could easily do because they want respect too.  

The Cubans see the events of the (almost) sixty years very differently; they consider themselves a former U.S. colony, and as former “colonials,” they will demand respect from the empire that once held them.  And well they should. 

So once in the White House, President Trump might very well continue the U.S.—Cuban Thaw.  After all, he likes the idea of his countrymen making money in Cuba; trade with Cuba is comparatively small; and Cubans are not the immigrants that concern him right now.  

But once the Cubans demand respect, once the Cubans challenge and criticize him, as they might any U.S. President, it seems likely that Trump and President Castro would come to blows (the verbal kind), with improved U.S.—Cuban relations falling by the wayside.  

We might even see a resurgence in hostility.  Who knows?  

Anything is possible with a man whose ignorance of foreign affairs is matched only by his need for attention and power.  

For my next post, I will consider the consequences of Hillary Clinton’s presidency for U.S.—Cuban relations.    

Wed, 06 Dec 2023 20:14:57 +0000 0
What Would a Clinton Presidency Mean for U.S.—Cuban Relations?

Image by Cancillería Ecuador from Ecuador (60 aniversario del asalto al Cuartel Moncada) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Gonzalez is Assistant Professor of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies at Appalachian State University. 

For people like me who study the U.S. and Cuba, last week brought more hopeful news:  a U.S. airliner with passengers owned by JetBlue, flew from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara, the first such regularly scheduled flight in more than fifty years.

We owe this latest step in the so-called U.S.—Cuban Thaw to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other, less well-known diplomats who have braved much criticism, from Republicans in particular.  Those of us who study U.S.—Cuban relations could not be more grateful to them for tearing big holes in this last Iron Curtain in the Americas. 

 It’s therefore a good time to ask: What would a Clinton presidency mean for U.S.—Cuban relations?  Will Clinton continue the work of President Obama and Secretary Kerry? Will these direct flights continue?

 The answer is yes.  Hillary Clinton will no doubt carry on the work of Obama, Kerry, and others—and that is both good and bad news. 

 Let’s begin with the good. 

The U.S.—Cuban Thaw, though limited, has much to commend it.  Aside from easing travel between Cuba and the United States, it has also reduced tensions between two once-implacable adversaries. 

The Thaw has also opened up economic opportunities for Cubans. Yes, the blockade remains (and it will until the U.S. Congress ends it), but more U.S. tourists means more dollars pouring into Cuba, many of which will find their way into the hands of owners of cuentapropistas, private enterprises owned and operated by Cubans, most notably restaurants and casas particulares.

The Cuban economy now stands ready to grow substantially because of increased tourism from the U.S., despite the likelihood of sharp reductions in subsidies coming from Venezuela.  

The Thaw also provides an improved context for political liberalization in Cuba.  Simply put, the Castros would never have permitted increased dissent, so long as North Americans were at the door, and sometimes inside the house, trying to overthrow them. 

The parameters of free expression are also expanding, according to Cubans I know, though the pace remains slower than they would like. 

Certainly President Hillary Clinton will continue the U.S.—Cuban Thaw, much as she will honor Obama’s arrangement with Iran, and with a Democratic Senate, even the embargo’s days are numbered.  So things look good, right?

Well, yes and no:  yes . . . because President Clinton will continue President Obama’s work, and perhaps even expand on it.

But no . . . because at least one troubling pattern will persist, unchallenged by both President Obama and, probably, Hillary Clinton.

And it is this:  the U.S. government has, for better than century, felt free to tell the Cubans how to run their country.

This tendency surfaced during President Obama’s visit in April, when he met with Cuban dissidents, thanking them for their courage, and urged further democratic and economic reforms

How could that be bad, you ask?  Shouldn’t the U.S. government press dictatorships to reform themselves?  Shouldn’t the U.S. President praise those who stand up to tyranny?

Yes.  It should, and he should.  The United States government should criticize its adversaries (Russia), its allies (Saudi Arabia), and its frenemies (China), while holding itself to its own high standards. 

But Cuba is a special case--because for about sixty years, the United States government treated Cuba as a colony. 

From 1898 to 1959, Cuba, though formally independent, was not sovereign. After the Spanish—American War, the McKinley administration demanded that the Cubans make themselves subservient to U.S. political and economic interests—or forgo even formal independence.

And so Cuba remained part of the U.S. Empire, until the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro. 

Sadly, most North Americans do not remember this. But the Cubans do. And they remember much else.

They remember that after the Revolution, the U.S. government waged economic warfare against the Cubans, hoping to coerce Fidel Castro into respecting U.S. interests, or provoke the Cubans into overthrowing him. 

They also remember that after the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy administration sponsored a campaign of terrorism, directed at the Cuban government and economy. 

