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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Trump rolls back critical parts of Obama’s Cuba policy

The US President did not go as far as to break diplomatic ties with the island nation, which were restored in 2015.

world Updated: Jun 17, 2017 22:36 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump speaks at the Manuel Artime Theatre in Miami on Friday.
US President Donald Trump speaks at the Manuel Artime Theatre in Miami on Friday.(AFP)

US President Donald Trump reversed critical elements of his predecessor Barack Obama’s Cuba policy to re-impose restrictions on travel and commerce, but did not go as far as to break diplomatic ties with the island nation which were restored in 2015.

“Effective immediately, I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump told a cheering gathering of Cuban Americans in Miami, on Friday. He later added he had delivered on a campaign promise.

An executive order he signed immediately after his speech prohibits self-directed, individual travel to Cuba but allows Americans to travel in groups for educational or professional purposes. And Americans of Cuban descent will continue to be free to travel to visit relatives in Cuba and send remittances.

American companies will be prohibited from conducting business with entities controlled by the Cuban military and intelligence services, which is most of the tiny nation, including the tourism sector. But contacts with smaller, individually run businesses will be exempted from the restrictions.

“We do not want US dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba,” Trump said, adding, “Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing US law. We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalised, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.”

This was a notable shift for Trump, who has been leery of using American power to push human rights as an issue, telling West Asian leaders in Riyadh on his first foreign trip recently, “We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

But for all the harsh rhetoric and bombast of another election promise fulfilled and another Obama policy rolled back, Trump did not shut the door on Cuba entirely. The embassies will remain open “in the hope that our countries can forge a much stronger and better path”.

Ben Rhodes, architect of President Obama’s Cuba opening, live-tweeted during Trump’s remarks, and noted in one post, “No matter what Trump says he’s not reversing dip (diplomatic) relations, embassies, wet foot dry foot (allowing in fleeing Cubans), reg (regulation) changes. Enough to do damage but not undoing.”

Obama had announced the resumption of ties with Cuba in 2015, in a deal brokered and blessed by Pope Francis, arguing that engaging with the communist nation might work better than the policy of isolation through sanctions that had failed to end the decades-long Castro regime.

It was opposed by hardliners in the US, mostly Cuban Americans such as Senators Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Robert Menendez, a Democrat, who argued the Obama administration had let the Castro regime off the hook without extracting more concessions.

Rubio was in the audience for the president’s speech on Friday. “A year and a half ago, a president, an American president, landed in Havana, to outstretch his hand to a regime,” Rubio said in remarks before Trump, referring to Obama’s visit in March 2016.

“Today,” he said, “a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba.”

First Published: Jun 17, 2017 15:25 IST

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