Category Archives: Donald Trump election

Cuban dissident leader to Trump: ‘Treat Cuba like a dictatorship’

Frustrated by what they see as “indolence” from the previous administration, some Cuban government opponents are urging President Donald Trump to backtrack current Cuba policy and speak out about increased government repression on the island.

Antonio G. Rodiles and his partner Ailer González — both members of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms — are calling on the new administration to reset U.S.-Cuba relations and “recognize that they are dealing with a dictatorship.”

“The main thing would be for those of us who are legitimate actors on the Cuban scene — inside and outside the island — to be part of the policy design and part of that political process toward the island” unlike what former President Barack Obama did, Rodiles said during a recent meeting with el Nuevo Herald.

The couple also denounced an increase in repression since Obama announced his policy of engagement and the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba in December 2014. The situation, they said, has become worse since the death of former leader Cuban Fidel Castro in November with a “millimetric monitoring” of opponents’ actions and harassment of their families.

“It is important for the new administration to start taking action on the issue and make some statement, because silence is being very well used by the regime to try to crush the opposition,” Rodiles said.

The Cuban government opponent criticized the “indolence” of the Obama administration toward the human rights situation on the island.

“We have direct experience, including talking to President Obama, and the direct experience was that there was a lot of indolence in what happened with Cuba … There was a moment when we understood that the administration was not an ally [in the struggle for] for democratic changes in Cuba, that they had a vision that Cuba was going to change in the long term and that we would have to accept neo-Castroism,” he said.

Although he was careful not to mention what measures taken by the previous administration should be eliminated — such as sending remittances or authorizing U.S. airline travel to the island, which are popular in Cuba and within a large portion of the Cuban American community — Rodiles said he supports returning to the previous longtime policy of applying economic pressure against the Raúl Castro government, a practice Obama has referred to as a “failed policy.”

“If the regime is taking advantage of some of these measures, I’d cut that economic income,” Rodiles said. “Everything that is giving benefits to the regime and not to the people must be reversed.”

The frustration expressed by the activist couple has become increasingly evident. A video published by the Forum for Rights and Liberties and in which González exclaims, “Obama, you are finally leaving!” unleashed a whirlwind of controversy within social media networks.

According to Rodiles, Obama asked dissidents and activists during a meeting in Havana on March 22, 2016, to have patience with his policy of rapprochement.

“I told him that you can’t be patient when they are kicking citizens and women with impunity,” Rodiles said. The couple was among several activists arrested during a widely reported act of repudiation against dissidents on the same Sunday that Obama arrived in Havana for an historic visit.

Rodiles and González dismissed criticism by those who question their support for President Trump and claim their agenda is dictated by groups within the Cuban exile community. They said their interest is in readdressing Cuba issues not taking a position on U.S. domestic issues.

“Those same people who say that we are being radical and confrontational, are extremely unsupportive. They do not report any violation of human rights. These are hypocritical positions,” González said.

As for other strategies being carried out by other opposition groups on the island in an effort to incite change, the couple acknowledged that there are many different ideologies and approaches, which they said was a healthy element in the struggle for democracy.

“The most important thing,” Rodiles said, “is that the regime has to understand that 60 years is more than enough, and that it’s over.”

Trump administration reviewing Cuba policy: White House spokesman

Reuters

The Trump administration is in the midst “of a full review of all U.S. policies towards Cuba,” with a focus on its human rights policies, as part of a commitment to such rights for citizens throughout the world, a White House spokesman said on Friday.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer made the comment during a press conference in response to a question about whether the administration of President Donald Trump planned any policy changes toward Cuba.

 

Governor Scott wants funds cut for South Florida ports that ink Cuba deals

The Miami Herald

Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government.

Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

“We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.”

Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than half a century — artisanal charcoal — arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach.

Jackie Schutz, a Scott spokeswoman, said the governor takes issue with the ports inking memorandums of understanding with the Cuban government because he “firmly” believes the U.S. should not do business with Cuba “until there is freedom and democracy.”

“What I don’t believe is in our ports doing business with a ruthless dictator,” Scott told reporters in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.

The governor will make his request to the Legislature, which ultimately sets the state budget and can ignore Scott if it wishes. The Florida Department of Transportation’s budget shows more than $37 million budgeted for Port Everglades projects over the next five years — including $23 million for a dredging the port has sought for three decades — and $920,000 for the Port of Palm Beach.

Manuel Almira, the Port of Palm Beach’s executive director, told the Miami Herald in an email Wednesday that the port has reached out to Scott’s office following his tweets.

“The Governor’s position was surprising, to say the least,” Almira said.

Port Everglades did not respond to requests for comment — not even to discuss the Cuban delegation’s schedule Thursday.

Jim Pyburn, Port Everglades’ director of business development, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, before Scott revealed his position, that the port’s deal with the National Port Administration of Cuba — in the works since early 2016 and ready to sign since May — could lead to joint marketing studies and training.

“We would like to see U.S. exports to Cuba increase,” he said. “Imports are good, too.”

A Cuban delegation plans to visit a number of ports over the coming week, including Port Tampa Bay, which does not have an imminent deal with the country in the works.

“Our port has taken a very cautious approach to Cuba,” said Ed Miyagishima, Port Tampa Bay’s vice president for communications and external affairs, who once worked for Scott. “The port itself is Cuba-ready, in the sense that we’re ready to work with all the entities once the embargo is lifted, but we’re taking a very conservative approach. We are not signing an MOU with the Cuban government, just because there’s so much ambiguity in Cuba policy right now.”

The delegation has no plans to drop in on PortMiami.

“We were never approached by any Cuban port delegation — never got a phone call, nothing at all,” said Andria Muñiz-Amador, a port spokeswoman.

Last May, Carnival Corp.’s Fathom Line launched an every-other-week cruise from PortMiami to Cuba that circumnavigates the island. The cruise is being discontinued this spring, but Carnival hopes to add Cuban ports of call on its other Caribbean cruises.

Executive orders issued by former President Barack Obama over the past two years eased some Cuba-related trade restrictions, making shipping agreements possible. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked Tuesday if Trump planned quick Cuba action of his own, perhaps to reverse some of Obama’s work, as Trump said he would do absent a more favorable arrangement for the U.S.

“We’ve got nothing that we’re ready to announce,” Spicer said.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article128713509.html#storylink=cpy
Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government.

Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

“We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.”

Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than half a century — artisanal charcoal — arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach.

Cuba’s ‘deserting’ doctors fear losing the American Dream amid policy shift

The Miami Herald

Bogotá, Colombia –

In a tiny house in a sprawling suburb of this capital city, a group of Cubans — all of them doctors, dentists and medical professionals — huddled around a television Friday watching Donald Trump’s inauguration speech, hoping he might shed some light on their future.

He didn’t.

“I can’t say we were surprised he didn’t say anything about Cuba. He has to defend U.S. interests first,” said Jorge Carlos Rodríguez, a 26-year-old ophthalmologist. “But we are hoping he does say something about us soon.”

When the Obama administration ended its controversial immigration policy for Cubans on Jan. 12, it left thousands stranded in South and Central America with no guarantee they’d be able to enter the United States. Among the elite group of would-be immigrants now in limbo: Cuba’s medical workers.

For a decade, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program has given the island’s internacionalistas — doctors working abroad on behalf of the communist government — the right to apply for expedited U.S. visas. As a result, thousands of Cubans have deserted their “medical missions” in places like Venezuela and Brazil.

Cuba said the program was tantamount to stealing: robbing professionals that the cash-strapped island had educated.

But medical workers say the policy offered one of the few ways out of a system they described as indentured servitude — and they’re hoping that the incoming Trump administration will revive it.

Barrio Adentro

Rodríguez arrived in Venezuela on Nov. 2 to work in “Barrio Adentro,” the government’s signature program that uses Cuban doctors to provide free healthcare. His team, however, was immediately confronted with Venezuela’s economic chaos and paranoia.

“For the first 10 days that I was there, the only food I was given was boiled macaroni,” he said. “There was nothing else for us to eat even though we were all medical professionals.”

By the time he was sent to his “mission” in Lara state, he said officials had branded him a flight risk because he has a brother in the United States. Rodríguez said he feared he was going to be punished and sent back to Cuba so he decided to run, crossing the border into Colombia in mid-November to apply for the parole program.
Continue reading Cuba’s ‘deserting’ doctors fear losing the American Dream amid policy shift

Secretary of State Nominee Tillerson: “Cuban leaders received much, while their people received little”

NBC6

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, criticized the United States’ normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba saying the communist island has not made enough concessions.

Appearing at a Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, said Cuba’s leaders haven’t done enough on human rights for their citizens.
“We did not hold them accountable for their behavior, and their leaders received much, while their people received little,” he said. “That did not help Cubans or Americans.”

Tillerson did not specify whether he wants to reverse executive actions taken by President Obama to ease the trade embargo Washington imposed on Cuba in 1961. Obama has taken several administrative steps since the two governments resumed diplomatic relations in 2015, but only Congress can overturn the embargo.

During his election campaign Trump raised the possibility of reopening negotiations with Cuba to seek concessions from Havana.

Donald Trump crackdown looms for Cuba as repression continues after Obama outreach

The Washington Times
President Obama’s historic move to normalize relations with Cuba hasn’t slowed repression by the Castro regime, and the incoming Trump administration is likely to take a tougher stand on restricting tourism, recovering stolen U.S. assets and demanding human rights reforms by Havana, analysts say.
In the two years since Mr. Obama announced a thaw in the United States’ half-century policy of isolating the island nation, the administration has paved the way for increased engagement, approving such measures as daily commercial flights, direct mail service, cruise ship ports of call and the reopenings of long-shuttered embassies in Washington and Havana.
But Mr. Obama’s policy has not been fully embraced on Capitol Hill and is vulnerable to reversal under the Trump administration, though the president’s aides say his detente is already bearing fruit in Cuba and beyond.
“We’re seeing real progress that is making life better for Cubans right now,” said White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. “Sustaining this policy will allow for further opening, further travel, further U.S. business opportunities.”
But critics say the U.S. money now flowing to Cuba is being pocketed directly by the military and the Cuban intelligence services, not benefiting Cuban entrepreneurs. They also say the government of President Raul Castro has become more repressive since the formal resumption of diplomatic ties with Washington.
“This year, they’ve had over 10,000 politically motivated arrests,” said Ana Quintana, an analyst on Latin America at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “During President Obama’s visit [in March], there were 498 people arrested in those three days.”
Judging by the standards Mr. Obama laid out in December 2014, she said, “the policy has been a failure.”
“It was originally intended to help the Cuban people by providing greater freedoms,” Ms. Quintana said. “It’s been diluted, because they found that they’re not going to get the concessions from the Cuban government that they expected. The vast majority of people who have benefited from this have been the Cuban military and the Cuban government.”
President-elect Donald Trump is likely to take a less rosy view than Mr. Obama of the U.S. engagement with Cuba, say those familiar with his team’s thinking. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Obama and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for “turning a blind eye” to Cuba’s human rights violations and denounced Mr. Obama’s initial deal with Havana as a “very weak agreement.” Several anti-Castro Cuban-American conservatives are part of Mr. Trump’s transition team.

Continue reading Donald Trump crackdown looms for Cuba as repression continues after Obama outreach

We Need a Cuba Policy That Truly Serves the Cuban People

Foreign Policy

As the 2016 presidential campaign began heating up — and Florida appeared more and more winnable — the Donald Trump campaign began increasing its criticisms of President Barack Obama’s 2014 decision to reverse the United States’ longstanding policy towards Cuba. In Miami in September, then-candidate Trump said, “All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them, and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands.”

In October, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence said, “When Donald Trump and I take to the White House, we will reverse Barack Obama’s executive orders on Cuba.”

The drumbeat has continued post-election. In late November, President-elect Trump tweeted, “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

A Trump spokesman followed with, “This has been an important issue, and it will continue to be one. Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”

Clearly, changes are coming to U.S.-Cuba policy under Trump. But what to replace Obama’s policy with? Certainly no one argues for a return to the status quo ante. Instead, the President-elect’s new team should seize the opportunity to bring energy and creativity to truly empowering the Cuban people to reclaim their right to decide their own destiny.

If Obama’s ill-fated policy reaffirmed one thing (aside from the Castro regime’s congenital intransigence), it is the Cuban people’s enormous desire for change. But that can’t be supported at the same time as embracing the regime, which Obama failed to grasp. The two are fundamentally incompatible.

That being said, the new administration could begin its review of Cuba policy by focusing on three immediate imperatives:

1. Re-establish common cause with Cuban dissidents and human rights activists. Perhaps the worst aspect of Obama’s policy was shunting these brave Cubans to the back of the policy bus. Obama may believe the U.S. lacks moral authority to advocate on behalf of human rights, but the fact is a strong and unconditional stance by the U.S. serves as an inspiration to those struggling for basic rights around the world, as well as sending an important signal about American purpose.

The U.S. must return to a policy that prioritizes providing both moral and material support for Cuba’s dissidents and human rights activists. Funding for Cuba democracy programs was redirected by the Obama administration to other activities on the island. Not only should those programs be returned to their original purpose, but additional support ought to be sought from the new Congress. Human rights in Cuba must also be reprioritized at the United Nations, other international forums, and in U.S. public diplomacy campaigns.

2. Review all executive orders issued by Obama and commercial deals struck under the Obama administration. They all ought to be judged according to a single standard: Do they help the Cuban people or do they buttress the Castro regime? Any activity found to be sustaining the regime’s control rather than directly benefiting the Cuban people should be scrapped. For example, cruise ships that fill military-owned hotels are hard to justify. The guidelines could be: Does the activity promote and strengthen human rights such as freedom of speech and assembly? Does it improve ordinary Cubans access to the internet and information, breaking down the Castro regime’s wall of censorship placed between the Cuban people and the outside world, and between Cubans themselves? Does it help to lessen Cubans’ dependence on the regime? Does it allow for reputable nongovernmental organizations to freely operate on the island?

3. Review Cuban immigration policies. Cubans today are the beneficiaries of generous U.S. immigration privileges. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 allows Cubans reaching U.S. shores to be automatically paroled into the country, and a year and a day later they are eligible for permanent residency. On top of that, the U.S. grants at least 20,000 visas a year to Cubans in a lottery. What has happened is that the Castro regime has turned those policies into another economic lifeline. Many Cubans now emigrating are arriving in the U.S. only to turn around and ferry consumer goods back to the island. Certainly no one can begrudge Cubans trying to help their families on the island, but the situation has become morally inverted. What began as efforts to help Cubans fleeing tyranny has become a situation in which the regime’s victims are now relied upon to provide it economic sustenance.

An overhaul of Obama’s policy toward Cuba is needed, but it does not have to mean a return to the stasis of the past. With newfound political will and creativity, it can mean the implementation of a policy that unapologetically supports the aspirations of the Cuban people for a future devoid of the Castro regime. U.S. policy should be targeted at convincing Cubans that such a future exists, and inspires them to work towards it.

Trump faces decision on letting Americans sue over Cuba property

trump-bay-of-pigs-1026

Tampa Bay Times

Supporters of improved relations with Cuba say President-elect Donald Trump will have a hard time reversing the two years of momentum created by his predecessor.

But they acknowledge that Trump, who has signaled that he wants a better deal from Cuba, has at least one potent legal card at his disposal that could stifle relations. And the ripples could extend from the Tampa Bay area.

In his first two weeks in office, under a clause in the travel and trade embargo that Congress imposed on communist Cuba, Trump can permit Americans to file lawsuits against any interest that has profited from property of theirs nationalized by the Cuban government.

The question is, will Trump do it?

Jason Poblete, a Virginia-based attorney specializing in U.S.-Cuba policy who represents about two dozen clients who could file such lawsuits, is confident Trump is more likely to do so than his White House predecessors, if not immediately then later in his term.

“I think his administration will do what is best for U.S. interests,” Poblete said. “The Cubans will need to step up and take positive steps.”

The clause, called Title III, involves civil litigation filed in U.S. courts against either private companies — American or international — or the Cuban government.

Civil penalties imposed by the court could add to the debt Cuba already owes the United States, scare American and international companies away from doing business there, and punish those already doing so.

“Trump ran his campaign saying tyranny would not be tolerated,” said Burke Francisco Hedges, a St. Petersburg heir to more than 20 nationalized properties valued at $50 million. “Let’s send a message right away.”

Title III is not in force now. It carries a provision allowing its suspension each six months, and every U.S. president has opted to do so since the clause was written in 1996. That means no one has had the opportunity to file suit. The current suspension, signed by Obama, ends Feb. 1, just 11 days after Trump’s inauguration.

Bolstering the belief that Trump will not suspend Title III was his selection of Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the hard-line U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington, D.C., to his transition team for the Department of the Treasury.

Claver-Carone has testified before Congress that Title III grievances should be allowed to proceed. Earlier this year, he told the Tampa Bay Times in an email, “I support it 100 percent.”

If lawsuits are allowed, the Southwest Airlines Tampa-to-Havana flights that launch Dec. 12 could be grounded, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Council in New York

The reason: The family of José Ramón López, who lives in Miami, claims Havana’s José Martí International Airport is built on land taken from them, Kavulich said.

An heir could sue Southwest and any airline in the world profiting from the family’s property and carriers would have to decide whether the penalties are worth the profit.

Then there is London-based Imperial Tobacco, which holds exclusive rights to distribute coveted Cuban cigars outside the island nation.

One of the brands is H. Upmann Cigars, rolled in a Havana factory seized from the Cuesta family of Tampa. The property’s value was estimated at $400,000 when it was nationalized.

The Cuesta family could not be reached for comment, but they and any other American interest that owned a cigar factory seized by Cuba would have standing to file suit against Imperal.

Counting American citizens who had their property seized and Cuban citizens who left for the United States, “Title III would produce several hundred thousand lawsuits against Cuba for untold billions of dollars” said Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C. attorney who advises corporations considering business in Cuba. “This will effectively end for decades any attempt to restore trade between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Among other local people who could file lawsuits are Tampa’s Gary Rapoport, grandson of American gangster Meyer Lansky, whose Habana Riviera hotel and casino in Havana was nationalized. The property’s value was estimated at $8 million.

The family of Clearwater’s Beth Guterman had an estimated $1 million in property taken, including a school and a plantation.

They each told the Times they’d consider suing the Cuban government, which now manages the properties, and any company that invests in them.

Still, Antonio Martinez II, a New York attorney whose practice includes U.S.-Cuba regulations, notes that past presidents have opted not to invoke Title III because of the conflict it would cause with nations that have invested heavily in Cuba, including Canada, Great Britain, Russia, Brazil and China.

Plus, these lawsuits would “jam up courts,” Martinez said.

“It would then take longer to collect, if anything is ever collected,” he said. “Allow diplomacy to work.”

But Miami’s Javier Garcia-Bengochea, whose family owned the property that now makes up Cuba’s Port of Santiago, said he is frustrated with failures by past administrations to effectively negotiate with Cuba.

He said he hopes Trump will come through for him, and if so, he pledges to go after every cruise line in the world profiting from his family’s land.

“Allowing anyone to traffic in stolen property,” Garcia-Bengochea said, “is politically sanctioned organized crime.”

USA Today: Closer look at the man advising Trump on Cuba policy

mauricio-claver-carone

USA Today

The words Fidel Castro have been fighting ones for Maurico Claver-Carone, the man helping President-elect Donald Trump craft policy on Cuba.

As a boy when he played high school football in Orlando, Claver-Carone wore his love for the island country with at least one black sock emblazoned with the Cuban flag. And when he wasn’t on the field, Claver-Carone was already making himself an expert on Cuban history and politics, and forming strong opinions about the Castro regime.

“If you ever mentioned Castro, he would go berserk,” said Ferlan Bailey, Claver-Carone’s longtime friend who graduated with him from Bishop Moore Catholic High School in 1993. “The word ‘Castro’ would just set him off. He’d be like, ‘Don’t even tell me you support Castro.’ He would talk about the people who were persecuted. He knew about the economy, he knew about everything.”

Bailey said Claver-Carone would never physically fight and preferred to dominate his opponents with wit.

“I remember one time in practice, one of the guys got heated and said, ‘We can fight right now,’” Bailey said. “And Mauricio just insulted him with his intelligence.”

Now all of the knowledge and skills Claver-Carone has honed over the years as one of the country’s leading pro-U.S. embargo hardliners will come to bear as he assumes one of the most consequential positions in his career. Last week, Trump appointed him to a key position on his transition team at the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees financial sanctions enforcement with the communist island.

Claver-Carone, who had worked in Treasury in 2003 under President George W. Bush and has been a top lobbyist and advocate on Cuba, also will be handling regular rank and file work of the department. His portfolio also likely includes policy concerning sanctions on other nations, such as Iran and Venezuela.

The Miami native, raised in Spain and Orlando, obtained his masters in international law from the Georgetown University Law Center, his law degree from The Catholic University of America’s School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Rollins College.

Now back at the Treasury Department, Claver-Carone has one job that’s perfectly suited for him: undoing President Obama’s normalization efforts with Cuba — fulfilling a campaign promise made by Trump in September in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community.

