When President Donald Trump announces his policy on Cuba Friday in Miami, many will be pleased. Others, not so much.
Trump will maintain relations with Cuba, first announced by President Obama on Dec. 17, 2014. He apparently will not restore the wet foot, dry-foot policy, rescinded by Obama last year. Smart move. The law was as inequitable as it was a dangerous lure. And the president continue to authorize Cuban Americans to travel to the island.
Trump’s new measures are designed to exert more pressure on Havana to reform itself. In the two and a half years since the Obama administration announced the thaw, which we applauded — and still do — the United States has made most of the concessions, while Cuban president Raúl Castro given very little, especially in the realm of human rights, in return.
Trump is right to recalibrate this policy without jettisoning it wholesale.
In one of the most important changes, transactions with the Business Administration Group, S.A — GAESA — will be prohibited. GAESA is the company of the Cuban Armed Forces that, according to estimates, controls 60 percent of the Cuban economy. And there will be limits on Americans’ ability to travel to Cuba, a change of which we are less enamored.
These measures should significantly reduce the amount of money flowing into the coffers of the Cuban regime. U.S. tourism has been booming since relations between Washington and Havana were resumed. According to island authorities, in 2016 the number of U.S. visitors increased by 74 percent compared to 2015.
The ban on doing business with GAESA and its subsidiaries should be another blow to the regime’s finances. By blocking transactions with companies linked to the Cuban military, Trump closes a foreign-exchange ticket, and at the same time sends a political message: You cannot do business with the military.
However, it remains to be seen how effective this is. For example, the Cuban government could disguise the properties of GAESA under the facade of new entities.
The Trump administration will also oppose any proposal or measure in international bodies such as the United Nations to lift the trade embargo imposed more than half a century ago. Obviously, the embargo has become more a symbol than true leverage, having failed over the decades to shake loose anything that looked like freedom for the Cuban people.
However, after renewed relations and so many concessions on the United States’ part, it became the only leverage over the regime that the United States had left. What’s most important is that the ratcheting back of Obama’s policy not be the end of U.S. efforts to force reform in Cuba. Diplomacy and negotiation must continue to play a significant role, too. Now that the two countries are talking, this is no time to stop.
President Trump is basically following Cuban dissidents’ lead, including those who supported Obama’s opening to their country.
As reported by El Nuevo Herald’s Nora Gámez Torres this week, “Cuban dissidents of various political stripes agree that the United States must make changes to apply pressure to the Raúl Castro regime.”
They are the ones on the front lines, being censored, imprisoned, harassed, beaten. It’s only right that their words resound the loudest in formulating our country’s revised policy.