Tag Archives: Obama’s Cuba policy

The Obama Administration is not telling the truth about trade with Cuba

The Miami Herald

The Obama Administration has said that trade with Cuba could reach up to $6 billion under its new policies, but U.S. companies in fact exported barely $380 million worth of goods to the island since the beginning of the thaw in bilateral relations two years ago.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said early last year that her department had issued 490 licenses to companies trying to do business with Cuba valued at $4.3 billion. More recently, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that since late 2014 “more than $6 billion in trade has been initiated between Cuba and the United States since then, which obviously has an important economic benefit here in the United States.”

Experts said the administration is exaggerating, and that those numbers must be put in better context.

“While there may be licenses which total that value … in no way do the value of those licenses equate to actual economic activity” with Cuba, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which has monitored bilateral trade since its founding in 1994.

Kavulich said the George W. Bush administration, trying to ease the bureaucracy, allowed companies to seek licenses for commerce with Cuba with declared amounts that are “aspirational” rather than real.

A U.S. company wanting to export goods to Cuba can then base its license application on its negotiations with the Cuban government, rather than the real value of a purchase. The new procedure voided the need to seek a new license if the final amount of the deal changed, Kavulich added.

Kavulich, who keeps detailed tallies of U.S. exports to Cuba, estimated that from December of 2014 to October of 2016 the total of U.S. agricultural and medical exports to the island barely reached $370.6 million. In fact, he added, all U.S. exports to Cuba since 2001 do not reach the $6 billion figure used by Earnest.

U.S. Census data showed the exports to Cuba over the past two full years totaled $380 million.

One Commerce Department official confirmed that the numbers used by Pritzker and Earnest reflect the paper value of the licenses issued and other operations allowed under the new Obama policies, and do not necessarily reflect real exports.

“Sometimes the companies obtain the licenses when they are still working on the details. The final agreement may be for a different amount, or the deal can die along the way,” the official added.

Cuba, whose economy grew by a meager 0.9 percent in all of 2016 and actually shrank during the last part of the year — going into recession for the first time since 1993 — also simply does not have the money to pay for the level of imports claimed by the Obama administration.

U.S. exports to Cuba — principally food items such as chicken, soya and corn — indeed fell since Obama began easing sanctions on Cuba.

“When the Obama Administration pulls out these numbers without explaining the background, the perception is a). that there is a huge amount of activity between the U.S. and Cuba; b). that Cuba is spending of all this money with U.S. companies and c)…When the numbers do not equate with reality, the perception is that Cuba has refused to engage… and it puts them in the position of they saying no to all this stuff, when they are not,” said Kavulich.

“They are doing it because they want to exaggerate and demonstrate how much progress and success there is,” he added. “But lying to make a marketing point is not a good strategy, especially for a government.”

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.

Guillermo Fariñas urges U.S. to suspend trade and investment in Cuba until regime stops oppression

farinas

Fox News

One of Cuba’s most prominent human rights activists is in the U.S. to push for a halt or suspension of U.S.-Cuba trade and investment changes that he and other leaders say are enriching and empowering the Castro regime.

In an exclusive interview with FoxNews.com, Guillermo Farinas said the Trump administration should halt or undo the Obama administration’s move to open up trade and business deals with Cuba until the Cuban government commits to making democratic reforms.

Farinas, who has been jailed by Cuban authorities for his activism for human rights, said President Obama’s easing of trade restrictions is enriching the regime of Raul Castro, and hardly benefiting the Cuban people.

Farinas has been tirelessly traveling to several states, including Florida, New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C., meeting with members of Congress, Cuban exile leaders, United Nations officials and representatives of leading human rights organizations to build support for a U.S.-Cuba policy that takes a tougher approach to the Cuban government.

“The people of Cuba see very little of the money that comes in from foreign investment and trade,” Farinas told FoxNews.com

“It makes the regime richer, and stronger, and bolder, because they have felt that because of President Obama’s decision to do business with it, it has credibility internationally,” he said. “It uses this international credibility to thumb its nose at the Cuban people, especially its critics and dissidents. And it’s gotten more brutal and more intolerant of dissent.”