And then there is the embargo:  A set of economic regulations designed to punish all Cubans until the Castros leave power and make democratic reforms, codified in an Act of Congress

So when it comes to democracy, North Americans should know that they don’t have much credibility with their former colonial subjects, the Cubans, a fact that only makes sense. After all, would the Irish want to be told how to govern their country by the British? 

No they would not.  And neither do the Cubans.

My guess is that Hillary Clinton is too well informed not to know about this part of U.S.—Cuban history, unlike her opponent who seems to hold knowledge and expertise in contempt.

But at this point, I believe that Hillary Clinton will be unable to resist the temptation to lecture the Cubans about how and when they should democratize. It’s just too much a part of the North American political culture.

What is more, her fellow politicians, Republicans and Democrats, will demand that she treat the Cubans liked wayward children, and Clinton will not want to look as if she is bowing to dictators. 

And so the Hillary Clinton administration will probably be very much like Obama’s when it comes to Cuba.  And that’s more good news than bad to be sure--but it’s still far from the “reset” that needs to happen if we are to transcend this tortured, post-colonial relationship. 


In my next blog posting, I will offer some unsolicited advice to the next president as to what the U.S. government’s Cuban policy should be.  

Wed, 06 Dec 2023 20:14:57 +0000 0
Now is Not the Time to Reduce America's Havana Embassy

Joseph Gonzalez is Associate Professor of Global Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina

On Friday, the U.S. State Department announced a 60% reduction in the staff of the U.S. Embassy.  At the same time, the Trump administration also warned Americans against traveling to Cuba. 

The reason?  Officially, the State Department is concerned for the welfare of embassy employees and their dependents. According to U.S. officials, twenty-one diplomats and family members have experienced “sonic attacks” during the last year in their homes. 

These attacks have provoked a variety of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, and hearing loss in their victims. Some Canadian diplomats and their families also reported the same symptoms.

Initially, the Trump administration responded by expelling two Cuban diplomats, while publicly speculating about closing the embassy. Though the embassy remains open for now, the reduction will impair the ability of staff to assist both Americans in Cuba and Cubans wanting to come to the United States. 

But what else could the administration have done?  Shouldn’t the U.S. government protect its diplomats and citizens from attacks that threaten their health?

Absolutely.  At the same time, we must ask ourselves: Is reducing the size and capacity of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, which in turn reduces travel and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, in the best interest of the United States and Cuba?

The answer is no. 

In fact, these measures appear to be one more step in the Trump administration’s campaign to reverse the reforms of the Obama administration.  

In June President Trump announced new travel restrictions attempting to sharply decrease the number of Americans going to Cuba. “The previous administration's easing of restrictions of travel and trade does not help the Cuban people,” said President Trump in a speech in Miami in June, “They only enrich the Cuban regime."

Any sustained improvement of relations, warned the President, required the Cubans to institute more democratic reforms. More than 600,000 Americans visited Cuba during 2016

 Clearly, President Trump wishes to punish the Cuban government. But it is not clear that the Cuban government played any role in these attacks. 

 Publicly, the Cuban government has denied any responsibility for the attack. What is more, rather than escalate the confrontation, the Cuban government has responded with restraint, even allowing the U.S. to bring the FBI to Havana to investigate

Why the restraint? Quite simply, the Cuban government has no incentive to worsen relations with the Trump Administration, much less drive Americans away from Cuba.

The Cuban government needs Americans to come to Cuba. The government depends on tourists to populate not only hotels and tour buses, most of them state owned, but also the private houses and private restaurants that now populate every city and town. 

Attacks on U.S. diplomats and their families will only make tourists less likely, and less able, to come. It will also make removing the embargo and other travel restrictions impossible.   

So, who is to blame for these attacks? Speculation runs from rogue elements of Cuban intelligence services, answerable to hardliners who oppose a rapprochement with the U.S., to foreign powers now at odds with Washington. It bears noting that both Russia and North Korea have embassies in Havana.

And it may also be true that President Trump and his State Department are using these attacks to further curtail American travel to Cuba.   

The embargo and travel restrictions, after all, are not popular with Americans. But sonic attacks that provoke headaches and other health problems?  Who wants those?

No one . .  . and I wonder if that is what the Trump Administration wants. Are they betting that threats of sonic attacks will deter Americans in ways legal threats will not?  Not to mention a half-staffed embassy unable to help American travelers in need.

Call me cynical, but I am guessing the answer is yes.

But now is not the time to curtail contact between Americans and Cubans. 

Now is the time for increased travel and trade with Cuba . . . if, that is, you truly care about promoting the political and economic changes now underway in Cuba. 

But I am guessing that President Trump cares more about votes from Cuban-Americans in Miami than the welfare of Cubans in Havana.

Again, call me cynical. 

In my next blog post, I will discuss how a new class of entrepreneurs, reliant on tourist dollars, is thriving in Cuba. 



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