Wave of reactions prior to Trump’s announcements about Cuba

Reactions have not stopped in the United States ever since it was known that on Friday, June 16 Donald Trump will announce in Miami the changes to the Cuba policy. Political authorities or from the business sector, as well as different representatives of the Cuban American community and civil society in general are calling attention to the inconvenience, from every point of view, of a rollback of the rapprochement between the two countries.

Everything essentially points to the changes that will toughen the commerce and travel to the island conditions for U.S. citizens. It is probable that the announcement will take place in a “campaign rally style” speech in Miami, as a sign for the anti-Castro sector that has most pressured him about the subject, according to what two sources close to the process said in late May to EFE.

“Before heading to Miami, President Trump will need to weigh his options carefully,” Christopher Sabatin pointed out in a commentary published by The New York Times referring to the possible changes in the Cuba policy, which it is expected the president will announce this Friday.

However, Sabatin points to “how the United States Congress, businesses and other interested groups react to Mr. Trump’s reversal of policies that, according to Pew Research Center, 75 percent of Americans support” as something more important than the actual content of the changes.

The social and economic changes generated in both countries have been important since the Obama administration relaxed the restrictions on travel to the island, according to the daily.

In the face of a drastic change by Trump with respect to the Obama measures, the universities that have enjoyed the freedom of academic exchange, businesses and their workers, and the millions of citizens who have traveled to the island and have had contacts with the Cuban communities, should raise their voice, said the professor of the School of International and Public Relations of Columbia University and director of Global Americans.

Two officials from the Cuban Ministry of the Interior interviewed by CNN said that in recent months they have seen an increase in drug trafficking in the region. The fact coincides with the elimination of the “wet foot /dry foot” policy by the Obama administration and the revision ordered by President Trump of U.S. ties with the island.

“There has been a readjustment,” commented Colonel Héctor González Hernández, head of the Struggle against Drugs Department. “We have proof that the criminal networks are passing from human trafficking to drug trafficking or both at the same time.”

According to the television chain, up to date in 2017 the Cuban authorities have confiscated or recovered close to three tons of marijuana and cocaine: more than triple the drug confiscated during the first six months of last year.

The Cuban officials explained that two meetings with their U.S. counterparts programmed for this year to deal with the confrontation of drug trafficking were canceled or postponed while the Trump administration was analyzing the possible changes in his Cuba policy.

“We are waiting to see what happens,” said Colonel Víctor López Bravo, of the Cuban Border Patrol. “It is the United States that has to announce and invite us to the next meeting. Let’s hope it takes place because it really benefits the two countries.”

The CubaOne Foundation, devoted to connecting Cuban and Cuban-American youths, on Tuesday asked President Donald Trump in an open letter to not return to “the Cold War” policy with Cuba and to use the “North Star” of his policy toward the island in advancing “U.S. interests and the well-being of the Cuban people.”

In the text, the young people of CubaOne make a series of recommendations to the president for him to pursue his campaign promise of “a better deal” with Cuba than that of his predecessor Barack Obama, who brought about together with President Raúl Castro the thawing in Cuban-U.S. relations starting late 2014. CubaOne points out that without the changes introduced by Obama they wouldn’t have been able to travel to the island, allowing 2,000 young Cuban Americans to connect with their roots.

Giancarlo Sopo, communication strategist and founder of the organization, told EFE that they have written to the president concerned about the reports that he is going to restrict the trips of U.S. citizens and the sending of remittances to once a year. Sopo affirmed that the Cuban American community will not tolerate it because “that would disproportionately affect the Cuban Americans and would have a devastating effect on the Cuban private sector.”

Sopo told OnCuba that, on the other hand, the President can do a great deal to achieve a “better deal” with Cuba. “For example: He can negotiate with Havana the elimination of the passport rates, which penalize disproportionately persons with low incomes, and make it easier to support the island’s private sector.”