Opponents of normalizing relations with Cuba have fought against growing momentum to lift the decades-old embargo, saying that the Cuban government has done nothing to move toward giving its citizens more freedom. Proponents counter that the embargo failed to bring about democratic reforms, and that it is time to try a different approach.

Farinas said he is not seeking a total rescinding of the restored diplomatic relations. The dissident, who’s got multiple health problems stemming from a recent month-long hunger strike he staged to push for human rights, said that he supports the Obama administration’s expansion of travel.

He said that the people of Cuba have been isolated by the regime for too long, and that the ability of the Cuban people to interact with U.S. relatives and visitors exposes them to new views and ideas.

Proponents of lifting the embargo say the Cuban government has taken some steps to change for the benefit of the Cuban people.

They say more Cuban people are now able to run their own business and invest in real estate.

“In Cuba, there is broad support for these changes,” said Madeleine Russak, communications director for Engage Cuba, an organization that favors normalizing ties with the island. “For 55 years the only people who have been hurt by the U.S. policy are the Cuban people.”

To fuel its campaign to get Republicans in Congress to support lifting the embargo, Engage Cuba has established councils in many GOP-leaning states where agriculture is a main industry.

“But with the free flow of information and travel, we’re in a much stronger position to improve the lives of Cubans. We are very optimistic that President-elect Trump, as a businessman, feels the same way.”

“The American people are the best ambassadors of democracy,” she said. “We’re optimistic that if we lift the full embargo, it will improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

The Miami Herald Editorial: Trump not a threat to Cuba, the regime is

trump-bay-of-pigs-1026

The Miami Herald

Donald Trump’s victory has sent shock waves through the United States — and also to our nearest “frenemy” 90 miles away.

The president-elect clearly said during his campaign that he would reverse the thaw in relations between Washington and Havana unless Raúl Castro’s government granted more political freedoms to the population.

On this subject, the Cuban regime continues to be deficient: Granting the freedoms to which Mr. Trump referred is tantamount to going against the very essence of the system.

The Editorial Board, though supportive of normalization, has been disappointed with the pace of change in Cuba. In truth, the regime has conceded very little.

In the final days of his campaign, Mr. Trump was endorsed by the veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion — a group of CIA-trained Cuban exiles who unsuccessfully tried to topple the Fidel Castro regime in 1961.

Rightly, the island government fears that when Mr. Trump moves into the White House, he will put President Obama’s though back on ice. After all, Cuba has seen an increase in the flow of capital it needs to keep its failing economy afloat.

And on the streets, Cubans who dream of coming to the United States see their goal at risk. They fear that Mr. Trump, who has often spoken of reducing the influx of immigrants to the nation, will eliminate migratory privileges, such as visas programs, that allow Cubans to resettle in the United States.

It is possible that before Jan. 20, when the real-estate magnate takes office, there will be increased attempts to cross the Florida Straits, or there will be a jump in the number of Cubans making their way to the United States through other countries.

No doubt, such a renewed exodus will have an impact on South Florida.

The restlessness on the island coincides with an announcement last week of military exercises in Cuba. Cuban authorities say the exercises will be held from Nov. 16 thru 18.

The objective is to “raise the country’s willingness to defend and prepare the troops and the population to deal with the enemy’s different actions,” according to a statement in the official newspaper Granma.

But who is the enemy the Cuban government refers to in the announcement?

Is it the United States, the so-called “Yankee imperialist,” the term the Castro regime used for the United States before President Obama set each nation on a road to cordiality? Keeping the population fearful and alert for a possible foreign invasion from the United States has long been a Castro tactic.

Just like previous Republican and Democratic administrations in the last half a century, Mr. Trump likely has no interest in launching a military operation against the old enemy. So ordering military exercises to confront the hypothetical “enemy actions,” is a sign of the paranoia that has characterized the Cuban regime.

