Why Trump Reversed Obama Cuba Policy
President Trump’s change in U.S.-Cuban relations seeks to reverse an Obama foreign policy failure.
In making the announcement, President Trump stated “I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba… Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America…With God’s help…a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve.”
Obama’s major policy changes were done through executive order and altered regulations, in order to bypass Congress. Critics maintain that his radical departure from the half-century U.S. stance towards the totalitarian-ruled island indicated that the White House chose to side with the Castro regime rather than the oppressed Cuban people.
Even during the discussions leading to the change, the Havana government imprisoned 140 additional people for political reasons. Freedom House noted that
“In 2014, the Cuban government increased its systematic use of short-term “preventive” detentions—along with harassment, beatings, and ‘acts of repudiation’—to intimidate the political opposition, isolate dissidents from the rest of the population, and maintain political control of all public spaces. A record number of politically motivated detentions were recorded in 2014, and crackdowns on activists continued. That year, Freedom House also reported that ‘Cuba is the only country in the Americas that consistently makes Freedom House’s list of the Worst of the Worst: the World’s Most Repressive Societies for widespread abuses of political rights and civil liberties.”
“President Obama’s new push to normalize relations with Cuba neglects the Cuban dictatorship’s internal oppression, relentless hostility to US interests, and implacable opposition to change. The Obama administration has rushed to facilitate new travel and trade with Cuba, but the Castro regime controls virtually every aspect of the economy, benefits from cash remittances and tourism, and stifles the country’s potential growth. While the Obama administration struggles to justify its unilateral concessions and has yet to press for international help on Cuba, the Castro regime has rejected calls for change and is making new demands to put the administration on the defensive…President Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with the Castro government will neither advance US interests nor produce any significant change on the island.”
Considering that neither the United States nor the Cuban people received any substantive benefit from Obama’s initiative, and human rights considerations were essentially ignored, why did the Obama White House choose to aid the Castro regime, particularly at a time when Havana was assisting Moscow’s expanding military presence in Latin America? (In 2014, The Guardian reported that “Russia has quietly reached an agreement with Cuba to reopen a Soviet-era spy base on America’s doorstep, …The deal to reopen the signals intelligence facility in Lourdes, south of Havana.”)
In the time since the Obama opening of relations with Cuba, the human rights crisis has continued unabated. Human Rights Watch recently revealed:
“The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics, independent activists, political opponents, and others. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group that lacks official authorization and is therefore considered illegal by the government, received more than 7,900 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2016. This represents the highest monthly average of detentions in the past six years. Security officers rarely present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics…Detention is often used preemptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days. The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners also, like the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, lacks official authorization and is therefore considered illegal by the government. Its members are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained by either police or state security agents before or after they attend Sunday mass…
“The government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information…Independent journalists who publish information considered critical of the government are subject to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms… The government denies access to its prisons by independent human rights groups, which believe that additional political prisoners, whose cases they cannot document, remain locked up…
“Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are subordinated to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence…
“As a member of the UN Human Rights Council from 2006 to 2012 and from 2014 to the present, Cuba has regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights abuses around the world—opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. However, Cuba supported a resolution adopted by the council in June 2016, establishing the post of an independent expert to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Originally published on the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.