President Donald Trump stood before a crowd of Cuban Americans at the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana a year ago Saturday and with great fanfare and to the accompaniment of an exile violinist playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" announced his new vision for Cuba policy.
He said the goal was to lessen the Cuban military's control over the Cuban economy, supporting Cuba's private sector in the process. He followed up with new regulations last September on travel by Americans to the island and a list of 180 military-controlled hotels, stores and other firms that are off-limits to American citizens, green-card holders and businesses.
Trump also condemned Cuba's human rights record and political system. “We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” the president said.
While business and travel ties with Cuba have fallen off in the past year, whether the policy has helped the Cuban people is an open question. Some private restaurateurs, bed and breakfast operators and artisans claim that the dwindling number of U.S. visitors has actually hurt their businesses.
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Here are some reflections on the president's Cuba policy, as well as a few suggestions on other steps he might take:
▪Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue:
"I would guess that the president is not spending a whole lot of time on Cuba. Cuba is not a big important issue on its own and not an issue that most Americans, outside of South Florida, care deeply about. Tomorrow's Cuba policy will look much like today's, and if there is a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, it might be to take a harder line.
But Trump's Cuba policy reinforces his standing among hard-line Cuban-American voters and among Cuban-American politicians. He treats Cuba more as a domestic policy issue than a foreign policy issue.
In some ways, Cuba is much more on solid ground with Donald Trump than it was with Barack Obama. The Cubans know how to deal with a hostile United States, but they couldn't quite figure out how to deal with a United States that was more congenial."
▪ Frank Calzon, Center for a Free Cuba:
"Although President Trump’s term ends in more than three years, his objectives on Cuba have begun to be accomplished.
"Denying funding to the regime’s military helps make it more difficult to fund the deployment of thousands of Cuban soldiers currently repressing the Venezuelan people and to punish a regime that seriously harms American diplomats. [After mysterious health incidents caused symptoms ranging from hearing loss to cognitive difficulties in American diplomats, the United States withdrew more than two-thirds of the staff from its Havana Embassy. It hasn't specifically blamed Cuba for the "attacks," but does hold the Cuban government responsible for not protecting the diplomats on Cuban soil.]
To really help the Cubans the United States and other democracies should deny the regime the impunity it has enjoyed for years for abusing the Cuban people. The Trump administration should ignore media claims that American tourists visiting the island are not tourists. Tourism to Cuba remains illegal."
▪ Carlos Gutierrez, former Secretary of Commerce, co-chair of Albright Stonebridge Group:
▪ South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:
“We must never forget that the true responsible party for the Cuban people’s suffering is the Castro-Díaz-Canel regime, not U.S. policy. The policy of appeasement pursued by the Obama administration demonstrated that more American tourists and gifts in the form of permitting companies to invest in Cuba did not lead to any cessation of repression or improvement in respect for human rights.
"The regime continued its tired ways of stanching dissent on the island and forcing Cubans to flee by any means to avoid a life of repression and privation. U.S. policy should be focused on empowering human rights advocates on the island and promoting democracy."
▪John Caulfield, head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba from 2011 until July 2014:
"They've pulled back and we've pulled back. I don't see the White House energized by the Cuba issue right now. We're back where we were [before the Obama rapprochement] with a much cooler relationship. Basically I would say relations are stuck until one side or the other tries to shake things up."
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi