Category Archives: Donald Trump election

Editorial: Pressure on Cuba’s dictators

Providence Journal 

Donald Trump has not always shown much interest in the promotion of human rights abroad. He has mindlessly praised the Chinese regime’s massacre at Tiananmen Square and expressed little concern about Vladimir Putin’s human rights-abusing thugocracy in Russia. On the other hand, he recently spoke out about the terrible human rights abuses that continue in Cuba.

A little more than a year ago, Barack Obama traveled to Cuba on a landmark visit. His Cuban sojourn came on the heels of several major shifts in our policy toward the Communist Caribbean island. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were restored, a good move for our country. Cuba now has an embassy in Washington, and the U.S. has one in Havana. Cuba was removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Several travel limits were eased, as were restrictions on U.S. banks’ activities on the island.

There was a good reason to seek changes. Fifty years of hostility between the United States and Cuba had done little to improve the human rights situation on the island, which remained appalling. Ditto for the country’s sclerotic, state-run economy, which had left millions mired in abject poverty. It was time for a new approach.

Unfortunately, the new approach has not led Cuba to alter its ways in the least. The political system remains grotesquely oppressive; nearly 10,000 political arrests were reported in 2016 alone, and free speech remains just a dream. (Almost 500 political arrests occurred even as President Obama was visiting Cuba.)

Perhaps needless to say, the Castro regime still refuses to hold free and fair elections. The economy, meanwhile, has remained tightly controlled.

President Trump, recognizing Cuba’s failure to budge, announced new Cuba policies in Miami last week. Crucially, he did not roll back all of the reforms that President Obama implemented. (Though in typical Trump fashion, the president was rather dishonest about this — he claimed, falsely, that he was “canceling” Obama’s policies.) For example, the embassies will remain open and direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba will continue to operate. That’s wise; it would be foolish to initiate another counterproductive deep freeze.

But President Trump announced his administration will crack down on the kinds of trips Americans can take to Cuba. (Pure tourism wasn’t permitted even under Obama, but this rule went largely unenforced.) The Trump administration will also impose restrictions on the kinds of business Americans can conduct on the island. The State Department is currently at work on a list of Cuban businesses that are controlled by the regime’s military and security services; Americans will be forbidden from doing business with them.

This seems an appropriate threading of the needle. Tourism provides funding to the repressive regime; likewise, the Cuban military and security services are the tools with which the police state is enforced.

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As the president put it during his announcement, “To the Cuban government, I say, put an end to the abuse of dissidents, release the political prisoners, stop jailing innocent people, open yourselves to political and economic freedoms, return the fugitives from American justice, including the return of the cop killer Joanne Chesimard.” The people of Cuba would benefit greatly if their oppressors would begin to heed such cries for human rights and elemental justice.

