Trump reverses course on historic renewal of ties between Cuba, US

World Today

It’s been three years since former U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Washington would end what he called its “outdated” policy on Cuba. In the subsequent months, both countries reopened their embassies and thousands of American tourists began flocking to the Caribbean island nation.

But some of that momentum has since slowed down. CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg explains.

Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in 2016, the first by a sitting U.S. President in nearly 90 years, marked the end to one of the Cold War’s last and longest conflicts – decades of hostility that included a failed American invasion and the Cuban missile crisis.

The U.S. embargo on the Caribbean island nation largely crippled and isolated its economy. But it didn’t oust its leaders: Fidel Castro, and then his brother-turned-successor Raul.

The Obama administration stopped short of ending the embargo – a move that’d require Congressional action. But it did lift many of the restrictions that prevented Americans from visiting Cuba, including those with family there.

“Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, so as to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world,” Obama said in a speech delivered from the White House on December 17, 2014.

Fewer than three years after diplomatic relations were restored, Havana is now full of U.S. tourists and their U.S. dollars.  U.S. airlines offer direct flights to Cuba and American cruise ships now sail into Cuban waters. Underwater, a team of American and Cuban scientists this year got a rare look at the bay’s thriving coral.  The cooperation made possible thanks to an environmental deal signed in 2015, the first major accord between the two countries. But now, questions surrounding the mysterious illness of several American diplomats in Cuba have largely halted any new progress. Washington suspects Cold War-like tactics were used to launch sonic attacks on embassy staff. Cuba denies any wrongdoing, and says it has opened its own probe.

This year, Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, back-tracked on some of the openness, declaring he was canceling what he called the Obama administration’s “one-sided deal” with Cuba.

“We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected,” said Trump in the June speech in Miami before a staunchly anti-Castro audience.

Trump reintroduced restrictions on Americans doing business with 180 companies and hotels owned by Cuban officials.  The White House said they were profiting directly from the boom. Since then, some commercial flights to Cuba have been cancelled; and some carriers have discontinued the route all together. 

“Any strategy that seeks to destroy the revolution either through coercion or pressure or through more subtle methods will fail,” said Cuban president Raul Castro in July.

Officially, relations between the two countries remain unchanged. But they are chilling once again. Soured, observers say, by renewed mistrust. 

President Trump said his approach – as opposed to Obama’s – would benefit Cubans and small Cuban businesses directly. But critics warn that Trump’s approach may actually have the opposite effect, strengthening the very people he and the US have long sought to weaken.

Erick Langer discusses the future of US-Cuba relations