US President Donald Trump’s grandiose announcement of a drastic change in US government policy toward Cuba has so far produced little substantive change. As with several other of Trump’s policies, the contradictions between the president’s harsh rhetoric and the actual changes that have been put in place make observers wonder whether Trump has an alternative plan for Cuba or if he is simply paying lip service to an electoral voting bloc.
When former US president Barack Obama announced the normalisation of relations with Cuba in 2016 — including the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington DC — many observers welcomed the end of one of the most damaging and counterproductive legacies of the Cold War. After almost six decades of a trade embargo, Obama softened several sanctions and rewrote executive orders to make it easier for US citizens to visit and for US businesses to trade with and invest in Cuba. Though many other sanctions remain in place, Obama’s decision to thaw relations between the two former cold war enemies was celebrated in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America. Obama’s visit to the island in March 2016 was long overdue and heavy on symbolism, though it did not bring the full normalisation of relations with the authoritarian government that has ruled the island since the revolution in 1959.
Even before Trump was elected president in November 2016, many Cubans and US citizens who hoped for a quicker normalisation of relations were already growing frustrated. The determination by the Republican majority in Congress to block Obama’s normalisation policies slowed down what was already a rather timid effort to move past the cold war mentality and rhetoric.
To be sure, the Cuban government did not help things either. The dictatorial nature of the government makes it difficult for any democracy in the world to enthusiastically engage in normal relations with the island. As the state-centred economy that’s been in place since the revolution hinders economic development and blocks private initiatives, the window of opportunity that opened after Obama’s decision to normalise relations was clogged by the Cuban government’s unwillingness to modernise and catch up with a growing, globalised, market-friendly world.
After Trump won, many Cubans feared a swift reversal in the policy changes that Obama had put in place — such as fewer travel restrictions for US citizens to visit the island and improved access for US companies in order to trade with Cuba and invest in the country. As with many other promises he made as a candidate, Trump dragged his feet in fulfilling his pledge to cancel Obama’s policies toward Cuba.
To read more, please visit The Buenos Aires Herald.