It is possible that the real intention of the Castro government with these exercises is, as on previous occasions, to distract the people from the real threats facing the Cuban people, those from within: lack of freedoms, economic crisis, despair at the system failure.

The war maneuvers will be nothing more than a useless display of a military power that has dissipated since the Soviet Union pulled out of the island. Neither Mr. Trump nor anyone in the U.S. government entertains the crazy idea of invading Cuba.

The real enemy of the Cubans is not in Washington, but on the island itself.

Trump won over Cubans in Florida, in possible backlash against Obama’s Cuba detente

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)

The Washington Times

About half of Cuban voters in Florida backed President-elect Donald Trump, perhaps in a backlash against President Obama’s detente with Communist dictator Raul Castro’s Cuba.

Fifty-four percent of Cubans supported Mr. Trump, compared to 41 percent support for Hillary Clinton, according to National Election Pool exit poll data. In Florida, Cubans were about twice as likely as non-Cuban Latinos to vote for Mr. Trump, the report shows.

The Miami Herald earlier this month predicted Cuban Americans — many of whom voted for Mr. Obama in previous elections — may switch their vote to Mr. Trump because of Mr. Obama’s Cuban policies.

“Obama’s Oct. 14 decision to further relax the U.S. embargo on Cuba by allowing American tourists to bring back unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars, as well as his Oct. 26 decision to abstain for the first time in a United Nations vote against the U.S. embargo on Cuba, have probably pushed many undecided Cuban Americans in Florida to vote for Trump,” Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer wrote on Nov. 2.

“In conversations with many Cuban Americans, I found that even among those who cautiously support Obama’s normalization with Cuba, many say he’s offering too many concessions to the island’s dictatorship without getting anything in return,” Mr. Oppenheimer wrote. “Resuming diplomatic relations was OK, they say, but why keep making unilateral gestures in the absence of any political opening on the island?”

Mr. Trump said he would “cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal,” and promised anti-Castro Republicans in a late state push that he would keep the decades-long U.S. economic embargo on the island and close the recently reopened US embassy in Havana.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of the nation’s 1.2 million eligible Cuban voters live in Florida, with many living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area, Pew reports. As Puerto Ricans enter the state, the Cubans’ share of the Latino electorate is diminishing, and the National Survey of Latinos has found that Cuban registered voters have been shifting to the Democratic Party in recent decades.

Mr. Trump was able to stave off that shift, with the Cuban vote helping to give him the win in the Sunshine State.

 

Cloud of uncertainty hangs over U.S.-Cuba relations with a Trump presidency

trump-bay-of-pigs-1026

The Miami Herald

Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the United States has cast a shadow over the Obama administration policy of warming relations with Cuba.

While Cuban leader Raúl Castro issued a short congratulatory message on Trump’s victory, the official Granma newspaper on Wednesday also announced five days of upcoming military preparedness exercises, a signal that the island is getting ready for a “hostile” U.S. administration.

Those exercises began during the Reagan administration in 1980 but had not been held for the last three years. A reporter on a Havana TV news program noted that Cuba has had “similar” experiences and maintains its “will to resist the big neighbor to the North.”

President Barack Obama’s legacy on Cuba could well be affected by whatever happens after Trump moves into the White House.

Obama announced dramatic changes in U.S. policy toward Havana starting in December 2014. Saying he wanted to end the last vestige of the Cold War, he decided to reestablish diplomatic relations, broken more than 50 years ago, and eased economic sanctions on the island.

U.S. residents can now travel to Cuba more easily, commercial flights have been restored and many companies are looking over the Cuban market, although the island’s government has been unwilling to give them more access so far. One month before Tuesday’s election, the president also lifted restrictions for travelers on the importation of Cuban cigars and rum for personal use and published a presidential directive that sketched out a path for fully normalizing relations.

But the directive could remain just a piece of paper if Trump honors some of the promises on Cuba policy that he made during the campaign.

