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Little Havana and the Great Cuban Lie

Phil Egan's picture
Fri, 06/30/2017 - 15:39 -- Phil Egan

A few weeks ago, pursuing his hatred of everything Obama-related, Donald Trump took his travelling circus to Miami. Standing in front of a crowd of Cuban-American supporters in Little Havana, Trump announced what he described as “a dramatic new Cuba policy.”

“I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” he told the crowd as they chanted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

From the earliest days of his campaign for the presidency, Trump had promised to roll back almost every Obama initiative. Last November, he tweeted that he would “terminate” what he perceived as “a deal” that Obama had made with Cuba unless the island nation 90 miles off the Florida coast “made a better one.” Obama had taken steps in 2014 to relax the punishing embargo that had marked American policy towards Cuba for more than five decades.

Every year since 1992, a United Nations General Assembly resolution had condemn the punishing embargo, but America had remained undaunted. While the rest of the world traded and interacted with Cuba, America stood on the sidelines. It did so until December of 2014, when Obama initiated a new policy of d├ętente. Now, only two and a half years later, Trump is suggesting that he is dragging America back to its failed policy towards Cuba.

But it wasn’t exactly the truth.

Regulations allowing flights to Cuba and cruise ship visits to the island are not affected. The newly-opened U.S. embassy in Havana remains. Families with relatives in Cuba can continue to send money to them. Relaxed regulations that make it easier for American companies to do business in Cuba will remain.

Trump has demonstrated a habit of playing to his base supporters – telling them one thing, and actually doing almost the exact opposite. Those who supported, for example, his promise to “repeal and replace Obama Care” with something better now fear losing their health benefits for lack of affordability.

Trump was also less that truthful in Little Havana.

“We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo,” Trump told the crowd in Miami. “We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are free, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally-inspected elections are scheduled.”

This is the same “world leader” who bopped along with the Saudis in their male-only sword dance, who jokes around in the Oval Office with the Russians who hijacked the American election, and who praises dictators in Egypt and the Philippines.

But, like most bullies, Trump has no problem meddling in the affairs of a much smaller and less powerful victim. The “America First” president, who can’t bring himself to chastise Putin and his army of cyber-terrorists, has no problem lashing out at this tiny nation of just over 11 million people.

The true effect of Trump’s rant in Little Havana will not be fully known until the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments issue new rules in late summer. What is clear, however, is that the promise of unfettered individual travel to Cuba will not be allowed. Tourism to Cuba in the form that we know it in Canada is illegal under U.S. law. The “educational group” travel that was previously being loosened in terms of restrictions will now become more stringent.

The victims will continue to be the restricted American travelling public – residents of the self-described “land of liberty.” They will also be the fledgling group of Cuban “cuentapropistas” – the self-employed taxi-drivers, bed and breakfast operators, restaurateurs and others in Cuba’s nascent capitalist economy.

Companies like Carnival Cruise lines, Starwood Hotels and several American tour operators may now find it more difficult to attract American travellers, as Trump continues to introduce policies that spray bullets at friend and foe alike. Airbnb reports that over $40 million has been put into the hands of private bed-and-breakfast owners in Cuba since 2015.

Trump’s new Cuba policy may actually be a blessing for Canadian travellers, however, who may find prices falling. Hotel contracts have been signed with Canadian tour operators in American dollars since the Obama initiative. That may change back to Canadian dollars, allowing for more price stability.

For America, it’s back to the same flawed, failed policy of the post-Eisenhower era – the time when America was “great again.”

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