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Legislator denounces Trump's new policy on Cuba as 'misguided'

Monday, June 19, 2017

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NEW YORK, United States (CMC) — A Caribbean American legislator has described as “misguided” United States President Donald J Trump's new policy on Cuba.

“The president's decision to reverse some key elements of the Obama Administration's policies on opening up relations with Cuba is not only misguided but resets the button that will take our new relationship with Cuba back to a relationship with resistance,” said New York State Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, in a Caribbean Media Corporation interview on Saturday.

Bichotte, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn, said that while Trump “purports to want to drive Cuba to do away with communism and embrace democracy, his actions would suggest otherwise.

“Instead, this policy reversal is more likely to drive Cuba toward allying with communist countries such as China and Russia,” she added. Although the reversal is not a complete reversal, for example, there will still be flights to and from Cuba, embassies will stay open, and Cuban-Americans will still be able to travel back and forth and send money to family members, Americans will no longer be able to plan their own private travel.

“Also, if travelling as part of an educational tour, Americans will have to undergo vetting to make sure they are not going there as tourists,” Bichotte continued. “In the end, the President is fulfilling a campaign promise to a small group of people, namely those Cubans in exile, who helped get him into office, but has yet to fulfil America's promise.”

In an overhaul of one of his predecessor's signature legacies, Trump on Friday issued new guidelines on the US policy toward Cuba, tightening travel restrictions for Americans that were loosened under President Barack Obama and banning US business transactions with Cuba's vast military conglomerate.

“If President Donald Trump did one thing during his Miami trip it was stir up simmering passions about the best course for US policy toward Cuba,” reported the Miami Herald on Friday.

“Neither side in the emotional debate — those who favour a more hardline approach and those who favour the former Obama Administration approach — got exactly what they wanted from Trump, although those who favour a middle ground that aims at sanctioning the Cuban military while not hampering Cuban Americans' ability to travel and send money to relatives on the island may be most pleased,” it added.

In the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Trump told his enthusiastic supporters that he was “cancelling completely” former Obama's “one-sided deal with Cuba”.

But Christopher Sabatini, a professor at Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, said the actual policy didn't match the rhetoric in the theatre.

“Many of the things that hardliners have denounced will seemingly remain in place,” he said, expressing surprise that Trump didn't institute “a further rollback of the Obama opening, perhaps curtailing cruises to Cuba or restricting embassy operations”.

In fact, the Herald said Trump's new Cuba policy “left big chunks of the Obama policy of engagement intact, while instituting a policy designed to economically starve important Cuban military enterprises from cash they take in from American visitors and, to a lesser extent, US businesses”.

The Cuba Study Group, which comprises business executives and professionals who support engagement with Havana, said many of the gains of normalisation with the Spanish-speaking Caribbean country remain intact.

“At best, this is a partial victory for those who hoped to reverse increased bilateral ties,” said the group in a statement, urging full normalisation with Cuba.

“Restricting US travel isolates Cubans from knowledge of American political, economic, and human rights norms,” it added.

Everett E Briggs, a retired US ambassador, the new Trump policy didn't go far enough.

“I regret that he did not go further in adopting the changes to Obama's misbegotten actions I and a number of former State Department colleagues advocated earlier this year — namely, to bring US policy into line with existing US law — the Cuba Democracy Act and the Cuba Liberty and Democracy Restoration Act,” he said. “Exempting Cuban ports and airports from the prohibition on dealing with Cuba is a mistake.”

Trump's policy retained the Obama-era's travel opening for Americans, which allows them to visit Cuba if they fall into 12 categories of travel, such as family visits, and religious, humanitarian and educational trips.

The policy, however, eliminates the ability for Americans to pursue individual people-to-people educational trips.

On the streets of Miami, reaction was mixed.

“Trump is the one who is going to take the communism out of Cuba,” said Robert Linares, a 47-year-old warehouse manager whose parents were born in Cuba.

But across the Manuel Artime Theater, where Trump made the announcement, Javier Lopez Rodriguez, a Cuban-born substitute teacher who works in Miami-Dade, shouted his displeasure into a megaphone.

“It goes against the spirit of the constitution,” he said. “Maybe not the wording explicitly, but the spirit when it was signed. In Saudi Arabia, they violate more human rights than in Cuba.”

Humberto Arguelles, president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, said Trump showed he has “great interest” in pursuing improved human rights in Cuba.

“What Trump did is of great value because it shows that the cause of liberty in Cuba is still alive,” he told reporters at the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center.

Although Trump said that “we will never turn our backs on the Cuban people”, some analysts, according to the Herald, said his new policy could end up stifling the small private businesses the president emphatically says he wants to support.

“We are encouraged that the Trump administration wants to help Cuba's private sector. Unfortunately, the people who will be most negatively impacted by this directive are Cuban entrepreneurs,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba.

“The confusion that will surround this policy will undoubtedly stifle US demand to travel to the island,” he said, and that in turn will hurt private businesses that engage with Americans.

Trump's changes are aimed at sharply curtailing cash flow to the Cuban government and pressure its leaders to let the island's fledgling private sector grow, reported the Miami Herald on Thursday.

Diplomatic relations re-established by Obama, including reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, will remain.

Travel and money sent by Cuban Americans will be unaffected, but Americans will be unable to spend money in state-run hotels or restaurants tied to the military.

“The prohibition on doing business with military enterprises is far-reaching in the tourism sector,” the Herald said, noting that the military conglomerate GAESA controls about 40 per cent of hotel rooms in Cuba, the largest fleet of Chinese-made tourism buses, most government shops and restaurants in picturesque Old Havana, the HavanaAuto rental car company, gas stations, and even the ServiCentro stores where visitors might pick up a bottle of water.

That could be the “poison pill”, of Trump's new policy, said Pedro Freyre, a Miami lawyer who represents US companies that have done business with Cuba or are trying to strike deals.

American travellers may be so confused about what they can and can't do and where they can stay or eat or which taxi to hail that they may decide to stay home, he warned.

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