As the Republican candidate, Trump started out saying he supported relations with Cuba but added that he would have negotiated “a better deal” with Havana. Later, to win the votes of Cuban-American Republicans in South Florida, he promised to reverse the Obama opening.

“We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal that we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom,” he declared in Miami just a week before the election.

Obama changed policy on Cuba through executive powers that were allowed by the trade embargo on the island, and can be reversed by the new president. The Obama administration tried to make them “irreversible” with written guidelines sent to federal agencies.

A senior administration official told reporters in October that a new president could issue a new directive on Cuba to reverse Obama’s directive, although that would “take a significant amount of time.” The Obama guidelines remain in place in the meantime, the official added.

Frank Mora, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Latin America from 2009 to 2013 who now teaches at Florida International University, said the next president has several options for changing the Obama policies on Cuba.

On the day of his inauguration, Mora said, Trump “can simply write, although I doubt that would be one of his priorities, something that says that everything in the presidential directive related to U.S. policy on Cuba is invalid.”

The document would not have to be long, but must be explicit, Mora said.

Trump also could “totally freeze the process, and would not need a [new] directive or even something in writing. It could be an oral instruction to the secretary of state,” Mora said. “If he wants to, he can break [diplomatic] relations with Cuba.”

Even if Trump does not go to that extreme, Cuba watchers agree that he probably will make some gesture to fulfill his campaign promises and acknowledge the support of Cuban Americans whose votes might have helped him to win Florida.

“He has a political debt with the Cuban community, and perhaps feels that he has to pay it in some way, maybe not reversing everything … but signaling that he’s returning to the status quo before the Obama changes,” Mora said.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington, agreed.

“As for President-elect Trump, his Cuban-American supporters will surely hold him to his commitment to reverse Obama’s executive orders,” he said. “Moreover, his election and the huge win of the Cuban-American Congressional delegation give Trump the clear mandate to do so.”

Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — all Cuban Americans from South Florida who oppose Obama’s policies on Cuba — were reelected Tuesday. And Republicans retained control of both chambers of Congress.

Lawmakers have submitted bills to ease or strengthen U.S. sanctions on Cuba in recent years, but neither side has prevailed.

Supporters of the sanctions say the election of Trump and a Republican Congress has put an end to any possibility of lifting the embargo in the next two years.

“There was minimal chance that a new Congress would ease or remove [embargo] sanctions,” Claver-Carone said, “and those slim chances are now down to zero.”

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors business with Cuba, agreed that in the effort to ease or lift the embargo: “The legislative pathway is deceased. It passed at 3 a.m. [when Trump was declared president-elect].”

Kavulich added that the Obama administration must now focus on making as many regulatory changes as it can and “finish strong,” even though there’s no hope that the Cuban government will reciprocate by agreeing to a broader economic or any political opening.

Nevertheless, Engage Cuba, a group of companies and organizations that has lobbied against the embargo and promoted an expansion of U.S. travel and exports to Cuba, said it will continue with efforts to solidify ties with the island.

“Growing commercial and cultural ties that have been forged between our two nations have irreversibly altered our bilateral relations with Cuba,” the group’s president, James Williams, said in a statement. “We remain hopeful that Mr. Trump, who has previously supported engagement with Cuba as a businessman and a politician, will continue to normalize relations that will benefit both the American and Cuban people.”

Rick Herrero, who has long worked for organizations that favor improving relations with Havana, such as the Cuba Study Group and Cuba Now, said he’ll wait to see which side of Trump prevails — the pragmatic side that according to Newsweek and Bloomberg reports explored business opportunities on the island a few years ago, or the political side that would seek to retain Cuban-American support.

Either way, Herrero said, the chances of Congress making any changes in Cuba policy are minimal.

“The forces in Congress that want to isolate the Cuban people … have gained strength, and it will be very difficult to open ourselves to Cuba through Congressional action in the short run,” he said.

Another defeat for Obama’s Cuba policy

white flag

Cuba says no to Obama-promoted plans to assemble small tractors on the island

The Miami Herald

When President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March he said that a small Alabama company that makes tractors would “be the first U.S. company to build a factory here in more than 50 years.”

