Donald Trump crackdown looms for Cuba as repression continues after Obama outreach
Donald Trump crackdown looms for Cuba as repression continues after
By Dave Boyer – The Washington Times – Monday, January 2, 2017
President Obama’s historic move to normalize relations with Cuba hasn’t
slowed repression by the Castro regime, and the incoming Trump
administration is likely to take a tougher stand on restricting tourism,
recovering stolen U.S. assets and demanding human rights reforms by
Havana, analysts say.
In the two years since Mr. Obama announced a thaw in the United States’
half-century policy of isolating the island nation, the administration
has paved the way for increased engagement, approving such measures as
daily commercial flights, direct mail service, cruise ship ports of call
and the reopenings of long-shuttered embassies in Washington and Havana.
But Mr. Obama’s policy has not been fully embraced on Capitol Hill and
is vulnerable to reversal under the Trump administration, though the
president’s aides say his detente is already bearing fruit in Cuba and
“We’re seeing real progress that is making life better for Cubans right
now,” said White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
“Sustaining this policy will allow for further opening, further travel,
further U.S. business opportunities.”
But critics say the U.S. money now flowing to Cuba is being pocketed
directly by the military and the Cuban intelligence services, not
benefiting Cuban entrepreneurs. They also say the government of
President Raul Castro has become more repressive since the formal
resumption of diplomatic ties with Washington.
“This year, they’ve had over 10,000 politically motivated arrests,” said
Ana Quintana, an analyst on Latin America at the conservative Heritage
Foundation. “During President Obama’s visit [in March], there were 498
people arrested in those three days.”
Judging by the standards Mr. Obama laid out in December 2014, she said,
“the policy has been a failure.”
“It was originally intended to help the Cuban people by providing
greater freedoms,” Ms. Quintana said. “It’s been diluted, because they
found that they’re not going to get the concessions from the Cuban
government that they expected. The vast majority of people who have
benefited from this have been the Cuban military and the Cuban government.”
President-elect Donald Trump is likely to take a less rosy view than Mr.
Obama of the U.S. engagement with Cuba, say those familiar with his
team’s thinking. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump criticized
Mr. Obama and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for “turning a blind eye”
to Cuba’s human rights violations and denounced Mr. Obama’s initial deal
with Havana as a “very weak agreement.” Several anti-Castro
Cuban-American conservatives are part of Mr. Trump’s transition team.
Despite making a strong pitch for Florida’s Cuban-American vote, Mr.
Trump has kept his options open — aside from pressing harder for human
“All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime
were done through executive order, which means the next president can
reverse them — and that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets
our demands,” Mr. Trump said during a Florida campaign swing in
September. “Those demands will include religious and political freedom
for the Cuban people” — demands that the Castro government has rejected
as a condition of the detente negotiations.
In a Twitter post Nov. 28, three weeks after his election, Mr. Trump
said, “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.”
Although Mr. Trump isn’t expected to shut down the revived relationship
entirely, he will push harder for U.S. businesses and individuals to
recover the estimated $8 billion worth of property expropriated by the
Cuban government, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade
and Economic Council Inc.
“I don’t see anything expansive [toward Cuba] until there’s movement on
the claims,” said Mr. Kavulich, who has been conferring with Mr. Trump’s
transition officials. “The Obama administration was suggesting; the
Trump administration is going to be requiring.”
Said Ms. Quintana, “Trump is somebody who recognizes that the Cuban
government has expropriated about $8 billion of U.S. business assets and
U.S. private citizens’ assets. There is no rule of law in Cuba. How can
a business exist without property rights?
“You have a military regime that controls everything,” she said. “This
is an anti-business environment.”
Mr. Trump is also expected to take a sterner approach toward tourism.
Although the U.S. has outlawed tourism to Cuba, the Treasury
Department’s 12 categories for permitted travel include “educational
activities,” and the Trump team says the Obama administration has
stretched the definition too far.
“They feel that some of the individuals who are going to Cuba are doing
so for purposes of tourism,” Mr. Kavulich said. “They’re looking at the
marketing materials of the travel agents, the cruise lines taking
tourists. They are not ideologues; they are taking strict legal
viewpoints that there are 12 categories, and tourism isn’t one of them.
That’s not what the Obama administration is doing.”