“What we must not do is return to the Cold War policies that in more than 50 years were always ineffective,” he concluded.

In a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that his government is seeing “concerning” elements in the opening promoted by Barack Obama and that until now the policy established since 17D has “little incentive today to change that.”

According to the head of U.S. diplomacy, the general focus of the revision of the policy toward the island ordered by Trump is to allow the commercial and exchange activity with Cuba to continue as much as possible, because they see the good side, they see the benefits for the Cuban people. And somehow, further on, they can reach the point of normalization.

However, Tillerson insisted that Cuba has not improved its human rights record and gave as an example the fact that the government “continues to jail political opponents and harass dissidents.” In his opinion, if his government improves bilateral relations “Cuba must begin to address human rights challenges.”

These statements confirm what was advanced in May by Francisco Palmieri, acting secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who pointed out that “important differences” in relation to what the Obama administration has done would emerge after the revision of the policy toward the island.

“As we’re developing these business relationships and as we’re enjoying the benefits on the economic and development side, are we inadvertently or directly providing financial support to the regime? Our view is we are,” said the Secretary of State, who thinks that changes must be made to comply with the law.

For Tillerson, the United States must guarantee that the intention of the Helms-Burton Act be complied with, an act from 1996 that stipulates that the economic restrictions for Cuba had to be maintained until Havana complied with certain conditions, among them that the Castro family abandon power. But, according to the head of U.S. diplomacy, that pressure has almost completely been eliminated now.

However, he affirmed there are some areas, matters of diplomatic importance in the regional area in which the Trump administration wants to have relations with the Cuban government because he considers that there could be areas of common interest between both countries.

Led by the Engage Cuba coalition, a group of businesspeople, economists and experts on Cuba made an analysis of the economic impact it estimates that a rollback of the measures toward Cuba would cost the U.S. economy 6.6 billion dollars and would affect 12,295 job posts throughout the first term of the Trump administration. The preceding administration’s policies to decrease the regulations for the companies interested in doing business with Cuba has contributed to “a significant growth and job generation.”

Rural communities throughout the nation, most of them depending on agricultural, manufacturing and shipping industries, would be “disproportionately affected” if regulations are added to travel and commerce with Cuba. This analysis excludes agricultural and medical exports because the regulations that allow limited exports in these sectors were authorized by Congress in 2001, therefore before the regulatory changes of the Obama era. However, a new set of regulations about the export of agricultural products to Cuba could cost the United States an additional 1.5 billion dollars and affect 2,205 more job posts.

Given its conditions of deep water ports and vicinity to Cuba, the imposition of regulations would particularly threaten the economic growth and creation of jobs in the Gulf states, including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, all of which supported President Trump in the 2016 elections.

“Tell Donald Trump and Marco Rubio that they can’t play around with Cuban families. We Cuban Americans want to continue visiting and helping our families on the island.” A protest was called for this in Miami for Thursday afternoon in front of Marco Rubio’s office.

“Protest against Trump. That your right to travel not be taken away” says the event created by #ProjectPastelito, a grass-root initiative organized by Hispanic leaders, activists and members of the community in association with the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. The project is in association with #CubaNow and “sponsored by generous Hispanic donors.”

Seven Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. president in which they request he maintain relations with Cuba. For them it is a “matter of national security,” according to what the ABC News chain reported.

The signatories said they are “deeply concerned” about the possibility that Trump reverse the Obama policy on Cuba. In their letter they say that the measure can make Cuba depend more on Russia and China, their country’s strategic rivals. “Allowing this to happen could have disastrous results for the security of the United States,” they wrote.

Moreover, the Republican politicians also argued that a rollback in relations with Cuba can undermine the efforts to combat crimes like human trafficking, illicit drug trade, fraud identification and cybercrimes.

The signatories are Tom Emmer from Minnesota, Rick Crawford from Arkansas, Ted Poe from Texas, Darin LaHood from Illinois, Roger Marshall from Kansas, James Comer from Kentucky and Jack Bergman from Michigan.

