In the days following the death of Fidel Castro, then-President-elect Donald Trump did exactly what one might expect: He took to Twitter. Trump condemned the “deal” the Obama administration put in place over the course of its normalization process with Cuba. “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,” Trump tweeted.
Today at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, Trump unveiled his administration’s Cuba policy — though not necessarily to the benefit of the Cuban or American people, as his tweet pledged.
Following statements by his Cuban-American congressional allies Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., as well as Florida Governor Rick Scott and Vice President Mike Pence, Trump promised to roll back recent openings with Cuba. “We will enforce the ban on tourism,” he proclaimed. “We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future, a country of great potential.”
Trump is on the cusp of reversing President Barack Obama’s limited opening to Cuba, moving back toward Cold War-era policies designed as part of a catastrophically failed half-century attempt to foster regime change. “This is a reversion to a policy that never worked,” said Marguerite Jiménez, who oversaw commercial relations between the U.S. and Cuba during her tenure as senior policy advisor to Obama’s Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “This isn’t a new deal,” Jiménez said. “This is an old deal. And it’s and old bad deal.”
Carried out under the unlikely banner, for Trump, of human rights and democracy, the shift is instead more likely to re-impose hardships on ordinary Cubans — the very same people Trump, Rubio, and Diaz-Balart claim to champion.
In December 2014, Obama took a new approach to engagement with Cuba, which successive American governments had been working to isolate since after the island nation’s communist revolution in 1958. The Obama policy shift culminated in 23 bilateral agreements between the historic foes, leading to increased financial investments and travel to the island and, therefore, bolstering its nascent private sector.
Diplomatic ties and bilateral agreements will likely remain intact, according to Emily Mendrala, who served in Obama’s National Security Council as a Director for Legislative Affairs, where she coordinated congressional policy discussions on Cuba. “The bilateral agreements represent countless hours of careful discussion between our two governments, and have resulted in concrete cooperation on issues ranging from real-time law enforcement information sharing to the resumption of direct mail between our two countries,” Mendrala said. “It would be extremely counterproductive to revert back to the previous time-consuming policy of exchanging formal diplomatic notes each time our two countries needed to communicate.”