Trump Chills US-Cuba Relations

On Friday, June 16, President Donald Trump announced the roll-back of some of the détentist policies toward Cuba initiated during the administration of his predecessor, President Barack Obama. Reactions have followed the long-standing left/right divide.

Much of the earliest commentary aimed at sorting out just how sweeping this roll-back was.  Slate’s Jeremy Stahl emphasized that the moves were less far-reaching than advertised.  Embassies will remain open in Havana and in Washington.

On the other hand, there are real changes. For example, Obama policy effectively allowed tourism, so long as the tourist was willing to see himself as a student receiving an education. (The ‘student’ could travel solo, and his island education could be self-directed.)  Trump’s order cancels this, limiting the US originated educational travel to approved tour groups.

Since JFK

This is one more zig-zag in a constantly changing policy whereby the United States has attempted since days of the John F. Kennedy administration to punish, and encourage the overthrow of, the Castro regime through economic sanctions.

According to Jordan Fabian, writing for The Hill, the Trump administration considered going a good deal further than it has, cutting off diplomatic relations between the United States and the Republic of Cuba. But a memo apparently prepared by the staff of the National Security Council (and leaked to The Hill) strongly cautioned against a draconian move, which it said would allow Iran, Russia, and China to “develop an even stronger footing in Cuba” than they have at present.

Left Wing View

Much of the critical commentary from the left focused on Trump’s cozy relationship with certain Arab Moslem countries.  Matthew Yglesias, one of the founders of the news commentary website Vox, tweeted along these lines – “can’t travel to Cuba because human rights but here’s a $100 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia….”

At Vox itself, the first detailed commentary on Trump’s policy focused on the President’s largely adversarial relationship with Pope Francis, the first Latin America in that office and a man who played a key part in the Obama-Castro talks of 2015. Pope Francis, writes Tara Isabella Burton, occupies an elevated place in “the Cuban popular consciousness, even among those Cubans who do not necessarily identify as religious.” Her suggestion is that if Trump genuinely wants a freer Cuba, he might want and need Francis as an ally.

Another theme of the leftward reaction was the notion that the embargo/blockade of Cuba is itself a Cold-War relic. Don Foreman, whose Twitter handle is @EndBlockadeCuba said that listening to Trump’s speech was like “traveling back in time.”

Right Wing View

One of President Trump’s rivals from the Republican Party’s 2016 primary campaign, Marco Rubio (R-FL), responded to the announced changes with something akin to rapture. When Cuba is finally free, he said, “the people on the island and history will say that perhaps the key moment in that transition began on this day,” with Trump’s announcement.

Trump’s political base certainly backed the move and has indeed proven quite enthusiastic about it. The group “Young Democrats for Trump” tweeted “We back the people of Cuba in their fight for freedom,” which is, in their view, what the new policy also does.

Likewise, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart(R-FL), like Rubio a Cuban-America,  issued a statement arguing that Obama’s policy had been based on the false notion that “the oppressed are somehow helped by the strengthening of their oppressors.”  He praised Trump for overturning that policy putting “the American values of freedom and democracy … first.”

Back on Twitter, actor and Trump admirer James Woods says that Obama’s warming of US-Cuba relations was “a disgusting dalliance” and an “abusive” regime.