That was jumping the gun because although Cleber, based in Paint Rock, Alabama, had authorizations from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Commerce Department to pursue its dream of assembling small tractors in Cuba’s Mariel Special Economic Development Zone, the plan still needed Cuban approval.

After months of anticipation and just days before the company was scheduled to take part in the Havana International Fair, a massive trade show that attracted exhibitors from 73 countries, Cleber finally got its answer: No.

It was a disappointment for a high visibility project that had been touted as a potential example of how the rapprochement process that began on Dec. 17, 2014 was working for both countries.

But this week Saul Berenthal, who co-founded the company with Horace Clemmons, was busy working the Cleber booth at the Havana fair as a video of the tractor in action rolled in the background.

“We’re not giving up. We’re here for the long run,” said Berenthal. “We understand the process.”

But the company is changing its strategy.

Instead of pinning its hopes on assembling its Oggún tractors — named for the Santeria god of iron, tools and weapons — in the Mariel zone, it has begun manufacturing them in Alabama with the hope of exporting them to Cuba and elsewhere.

Cuban authorities “told us Mariel was not the proper venue,” said Berenthal. “They encouraged us and directed us to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies interested in importing tractors.”

Continue reading Another defeat for Obama’s Cuba policy

Trump could win Florida, thanks to Cuban Americans

The Miami Herald

If Republican candidate Donald Trump wins Florida, as some polls predict, and goes on to win the Nov. 8 election — a big if, but not an impossible outcome — he might have President Obama to thank for lending him a hand in the final stretch of the race.

Obama’s Oct. 14 decision to further relax the U.S. embargo on Cuba by allowing American tourists to bring back unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars, as well as his Oct. 26 decision to abstain for the first time in a United Nations vote against the U.S. embargo on Cuba, have probably pushed many undecided Cuban Americans in Florida to vote for Trump.

“Cubans return to Trump,” read a sub-headline of the New York Times Upshot/Siena University poll released Oct. 27, which gave Trump a four-point lead in Florida. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was leading in the same poll only a month earlier.

The poll’s explanatory text by The New York Times’ Nate Cohn said that Trump’s surprising comeback in Florida — the most important swing state — might be thanks to Cuban-American voters. Trump’s support among Cuban-American voters in Florida was at 52 percent, up from 33 percent in September, the story said.

Pollsters say it’s hard to pin down what exactly caused the shift among Cuban-American voters, but Obama’s most recent decisions on Cuba most likely hurt Clinton in Florida.

Granted, a Florida International University Cuban Research Institute poll released in September showed that 54 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami support Obama’s — and Clinton’s — stand that it’s time to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. But the poll included recently arrived Cubans who aren’t yet eligible to vote.

If it had been a poll only of Cuban-American voters, the result would have been different. The same poll shows that older Cuban Americans — who tend to vote in big numbers — are more hard-line toward Cuba, and are at least twice as likely to oppose Obama’s normalization with Cuba than younger and recently arrived Cuban Americans.

In conversations with many Cuban Americans, I found that even among those who cautiously support Obama’s normalization with Cuba, many say he’s offering too many concessions to the island’s dictatorship without getting anything in return. Resuming diplomatic relations was OK, they say, but why keep making unilateral gestures in the absence of any political opening on the island?

According to a new report from the Havana-based independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a total of 9,215 people were arrested during the first 10 months this year for political reasons, already more than the 8,616 arrested during the 12 months of 2015.

And Trump — the ultimate political chameleon, who until recently was supporting a normalization of ties with Cuba and whose casino companies, according to a Newsweek report, had explored business opportunities in Cuba in violation of U.S. laws in 1998 — seized the occasion to present himself in Miami as a crusader for hard-line anti-Castro stands.

During an Oct. 25 visit to Miami, Trump met with the Bay of Pigs Veterans’ Association and accused Obama and Clinton of “helping” the Cuban regime. He obviously neglected to mention that he himself supported the same normalization policies until a few weeks ago.