Yale Professor Banned From Cuba Reacts to Trump’s Policy Change

NBC Connecticut

A Yale University history professor said he hopes President Donald Trump’s policy change to restrict the flow of American dollars into Cuba will make it more difficult for the Castro dynasty to stay in power.
“Well I was born in Cuba, and I left when I was 11 years old without my parents,” Professor Carlos Eire said.
That was in the early 1960s. Later reunited with his mom, Eire has not been back to Cuba since. He was unable to attend his father’s funeral.
“I can’t go back because I’m an official enemy of the state,” he explained. “And all my books are banned in Cuba, even my scholarly books that have nothing to do with Cuba.”
Eire has long opposed any tourists visiting Cuba because the Castro regime remains in control.
“The foreigners who visit have access to all sorts of thing that are off limits to Cubans and they have freedom and rights denied to Cubans,” Eire said.
In December 2014, when President Obama was preparing to ease restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, Eire wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying, “As a Cuba exile, I feel betrayed.”
“He didn’t care how long Cuba remains enslaved,” Eire said of the former president. “He just wanted to change his police to fit all his foreign policy.”
In Miami Friday, Trump announced a reversal in his predecessor’s approach to Cuba that includes limiting American trade and travel.
“American has rejected the Cuban people’s oppressors, they are rejected, officially today, rejected,” Trump said in front of a crowd of Cuban-Americans.
Both of Connecticut’s Democratic senators expressed concern with the announcement from the president on U.S.-Cuba relations.
“Trump’s new policies break the campaign promises he made to boost American jobs and business,” Senator Chris Murphy said. “Connecticut businesses are eager to do more business with Cuba, but now our president has made that harder. More than 50 years of embargo and isolation failed to bring about any meaningful change in Cuba or help the Cuban people. Rather than doubling down on the failed policies of the past, President Trump should build on the new course that President Obama set and recognize that diplomacy and people-to-people ties are the best way to bring democracy and prosperity to the people of Cuba.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal said he wants to see how the policy change plays out, but said he hoped Cuban human rights and relations with the U.S. could improve through more “trade, visits and contacts.”
According to Eire, the past two years of U.S. engagement and increased American travel has not made life better for Cubans because the money flowing in ends up in the pockets of the military that runs the country.
“The Obama normalization circus as I like to call it is a little blip that didn’t make any difference so to speak,” Eire told NBC Connecticut. “This reversal remains to be seen what happens.”

Trump orders clampdown on Cuba travel and trade, curbing Obama detente

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a document he signed after announcing his Cuba policy at the Manuel Artime Theater in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, U.S. June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Reuters
President Donald Trump on Friday ordered tighter restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and a clampdown on U.S. business dealings with the island’s military, saying he was canceling former President Barack Obama’s “terrible and misguided deal” with Havana.

Laying out his new Cuba policy in a speech in Miami, Trump signed a presidential directive to roll back parts of Obama’s historic opening to the Communist-ruled country after a 2014 diplomatic breakthrough between the two former Cold War foes. But Trump was leaving in place many of Obama’s changes, including the reopened U.S. embassy in Havana, even as he sought to show he was making good on a campaign promise to take a tougher line against Cuba.

“We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Miami’s Cuban-American enclave of Little Havana, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who helped forge the new restrictions on Cuba.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump declared as he made a full-throated verbal assault on the government of Cuban President Raul Castro.

Trump’s revised approach, which will be contained in a new presidential directive, calls for stricter enforcement of a longtime ban on Americans going to Cuba as tourists, and seeks to prevent U.S. dollars from being used to fund what the Trump administration sees as a repressive military-dominated government.

But facing pressure from U.S. businesses and even some fellow Republicans to avoid turning back the clock completely in relations with communist-ruled Cuba, the president chose to leave intact some of his Democratic predecessor’s steps toward normalization. The new policy bans most U.S. business transactions with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, a Cuban conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy, but makes some exceptions, including for air and sea travel, according to U.S. officials. This will essentially shield U.S. airlines and cruise lines serving the island.

“We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba,” Trump said, pledging that U.S. sanctions would not be lifted until Cuba frees political prisoners and holds free election.

However, Trump stopped short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostilities. He will not cut off recently resumed direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights or cruise-ship travel, though his more restrictive policy seems certain to dampen new economic ties overall.

The administration, according to one White House official, has no intention of “disrupting” existing business ventures such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels Inc, which is owned by Marriott International Inc, to manage a historic Havana hotel. Nor does Trump plan reinstate limits that Obama lifted on the amount of the island’s coveted rum and cigars that Americans can bring home for personal use. While the changes are far-reaching, they appear to be less sweeping than many U.S. pro-engagement advocates had feared. Still, it will be the latest attempt by Trump to overturn parts of Obama’s presidential legacy. He has already pulled the United States out of a major international climate treaty and is trying to scrap his predecessor’s landmark healthcare program.

Trump justified his partial reversal of Obama’s Cuba measures to a large extent on human rights grounds. His aides contend that Obama’s efforts amounted to “appeasement” and have done nothing to advance political freedoms in Cuba, while benefiting the Cuban government financially.

Trump’s critics have questioned why his administration is now singling out Cuba for its human rights record but downplaying the issue in other parts of the world.

Citing the lack of human rights concessions from Cuba in the detente negotiated by Obama, Trump said, “It’s hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime.”

International human rights groups say, however, that again isolating the island could worsen the situation by empowering Cuban hard-liners. The Cuban government has made clear it will not be pressured into reforms in exchange for engagement.

The Cuban government had no immediate comment, but ordinary Cubans said they were crestfallen to be returning to an era of frostier relations with the United States with potential economic fallout for them.

Inside Marco Rubio’s campaign to shape Trump’s Cuba crackdown

Politico

Worried about bureaucratic pushback to preserve Obama’s normalization, the Florida senator went directly to the president with a plan in May.

Facing President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio issued a blunt warning: The administration’s plan to crack down on Cuba trade and travel was under threat.

Any effort by Trump to make good on his campaign promise to roll back former President Barack Obama’s historic accord with Raul Castro would be delayed, Rubio cautioned—not just from the Castro government and from outside business interests, but from within. It would be studied to death by government analysts who favor more engagement with Cuba, not less. It would be leaked to the news media. Stillborn with a thousand excuses by the bureaucrats.

So go it alone, Rubio told the president during their May 3 meeting.

“What you’ve committed to do on Cuba, what you want to do on Cuba, is never going to come from career staff. It’s going to have to come from the top down. You’re going to have to tell them what to do,” Rubio recalled telling the president as his fellow Miami Republican member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, nodded in agreement.

“The career service people, in the State Department and Treasury and in other places, are not in favor of changing this policy,” Rubio recalled telling the president.

That one piece of advice from Rubio probably marks the moment that Trump’s Cuba policy achieved escape velocity, according to interviews with eight officials who helped craft or had knowledge of the drafting of Trump’s Cuba policy as well as correspondence and documents shared with POLITICO.

On Friday, the president will appear in Miami, the home base of the Cuban-American exile community to announce the new crackdown on Cuba.

The policy bears the unmistakable fingerprints of Rubio — a Trump antagonist during the Republican primary campaign last year who has grown increasingly close to Trump — and Diaz-Balart, also a staunch critic of Obama’s moves to normalize ties with the island nation. Continue reading Inside Marco Rubio’s campaign to shape Trump’s Cuba crackdown

Trump Weighs Slowing Cuba Opening With Curbs on U.S. Tourists

Bloomberg

President Donald Trump plans to follow through on a campaign promise by rolling back the Obama administration’s effort to open Cuba to U.S. tourism and trade, with new limits being considered on travel and investment by U.S. companies.

Trump’s advisers are preparing options including curbs on American travel to the island and restricting partnerships between U.S. companies and entities with ties to the Cuban military, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Final options haven’t yet been presented to Trump, though a decision is expected before a visit by the U.S. president to Miami on Friday. The people familiar with the plans, both outside the White House, spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions are ongoing.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday declined to describe Trump’s plans for President Barack Obama’s Cuba liberalization policy. “When we have an announcement on the president’s schedule we’ll let you know,” he told reporters.

Trump has criticized Obama’s deal-making with Cuba as one-sided, and has said it allowed the Castro regime to continue human rights abuses. Obama re-opened the U.S. embassy on the island, relaxed travel restrictions on American citizens, and allowed U.S. airlines to establish direct flights and U.S. cruise lines to make ports of call in Cuba.

“All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro Regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them –- and that is what I will do, unless the Castro Regime meets our demands,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Miami last September.

Havana Hotel

New sanctions aimed at cutting off flows of money that benefit the Cuban military could affect U.S. hotel partnerships in Cuba, including the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana. The Cuban military had a stake in the hotel’s Cuban partner.

Other ideas under discussion, the people familiar with the matter said, include guidelines that would require Americans to formally explain how their travel to Cuba benefits the U.S. and the Cuban people, as well as increased scrutiny of travelers and the frequency of their visits.

Travel restrictions could impact U.S. airlines with direct flights to Cuba as well as the cruise industry. One advocate of Obama’s policies said a change would have less impact on a vacationer than on people seeking to do business or on Cuban-Americans who want to visit family on the island on a regular basis.

Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who backed Obama’s Cuba policy, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned about what Trump will do.

Any additional restrictions on travel “will go over like a lead balloon, and it should,” Flake said in an interview on Monday. Under the travel limits in place preceding Obama, he said, Cuban-Americans with aging parents in Cuba might have been forced to decide which parent’s funeral to attend.

He also said he does not want to see curbs on Cuban entrepreneurship or the U.S. more focused on Cuba sanctions than on sanctions against North Korea or Iran.

Sanction Effects

Sanctions targeting the Cuban military could have widespread effects, given its large role in the country — perhaps touching even on remittances and agriculture. The impact would depend on how sanctions are structured.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based group lobbying to end the 55-year old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, said that changes to Obama’s policy could have unintended consequences for U.S. businesses and jobs. “The idea that this is just some kind of modest step back is only true if it’s done extremely carefully in the end,” he said.

A report prepared by his group found that major airlines including American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp., Southwest Airlines Co., United Continental Holdings Inc., and Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. have all taken advantage of Obama’s relaxed travel restrictions.

The island has not been as promising a business opportunity as U.S. airlines once expected, however. Already, Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc., Silver Airways Corp., and Spirit Airlines, Inc. have discontinued flights to Cuba entirely, and American, the largest carrier with service to Cuba, scaled back flights 25 percent earlier this year.

Flake said he and two Democratic senators, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, met last week with Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster to share their concerns but that McMaster did not signal the administration’s plans.

The president’s advisers have sought input from across his Cabinet but also have been working behind the scenes with critics of the Castro administration, including Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

“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,” Rubio said in a statement.

Trump, in Miami speech, set to roll back Obama’s Cuba policy

Fox News, By Serafín Gómez

President Trump will head to Miami on Friday, home to a large and influential Cuban-American community, to unveil his administration’s new Cuba policy — which will roll back central parts of his predecessor’s efforts to normalize ties with the Communist island nation, according to a senior administration official and other sources.

While details on the changes to the policy have yet to be fully revealed, a U.S. official suggested that Trump would call for Cuban President Raul Castro to push for more political freedom and to release democratic activists in Cuban prisons, among other initiatives.

Trump is at the same time expected to announce a reversal in some areas of former President Barack Obama’s previous steps toward normalizing relations including the opening of embassies between the two countries and the easing of flight restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

The final actions have not been set as the review over the specifics of the plan continues. However, there will likely be steps in restricting travel from the U.S. to Cuba; there are now daily flights from Florida to Cuba. Another directive being weighed is taking steps to limit American companies from dealing with businesses owned by the Cuban military, U.S. sources confirm to Fox News.

While campaigning in Miami during a stop in September of 2016, then-Republican presidential nominee Trump hinted at such a move, tying it to demands on the Cuban government.

“All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order which means our next president can reverse them,“ Trump said. “And that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”

“Those demands include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people, and the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump added.

Key Republican lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, both Cuban-Americans from Florida, have been directly involved in working with the White House on the new Cuba policy, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

Rubio, who opposed Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, has worked “diligently behind the scenes” with the administration to develop the approach, said a source directly involved in the policy discussions.

“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,” Rubio said in a statement.

A senior Rubio adviser previewed what may be represented during Friday’s Trump Cuba policy rollout, including that the new approach would have to be in compliance with the “statutory provisions passed by Congress which govern US-Cuba policy.”

The aide also stressed that the new Cuba policy would be in the best interest of U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Part of the focus is to also encourage the emerging generation of Cuban leaders to take the reigns after Raul Castro steps down in 2018, as he publicly stated he would.

“Raul Castro and his closest advisors are mostly in their 80’s,” the senior aide told Fox News, stressing they are focusing on the “long term.”

“Cuba will soon have a new generation of leaders, one way or another. These policy measures are designed to lay the groundwork for them to empower the Cuban people to develop greater economic and ultimately political liberty.”

Trump administration nearing completion of Cuba policy review

CNBCThe Trump administration is nearing completion of a policy review to determine how far it goes in rolling back former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba and could make an announcement next month, according to current and former U.S. officials and people familiar with the discussions.

President Donald Trump’s advisers are crafting recommendations that could call for tightening some of the trade and travel rules that Obama eased in his rapprochement with Havana but which are expected to stop short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility, the sources said.

The policy review, coordinated by the National Security Council, is expected to pick up steam now that Trump has returned from his first foreign trip, one administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump threatened in a tweet shortly after his election in November to “terminate” Obama’s approach unless Cuba made significant concessions, something its Communist leadership is unlikely to do.

The White House said in February that Cuba policy was under comprehensive review and that human rights on the island would be a major part of any revised strategy.

Obama implemented his Cuba normalization measures through executive actions that bypassed Congress, and Trump is believed to have the power to undo much of it with the stroke of a pen.

Divisions in Trump administration

But there are divisions within his administration over to what extent he should go, especially given that Obama’s opening to Washington’s former Cold War foe has created opportunities for American companies ranging from telecommunications to airlines.

Some aides have argued that Trump, a former real estate magnate who won the presidency promising to unleash U.S. businesses and create jobs, would have a hard time defending any moves that close off the Cuban market.

A group of 54 U.S. senators reintroduced legislation last Thursday to repeal all remaining restrictions on travel to Cuba, signaling support for U.S.-Cuba detente on Capitol Hill.

But the Republican administration has been under heavy pressure from Cuban-American lawmakers such as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart to take a much harder line than Trump’s Democratic predecessor.

There is little support in the administration, however, for a full-scale reversal of Obama’s steps that began with a breakthrough with Cuban President Raul Castro in 2014.

Among the options under consideration are tightening restrictions on U.S. firms doing business with Cuban state or military enterprises and re-imposing stricter rules on Americans traveling there, according to people familiar with the discussions.

It remains unclear, however, which recommendation will make their way to Trump, though the sources said a list was likely to be ready for his consideration in coming days or weeks.

“We’re getting closer,” an administration official said.

An announcement of changes could come as soon as June, according to the official and people familiar with the matter.

The Daily Caller newspaper reported on Sunday that Trump would announce policy changes in a June speech in Miami, citing sources from a group opposed to the broader U.S. economic embargo that remains in place against Cuba.

But the timing could also depend on factors such as whether Trump fills key Latin America posts at the State Department and elsewhere that remain vacant, sources told Reuters.

The White House considered making a Cuba announcement on May 20 to mark the 115th anniversary of Cuba’s independence, but that coincided with Trump’s overseas trip and the review also was not yet finished, the sources said.

No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal

The Miami Herald

USAID programs in Cuba, which have been highly controversial in recent years, aren’t funded under the Trump administration’s proposed State Department budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

“As we work to streamline efforts to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. taxpayer dollars, we acknowledge that we have to prioritize and make some tough choices,” said a USAID spokesperson. “Focusing our efforts will allow us to advance our most important policy goals of protecting America and creating American jobs.”

There are no economic support funds for Cuba in the State Department’s 2018 budget proposal, which was released Tuesday. Such funding, which is appropriated by Congress and provided to USAID by the State Department, reached $20 million in fiscal year 2016.

The Trump administration proposed slashing the overall State Department and USAID budget by around 30 percent to $37.6 billion. In his letter to Congress justifying the budget proposal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the budget addresses “the importance of defending our national security interests” but also acknowledges that “U.S. diplomacy engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective.”

The proposed budget cuts are expected to face a rough slog through Congress.

Assistance to Cuba is governed by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which among other things, authorizes donations of food to non-governmental organizations or individuals as well as other assistance to individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent, democratic change in Cuba.

Cuba has always said the USAID programs aren’t welcome.

Cuba programs that USAID advertised last year included $6 million in grants offered over a three-year period to organizations to “provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and politically marginalized individuals and groups in Cuba,” and a $754,000 program to bring Cuban young people to the United States for internships.

Among USAID programs for Cuba that have caught flak in recent years were a failed effort to co-opt the Cuban hip-hop scene to spark a youth movement that would speak out against the government, a program to create a secret Twitter-like network called ZunZuneo and an event billed as an HIV prevention workshop that brought young Latin Americans posing as tourists to Cuba with a mission of scouting for “potential social-change actors.”

The Associated Press, which first disclosed these projects in 2014, said the goal of ZunZuneo was first to create a program for Cubans to speak freely among themselves and then funnel political content that could create political unrest.

USAID said ZunZuneo’s goal was to connect Cubans so eventually they could engage on topics of their choice and that only tech news, sports scores and trivia were sent out on ZunZuneo. But a report by the Office of Inspector General found some early messages, which mocked Cuban leaders, contained political satire.

ZunZuneo was starting up just as USAID subcontractor Alan Gross was arrested in Havana in December 2009 for distributing satellite equipment in Cuba to link with the internet. Gross was sentenced to 15 years by a Cuban court that ruled his intent was to undermine the government, but he was released after serving five years on Dec. 17, 2014. It was the day the United States and Cuba announced a rapprochement after more than a half century of hostilities.

There are few direct references to Cuba in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

But under Migration and Refugee Assistance programs in the Western Hemisphere, which are budgeted for $51.3 million, is this reference: “In Cuba, resources enable the State Department to support the Migrant Operations Center at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay. Under 306 Executive Order 13276, the State Department is responsible for the care of migrants interdicted at sea, determined to be in need of protection, while they await third country resettlement.”

Amid all the cutting, the budget proposes a $40,00 increase to $2.41 million for the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC). This quasi-judicial agency within the Department of Justice adjudicates claims of U.S. nationals against foreign governments. The proposal says the agency’s budget would go for the continued evaluation of claims, to maintain the decisions and records of past claims programs and to modernize such records by creating and updating databases.

While the FCSC deals with outstanding claims around the world, it is the repository of 5,913 certified claims against Cuba valued at more than $1.9 billion. In today’s dollars with interest added, those claims for sugar mills, ranches, utilities, corporate holdings and personal property would be worth around $8 billion.

However, Cuba claims the United States owes it billions in reparations for economic damages caused by the U.S. embargo and for human damages for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the bombing of a Cubana airliner and other deadly U.S.-supported incursions on Cuban soil.

The two sides met to discuss the claims during the Obama administration but at this point they have said little more than they hope their claims can be resolved in a “mutually satisfactory manner.”

Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

The Miami Herald

After much anticipation that an announcement on Cuba policy changes would be made no later than Saturday, President Donald Trump — in the midst of various political crises — has not decided what to do, officials said.

The White House had considered holding an event May 20 to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban Republic, but Trump will begin an international trip on Friday and the review of the policy toward the island has not concluded, a spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald.

“The issue of Cuba is extremely complex, and the president does not want to rush it,” said the spokeswoman. “Besides, he won’t be here on May 20.”

The Trump administration is carrying out a review of Cuba policy that involves several federal agencies and is being coordinated by the National Security Council.

Rumors of an imminent announcement circulated around Capitol Hill and even crossed the Florida Straits to the island, although Havana seems less anxious than before, when Trump’s presidential victory and strong statements raised questions about the so-called “thaw” in diplomatic relations initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014.

“Havana is confident that not much will happen,” said a businessman close to the Cuban government.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a drastic change would not make much sense because the Cuban communist government would quickly adjust to a policy of confrontation with its historical enemy, the United States, and because the island is in the throes of a significant transition — the expected retirement of Cuban leader Raúl Castro, 86, in February.

Continue reading Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

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.”