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.
The Washington Times