The White House is warning Trump officials not to reverse course and
says Cubans are worried about the next administration’s intentions. The
recent death of Cuban revolution leader Fidel Castro and the impending
retirement of his 86-year-old brother, Raul Castro, also mean an
unprecedented political transition on the island in the next few years.
“Turning it off would hurt the Cuban people,” Mr. Rhodes said. “It would
cut off a lifeline to independent businesses. It would cut off a
lifeline to Cuban families who depend on remittances. The new
administration will have its own priorities to that engagement, but what
we would not want to see is turning back the clock to an approach that
had completely failed for over 50 years.”
Mr. Kavulich said Mr. Trump and his advisers also are anticipating the
symbolism of elections in Cuba in February 2018 when Mr. Castro will be
replaced, likely by Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a civilian. That
means Mr. Trump will be in office when Cuba is no longer ruled by the
Castro family, regardless of the pace of democratic reforms.
“Trump is going to be in office as the first president in 59 years who
will preside over a succession and a transition from a Castro to someone
else,” Mr. Kavulich said. “If you’re in the White House you’re
salivating at something like that. The bottom line will be, there’s not
one [Castro] as president of the country anymore. And President Donald
Trump will be the guy who’s in the White House when that happens. They
absolutely get that.”
The Obama administration’s reopening of ties with Cuba is also raising
concerns about Havana’s vaunted intelligence services and espionage
against the U.S.
Ms. Quintana calls Cuba “a known seller of U.S. intelligence.”
In a little-publicized case in 2014, a spy for Cuba was sentenced to 13
years in prison in the U.S. The spy, who hasn’t been identified, worked
out of the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, Virginia.
Chris Simmons, a retired official from the Defense Intelligence Agency,
said spying on the U.S. can be a lucrative business for Cubans, with
clients such as China and Iran.
“Cuba doesn’t have a satellite program,” Mr. Simmons said. “So why would
Cuba invest in sustaining someone who could only tell them everything
about U.S. spy satellites? Because the countries we were targeting would
undoubtedly pay a lot of money. There is an international audience for
the barter and sale of U.S. secrets. Whether it’s Russia or China,
there’s an insatiable appetite for what they can steal from us.”
Mr. Simmons also pointed to the case of Ana Montes, the “Queen of Cuba,”
an American who stole U.S. military secrets for Havana from 1985 to 2001
while working as a top analyst for the DIA. Among her most damaging
acts, she passed information on the location of U.S. Special Forces in
El Salvador in the 1980s and provided the identities of four U.S. covert
intelligence officers working in Cuba.
“For most of its history, Cuban spies have been volunteers, so there’s
never a money trail. Ana Montes never got a salary,” Mr. Simmons said.
“As long as we perpetuate the myth that Cuba’s not a threat, they’re
going to clean our clocks and give that information to our enemies.”
He said he is concerned that three former high-level spies for Cuba are
involved in their country’s engagement with the U.S.
They include Nestor Garcia Iturbe, who was Cuba’s master spy as director
of the Superior Institute of Intelligence (ISI), where Cuban
intelligence officers are trained.
“We’re negotiating with people we threw out for espionage,” Mr. Simmons
said. “The bigger concern is, over the years, after the Cold War, the
intelligence services and the military have become key players in the
economy. The [Castro] brothers were very clever in terms of putting
those two services in charge of key sectors, such as tourism. You’ve got
the intelligence and military services becoming profit-making centers in
their own right.”
He doubts that freedom will come to Cuba as Mr. Obama envisions.
“There is an elitist attitude around Washington that more exposure to
Americans will introduce democracy and all these great values,” Mr.
Simmons said, “as if the Canadians and Europeans weren’t able to do
that. It hasn’t happened. There’s nothing we’re going to bring to Cuba
that our allies weren’t able to introduce.”
Ms. Quintana said the Obama administration and its allies also have been
misleading Americans with a narrative that Cuban-Americans’ attitudes
are changing and that they no longer support the U.S. trade embargo of
Cuba. She pointed to the election victories this year of candidates such
as Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and a Cuban-American who is an
outspoken opponent of the Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba.
“A big indicator of how successful President Obama’s legacy has been is,
look at the South Florida elections,” she said. “Every candidate who was
a pro-embargo candidate won. It’s only through a positive political
transition on the island that Cuba will become successful. You cannot
have a successful economy without the rule of law. That’s not going to
exist with the Castro regime in place.”
Source: Donald Trump crackdown looms for Cuba as repression continues
after Obama outreach – Washington Times –