President Trump, citing human rights, considers reviving limits on
travel to Cuba
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, New York Times
Thursday, June 1, 2017 8:19am
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is considering reversing major
pieces of the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba and reinstating
limits on travel and commerce, citing human rights abuses by the Castro
government as justification for a more punitive approach.
Trump wants to announce the changes in Miami as early as June and
deliver on a campaign promise that remains a cherished demand for the
politically conservative Cuban-American exile community, the New York
Times reports, citing aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But
he has not made a final decision on the steps he will take because of
internal disagreements within his administration over how far to go in
unwinding one of President Barack Obama’s most significant foreign
Clamping down on engagement with Cuba would be a high-profile way for
Trump to showcase a stark break with his predecessor and to fulfill a
pledge, delivered during a speech in Miami in September, to a crucial
constituency that disproportionately supported him. It would also enable
the president to reward the loyalty of Cuban-American lawmakers who have
been agitating for a harder line on Cuba, including Sen. Marco Rubio and
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans.
But as the White House has sought to formulate a series of steps for
Trump to announce, a split has emerged over rolling back a policy that
many senior officials privately agree has been an improvement on the
Cold War dynamic that shaped relations with Cuba in the past. In
addition to the revival of diplomatic relations for the first time in a
half-century and liberalized rules for trade, travel and commerce, the
new approach has paved the way for cooperation in intelligence-sharing,
drug interdiction, scientific research and a host of other areas.
“A lot of the bureaucracy has been resisting a complete rollback” of
Obama’s policy, said Christopher Sabatini, a Latin America specialist
and executive director of Global Americans, a research organization.
“Trump is the ?Art of the Deal’ guy, and there’s no deal to be had here
if they reverse the entire policy.”
The dilemma is a familiar one for the president, who built his campaign
and political persona around bold, contrarian policy pronouncements —
like building a wall on the southern border, instituting a Muslim ban
and canceling the Paris climate accord — only to see his hopes for quick
and simple action scuttled by thorny questions of law and policy, and by
resistance from the business community.
“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by
making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the
Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty,” said
Rubio, who has met with and talked to Trump and his top aides several
times on the matter.
As the White House labored in March to corral Republican votes for an
unpopular health care overhaul measure, Diaz-Balart asked for assurances
from Trump that he would hold to the hard line on Cuba he laid out in
his campaign. Diaz-Balart supported the measure and has played an
influential role in shaping the new Cuba policy.
“It is my duty to advocate for the issues that are important to my
constituents, and I will not apologize for using every available avenue
to effectively resolve them,” he said in a statement.
Among the measures the Trump administration is considering are proposals
pressed by Rubio and Diaz-Balart to block transactions between American
companies and firms that have ties to the Cuban military. Such a
restriction could have far-reaching consequences for existing deals,
such as the one struck by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to
manage hotels in Cuba ? one of which is owned by the military
conglomerate Gaviota ? and effectively freeze future ones, since the
military in Cuba has a hand in virtually every element of the economy.
“This is a return to the old playbook of creating ambiguity and
uncertainty so that nobody knows what is permissible and what isn’t, and
it would add another level of legal exposure to doing business in Cuba,”
said Robert L. Muse, a Washington lawyer who specializes in U.S. law
regarding Cuba. “It would add one more obstacle to the obstacle course,
which is already pretty complex.”
Trump, according to people close to the discussions, is also considering
tightening restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba that were eased
last year on the eve of Obama’s historic trip to Havana. The new policy
allows Americans who are making educational or cultural trips to Cuba to
initiate their own travel there without special permission from the U.S.
government and without a licensed tour company.
Reversing it, or intensifying enforcement to require travelers to show
evidence that their trips are legal, would probably slow the recent
influx of American tourism to Cuba to a trickle, leaving airlines that
have started direct flights there with fewer customers to serve.
And the president is weighing an increase in funding for the U.S. Agency
for International Development for programs that promote democracy in
Cuba, initiatives that the Castro government has long condemned as
covert efforts to overthrow it.
The changes are far more limited than those sought by Cuba hard-liners —
who have pressed Trump to reimpose all the sanctions lifted by the Obama
administration and cut off diplomatic relations unless Cuba, a military
dictatorship, quickly schedules democratic elections, institutes an
independent judiciary and shows progress on settling U.S. financial
claims and returning American fugitives to the United States.
Forged in secret by Obama’s top aides along with senior officials in the
government of President Raúl Castro of Cuba during more than a year of
clandestine talks, the official thaw between the United States and Cuba
began with a surprise announcement in December 2014 and was then
followed by a series of diplomatic and regulatory changes designed to be
difficult to unravel.
At a high-level meeting on the policy changes led by the National
Security Council last month, officials from a wide array of agencies
said they supported continuing the aspects of the policy that pertained
to their departments, people familiar with the discussion said, as
Trump’s legislative affairs operation, which tracks the president’s
private commitments to lawmakers, made the case for changes.
Without a consensus, an announcement that had initially been anticipated
on May 20, Cuban Independence Day, never materialized. A White House
official said Wednesday that Trump has yet to receive any
recommendations for how to move forward, and while he would like to
announce his new policy this month, there is no guarantee that he will
do so, and no milestone date driving the process.
In seeking to justify his changes on human rights grounds, Trump would
be taking an approach far different from the one he has applied to other
parts of the world, where he and his advisers have viewed human rights
considerations as an impediment to trade and partnerships that create
jobs in the United States.
“Given their complete lack of concern for human rights around the world,
it would be a tragic irony if the Trump administration uses that to
justify policies that harm the Cuban people and restrict the freedom of
Americans to travel and do business where they please,” said Benjamin
Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to Obama who
negotiated the 2014 announcement. “It’s clear that the Cuban and
American people want to move forward, and nothing can change that reality.”
President Trump, citing human rights, considers reviving limits on
travel to Cuba 06/01/17 [Last modified: Thursday, June 1, 2017 8:19am]
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