MIAMI – US President Donald Trump will reportedly visit Miami on Friday to announce he will tighten restrictions on travel to and doing business with Cuba, fulfilling mixed but evolving campaign promises to reverse changes made by former President Barack Obama since December 2014 removing decades of diplomatic and economic barriers between the two countries.
The specifics of Trump’s executive action aren’t yet clear, Politico reported, but they are expected to be influenced by two pro-embargo anti-Castro Miami Republican hardliners, US Senator Marco Rubio and US Representative Mario Diaz-Balart.
However, Trump is not expected to reverse Obama’s decision to reopen a US embassy in Havana or reinstate the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy that allowed Cuban migrants who touched US shores (dry foot) to become legal residents, whereas those interdicted at sea (wet foot) were repatriated.
As a presidential candidate, Trump was difficult to pin down on his opinions about US-Cuba policy, Politico noted.
Trump initially called the rapprochement with Cuba “fine” but on the rare occasions when he would talk about Cuba, Trump expressed confidence about crafting a better deal with the Castro regime.
When asked in a 2015 interview about the Obama administration’s US-Cuba policy, Trump told The Daily Caller: “I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba – 50 years is enough – the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.”
In a GOP presidential primary debate before the Florida primary in March 2016, Trump repeated that he could negotiate a far better deal than the Obama administration.
Rubio, Trump’s Republican primary opponent at the time, in an astonishing display of ignorance or disregard for history, scoffed at the idea of negotiating with Cuba if it doesn’t meet US demands.
“Here’s a good deal – Cuba has free elections, Cuba stops putting people in jail for speaking out, Cuba has freedom of the press,” Rubio said. “Cuba kicks out the Russians … and kicks out the Chinese … Cuba stops helping North Korea evade UN sanctions, Cuba [returns] all of those fugitives of America justice… And you know what? Then we can have a relationship with Cuba. That’s a good deal.”
Rubio has never explained or justified his belief that a resumption of a failed 55-year-old policy towards Cuba would encourage its government to renounce expanding relationships with Russia and China. It did nothing to prevent the close relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union, demonstrating that Cuba can survive without US assistance, what evidence is there that it would work now with Russia and China?
In a letter sent to Trump on Friday, seven of his fellow Republicans warned that rescinding Obama’s policies would “incentivize Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China.”
Furthermore, any renewed economic attack on Cuba is not likely to sit well with other Caribbean countries that have enjoyed friendly relations with Cuba for many years, reinforcing the point recently made by Caribbean News Now columnist David Jessop that “Washington is ceding to China the high ground it previously held in the Caribbean and Latin America.”
The US has already crashed and burned in recent days in trying to secure Caribbean and Latin American support for its move against Venezuela at the Organisation of American States (OAS) and any new move against Cuba is hardly likely to secure more friendly votes in the region.
Last year, as the general election grew closer and a perceived need to win over Cuban-Americans in Florida more pressing, Trump morphed into more of a hardliner.
However, Trump was caught lying directly to Floridians. When Newsweek reported that Trump broke the Cuban embargo and spent money illegally in the communist nation in 1997, the magazine criticized him for flying to Miami and telling Cuban immigrants that he opposed the Castro regime. In reality, he’d illegally done business with the regime already.
Rubio, described by the Miami New Times as a “do-nothing” senator, who even Republicans describe as a craven opportunist and was outed as a gutless dishrag during the Republican presidential primary, in a particular act of cowardice, claimed to have “denounced” Trump’s conduct but voted for him anyway.
Nevertheless, with Rubio and Diaz-Balart backing his new policies, Trump shouldn’t have any difficulty pleasing the politically conservative Cuban-American exile community. However, while rural Floridians came out for Trump in large numbers, he did not perform well in South Florida, losing overwhelmingly in Miami-Dade (34.85%), Broward (32.05%), and Palm Beach Counties (42.1%).
It is therefore not clear precisely what political support in South Florida Trump or Rubio may be seeking to reinforce.
According to one Cuban-American, if the questionable political benefits are taken out of the equation, that leaves money as the likely motivation for the cash-strapped Florida senator.
“Marco Rubio does not care about the Cuban people in South Florida or in Cuba. ‘Little Marco’ is looking out for no one but Marco Rubio and the golden parachute he is expecting from Trump and his cronies after ending his ‘do nothing’ senate term,” he suggested.
However, Trump’s self-proclaimed business-minded, “America first” administration has to be mindful about impeding the growing number of commercial interests – especially those in agricultural states – that are looking to take advantage of a new foreign market.
One pro-Cuba advocacy group, EngageCuba, commissioned a recent study that claimed reversing the Obama administration policies could cost the US more than $6 billion and 12,000 jobs during Trump’s first term, much of which would impact South Florida directly – hardly likely to impress voters there.
What will happen, therefore, if Trump endorses and acts upon the Rubio/Diaz-Balart hard line approach to relations with Cuba, is that significant trade and jobs that could have benefited American businesses and workers will not just sit there waiting for Castro to bend to US pressure but will immediately be diverted to other countries – certainly not the “America first” policy that Trump claims to represent.