Ever since the government announced it would review its links to Cuba, a dozen high-ranking retired military have advised continuing the course in a letter sent to the National Security Adviser in which they said that the ties with the island would strengthen the interests of national security and stability in the region.

Meanwhile, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant asked Trump to continue the road of dialogue during a visit to Cuba in April, while in May U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue promised to back a bill to expand agricultural commerce with Cuba during a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee.

Fifty-five Cuban women entrepreneurs sent a letter to Ivanka Trump seeking her backing for U.S. policies that have empowered Cuban women and their families throughout the island. The women are inviting Mrs. Trump to visit Cuba and confirm firsthand how the U.S. policies that expanded trips and commerce with Cuba have strengthened Cuban women and the growing private sector of Cuba.

“A rollback in relations would bring with it the collapse of many of our businesses and with this, the suffering of all those families that depend on them,” says the letter.

A recent Public Opinion Strategies poll found that more than 75 percent of U.S. travelers stay in private boarding houses, eat in private restaurants and buy souvenirs from private craftspeople.

Airbnb recently published a report in which it cited that Cubans have earned 40 million dollars in the last two years sharing their homes on the platform. The report also highlighted that 58 percent of the Airbnb hosts in Cuba are women.

Oniel Díaz, cofounder of Auge, an enterprise that provides advisory services to businesses, shared his opinion with OnCuba:

“For Cuba the principal impact would be in the expectations and the interest in investing or doing business on the island. A change in the conditions for trade would give out a sign that I believe would close the stage of infatuation with Cuba on a global level – which in any case we haven’t known how to use; the obstacles and contradictions to foreign investment continue, as well as the bureaucracy, etc.

“Second: the impact on trips, which it seems will be what will have the most weight in what Trump will be able to do. If he withdraws the licenses, the trips by U.S. citizens will decrease. That will affect the entire private tourist industry: private homes, guides, car rentals…. Even Airbnb. Of course it’s not as if tourism on a global level depended on American tourists, but undoubtedly the future expectations for everything (state-run and private) is based on the two million tourists from the north which is estimated can come once the travel ban were lifted. I believe that we will see the greatest impact in the near and distant future.”

Sixty-five percent of U.S. voters back the policies of rapprochement with Cuba approved by the Obama administration, according to a poll by the Morning Consult Company published this Monday by the Engage Cuba coalition. The poll, carried out among close to 2,000 voters nationwide, also revealed that 64 percent of the Republicans back maintaining the flexibility to travel and to do business with the island.

In relation to lifting the blockade on Cuba, 61 percent of those polled back this, a figure that places at 55 percent the members of President Trump’s party.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said that it is strange that in such a poisoned political atmosphere as that of the U.S. there is a problem that joins the Republicans, Democrats and independents equally. In his opinion, the majority backing of U.S. citizens to the rapprochement with Cuba should serve as a warning to Trump in his intention to again cool relations with the island.

Fourteen Democratic senators asked President Donald Trump to expand relations with Cuba in a letter sent this Monday to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In the letter the Senate members said that normalizing relations with the island would give the United States economic and national security benefits.

The signatories mentioned the business opportunities offered by Cuba to U.S. companies, especially the travel and hotel companies, the airlines and companies devoted to the production and commerce of agricultural products. They also affirm that bilateral cooperation is important for the national security of the United States and that abandoning the agreements signed between both countries on topics such as air travel, drug trafficking, scientific cooperation and the cross-border application of the law would go against the best interests of the U.S. people.

The letter was signed by Senators Chris Murphy (Connecticut), Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken (Minnesota), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), and Brian Schatz (Hawaii). Michael Bennet (Colorado), Jon Tester (Montana), Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Rob Wyden (Oregon), Claire McCaskill (Missouri) and Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) also signed.

OnCuba Staff, OnCuba

June 14, 2017

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