My opinion: Obama — and Clinton, too — probably misread opinion polls showing that Cuban Americans in Florida increasingly support ever-growing ties with Cuba’s dictatorship. That may be true among all Cuban Americans, as the FIU poll shows, but not necessarily among Cuban-American voters.

I wonder what Obama was thinking when he signed the Cuban rum and cigars order — a largely symbolic measure — and when he voted to abstain on the embargo at the U.N., just a few weeks before the U.S. elections. What was the rush to press the normalization pedal just now?

Most likely, it was overconfidence in a Clinton victory, along with a selfish effort to continue exploiting what the Obama administration sees as one of its major foreign-policy triumphs. Whatever it was, it could end up helping the most unstable and dishonest Republican candidate in recent memory win Florida.

Trump’s new Cuba position provokes anxiety on the island

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)

Fox News

Donald Trump’s threat to undo President Barack Obama’s detente with Cuba unless President Raul Castro abides by Trump’s list of demands is provoking widespread anxiety among ordinary Cubans, who were paying little attention to the U.S. presidential campaign until now.

Trump had been generally supportive of Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic ties and normalization of relations, saying he thought detente was “fine” although he would have cut a better deal.

Then, in Miami on Friday, the Republican nominee said he would reverse Obama’s series of executive orders unless Castro meets demands including “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.” Castro said in a speech the following day that Cuba “will not renounce a single one of its principles,” reiterating a longstanding rejection of any U.S. pressure.

While Hillary Clinton maintains an electoral college advantage, Cubans are suddenly envisioning the possibility of a U.S. president who would undo measures popular among virtually everyone on the island, from hard-line communists to advocates of greater freedom and democracy.

“I don’t think he’d make such a drastic decision. Or would he?” Bernardo Toledo, a 72-year-old retired state worker, asked nervously. “It would be disgraceful.”

While the detente announced on Dec. 17, 2014 has had limited direct impact on most ordinary Cubans, it has created feelings of optimism about a future of civil relations with Cuba’s giant neighbor to the north. An Univision/Washington Post poll of 1,200 Cubans taken in March, 2015 found that 97 percent supported detente.

For most ordinary people in a country that’s had only two leaders over nearly six decades, and where the president’s word is law, Trump’s unexpected reversal was a reminder that a single election might wipe away those closer ties.

“All we want is to be left in peace. Isn’t he thinking about our families?” complained pharmacist Heidi Picot. “How could he do something like this, make everybody worried?”

Still, some Cuban experts on relations with the U.S. saw the candidate as merely pandering to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in South Florida, and don’t believe a President Trump would follow through with his campaign pledge. Detente is increasingly popular among Cuban-Americans and South Florida pollsters say Trump is not ahead with them by the margins managed by previous Republicans who’ve won Florida.

Hillary Clinton has declared her support for continuing Obama’s policy, which has reopened the U.S. Embassy, re-established direct flights and removed Cuba from a list of state terror sponsors. It also has done away with most limits on cash remittances from the U.S and increased cooperation on topics ranging from law enforcement to public health.

“I don’t think it will be very easy for Trump to reverse some things,” former diplomat Carlos Alzugary said. “Break diplomatic relations? Put Cuba back on the list of terrorist states? Those things are almost impossible.”

Cuba’s state media had been virtually silent on the U.S. presidential campaign, seemingly uncertain of how to square the polarizing and highly competitive race with the oft-repeated Cuban assertion that U.S. democracy offers false choices between nearly identical corporate pawns.

Trump’s statement generated an unusual amount of official coverage over the weekend. State radio stations and other government-run media accused the Republican of pandering to Cuban-Americans in an attempt to win Florida’s electoral votes.

A Trump reversal would fit a historical pattern, started under Jimmy Carter, in which Democratic presidents build ties to Cuba and their Republican successors largely undo them.

