Trump Reverses Obama’s Progress on US-Cuba Relations
By Ella Goldblum
As of June 16th, 2017, President Donald Trump made the executive decision to strengthen many of the U.S.-Cuba commerce and travel restrictions that President Obama previously loosened. For example, the “people-to-people” exchanges that Obama legalized for the first time in decades will not be permitted until the Cuban government meets a long list of prerequisites.
This is not the first time that the United States has given Cuba a list of conditions to meet; in 1962, when the first embargo was enacted, the U.S. stated that Cuba must legalize all political activity, release all political prisoners, commit to free and fair elections in the transition to representative democracy, grant freedom to the press, respect internationally recognized human rights standards, and allow labor unions before the embargo would be lifted.
Of course, President Obama removed many of the trade and travel restrictions associated with the embargo before these standards were met. This wasn't because he suddenly chose to condone Cuban dictatorship and oppression. Instead, he became convinced that free trade between the U.S. and Cuba was a better path to democracy than open hostility between the two nations.
Based on his recent comments, President Trump disagrees with Obama’s fundamental approach. He believes that his decision will be beneficial to the Cuban people; in a speech he made in Miami’s Little Havana, he stated that America has now “rejected the Cuban people’s oppressors.” This may be true. But it's not that simple.
First of all, the decision to restrict trade may hurt Cuba’s dictators, but it hurts their entrepreneurs just as much, especially seeing as it prevents American speculators from investing in Cuba. I was lucky enough to spend my spring break on a people-to-people Cuba trip, in a hotel owned by a group of such entrepreneurs. I know they would be the first to say that free trade with the US brings people like themselves closer to independence, both economic and otherwise. Furthermore, free trade allows not only for the dissemination of goods but for the free movement of beliefs and traditions. During my trip, I had a talk with a young tour guide who supported the Castro brothers. I don't think I've ever talked to a serious communist before. This only reinforced my conviction that cultural exchange and the exchange of ideas are some of the most important reasons to keep trade open.
Second of all, it’s important to note the effect that President Trump’s new policies will have on the war on drugs. Under the Obama administration, U.S. and Cuban officials collaborated closely on anti-trafficking efforts. The United States likely benefited from this more than Cuba did, although it was critical for both countries. It remains to be seen whether Trump’s hardline Cuba policy will preclude high-level cooperation between the two countries, but many speculate that it will become more difficult. Though Havana has declared that it is willing to continue dialogue with the United States, it also issued a statement saying that “any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba, whether it seeks to achieve it through pressures and impositions, or using more subtle methods, will be doomed to failure." It’s not hard to conclude that US-Cuba relations have been severely strained by President Trump’s choices. This will affect everything from businesses, to democracy, to public health---in both countries.
It is our civic duty and our moral responsibility to fight for a better future with our neighbor Cuba, which, by the way, is no further than 103 miles off the coast of Florida. There is no better time than the present to take advantage of that short distance, end the growing global trend towards isolation, and work together as nations and peoples.