“All the concessions that Barack Obama has granted to the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd at the James L. Knight Center. “And that, I will do, unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands.

“Those demands are religious and political freedom for the Cuban people. And the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump said.

Those words could have come directly from Claver-Carone’s Capitol Hill Cubans blog, which the 41-year-old regularly writes for as the executive director of the Cuba Democracy Advocates, a Washington, D.C., non-profit that promotes democracy and human rights in Cuba.

Claver-Carone’s expertise on Cuba has brought him before Congress repeatedly for testimony on the subject, and he’s become a go-to source for reporters, talk shows, and even an appearance on Comedy Central.

However, Claver-Carone has not spoken to a reporter since Trump tapped him for his transition team.

Continue reading USA Today: Closer look at the man advising Trump on Cuba policy

Death of Fidel Castro May Pressure Donald Trump on Cuba Promises

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Wall Street Journal

The death of Fidel Castro is putting unexpected pressure on President-elect Donald Trump to follow through on earlier promises to reverse the recent openings to Cuba made by President Barack Obama.
While Mr. Trump could undo Mr. Obama’s efforts, which were implemented using executive authority, he could face pushback from U.S. companies now deeply invested in Cuba under the current administration’s policy. Those companies include major airlines, hotel operators and technology providers, while big U.S. phone carriers have signed roaming agreements on the island.

Mr. Trump’s top aides said Sunday that he would demand the release of political prisoners held in Cuba and push the government to allow more religious and economic freedoms. Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, said the president-elect “absolutely” would reverse Mr. Obama’s policies if he didn’t get what he wanted from Cuba.

“We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the United States without some changes in their government,” Mr. Priebus said Sunday on Fox News. “Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners—these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships, and that’s what president-elect Trump believes, and that’s where he’s going to head.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), a critic of Mr. Obama’s opening, said Sunday on CBS that hehopes Mr. Trump will examine Mr. Obama’s changes to U.S.-Cuba policy and consider whether they foster democracy.

Ana Rosa Quintana, an expert on Latin America at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said she hopes Mr. Trump will roll back regulations that allow U.S. companies to interact with state-run entities in Cuba.

Mr. Obama announced in December 2014 that his administration had reached a deal with Cuba to begin to normalize relations. Since then, embassies have reopened in both countries, and the U.S. has loosened trade and travel restrictions to Cuba.

Despite bipartisan support, Congress has refused to lift the economic embargo on Cuba, which administration officials have said is necessary to fully normalize relations.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill to lift the embargo, said until Republican leaders allow a vote on the legislation its supporters are “stymied.”

That gives Mr. Trump broad authority to scale back U.S. relations with Cuba, said lawyers and former officials who specialize in sanctions policy.

Regulations that allow U.S. companies to deal with Cuban state-owned entities seem the most vulnerable, such as one that allows U.S. businesses to use state-owned distributors as middlemen for deliveries to the private sector, the former officials and lawyers said.

Peter Harrell, a former senior official at the State Department who worked on sanctions in the Obama administration, said he expected Mr. Trump would “pull back some of that dealing with the Cuban state while allowing travel and private enterprise to go forward.”

Another measure Mr. Trump could reverse is Mr. Obama’s decision earlier this year to allow so-called people-to-people travel to Cuba without a tour group, a move that essentially lifted the travel ban and that critics believe went too far. According to the State Department, 700,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2015, which officials said was an increase from previous years.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see that rescinded,” said Robert Muse, a Washington-based lawyer who advises companies on doing business in Cuba.

Republican opponents of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy—including Mauricio Claver-Carone, who is on Mr. Trump’s transition team at the Treasury Department—have been critical of a deal Starwood Hotels signed with the Cuban government earlier this year, under which the company is running a hotel once owned by the tourism arm of the Cuban military. Mr. Harrell said Mr. Trump might rethink that authorization or allowing similar licenses in the future.

Jeff Flaherty, a spokesman for Marriott International Inc., which now owns Starwood, said it was premature to assess what effect a Trump administration would have on its business in Cuba.

“It is too early to know precisely what it could mean for businesses that have invested in Cuba and are providing opportunities for the Cuban people, but we remain interested in being part of those conversations,” he said.

Mr. Claver-Carone didn’t respond to requests for comment.