Obama has worked hard to make the opening irreversible by building popular and corporate support at home. In Cuba, the government has welcomed some new ties, like scientific cooperation and commercial flights. It has stalled on others, like ferries from Florida. Some observers believe that’s because Castro’s government fears building ties that a hostile future U.S. administration could use in the interests of regime change.

The Cuban government has given no indication of whether Trump’s statement will give new impetus to U.S.-Cuba normalization, or cause the process to stall in what could be its last three months.

Meanwhile, Cubans remain hopeful, but increasingly worried.

“It’s a way to move the economy forward, to diversify,” said Yenitsia Arango, a 34-year-old nurse. “The door’s been opened to better relations and it’s not a good idea to go in reverse.”

More bad news for new ideas in Cuba

eusebioleal

The Miami Herald, by Paul W. Hare

Very few without Castro in their name have survived in the leadership of the Cuban Revolution as long as Eusebio Leal. And he didn’t do it by the conventional means of silence and obedience. He brought loyalty but also ideas to the Castros. Now the military-run business empire has asserted itself in Old Havana as elsewhere and Leal appears to have been outmaneuvered.

Uniquely among Cuban leaders Leal has cared about other things beyond preserving the Castro Revolution. He has been as fascinated by Cuba’s past as its future. He has received numerous overseas cultural awards but his stature in Cuba has been that he thought differently.

In 2002 the British embassy in Havana staged a two-month-long series of events to commemorate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United Kingdom. We were told it was the largest such festival by an overseas country ever held in Cuba. Leal was our indispensable ally for venues, organization, contacts and vision. At times the Revolution’s agenda surfaced and he negotiated hard. But his heart was in the history of both our countries. Leal even created a garden in Old Havana in memory of Princess Diana. And as a historian he loved the story of the British invasion of Havana in 1762.

The military conglomerate GAESA will now assume business control over Leal’s beloved Old Havana project. This has been a labor of love and ingenuity. But it has also depended on his versatile role at the heart of revolutionary politics. He proved a man of taste, of determination but also shone as a contemporary entrepreneur in a Cuba which despises individualism.

His versatility served him well. A teenager at the time of the Revolution, he chose to prove that innovation and a love of past cultures and elegance could coexist with the new era. He admired Fidel, a fellow intellectual, and — not accidentally — he was chosen by the official Cuban media to eulogize his old friend again on his 90th birthday. Typically, the Revolution was extracting a declaration of loyalty from a man who was feeling pretty disgruntled .

Times are changing in Cuba and the undermining of Leal’s control has wider implications. He may not be a household name outside Cuba and he may be in failing health. But his project showed he knew the Castros would never allow private sector growth to restore the largest area of Spanish colonial architecture in the Western Hemisphere.

His only chance was to harness funds from tourist visitors and foreign investors. There is still much to do but the current rush of tourists to Cuba owes much to achievement.

Leal’s fate is nothing new. Set in the 57-year context of the Cuban Revolution, many able and loyal leaders have been discarded. Felipe Pérez Roque, Carlos Lage and Roberto Robaina are recent examples. But Leal had survived and appeared to be growing in stature with Raúl. His walking tour of Old Havana with Obama received worldwide publicity.

Leal’s bonding with the U.S. president may have irked the Castros. The disintegration of Venezuela and loss of subsidies under Nicolás Maduro gave the military companies the opening they needed to swoop for Old Havana. Now, effectively Raúl Castro’s son-in-law will rule the roost and U.S.-operated cruise ships will soon be occupying many berths in the Old Havana harbor.

But perhaps the saddest lesson from Leal’s marginalization is the signal it sends to Cuban innovators and foreign investors. The restoration of the Revolution is still more important than the architectural jewels of past eras. Almost at the same time as Leal’s demise, a far less visionary but unquestioning loyalist, Ricardo Cabrisas, was promoted. These are indeed depressing times for Cubans hoping for some new ideas and less of the same.

PAUL W. HARE IS A FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO CUBA AND CURRENTLY SENIOR LECTURER AT THE FREDERICK S. PARDEE SCHOOL OF GLOBAL STUDIES AT BOSTON UNIVERSITY.