Guy W. Farmer: A change in Cuba policy
July 1, 2017
A couple of weeks ago President Trump appeared before an enthusiastic Cuban-American crowd in Miami's Little Havana District to announced he was reversing ex-President Obama's liberal Cuba policy … but that's not what he did. Once again, Trump's actions failed to match his words.
Remember that big, beautiful border wall? Where is it? And remember who was going to pay for that wall? The Mexicans are laughing at us.
But let's get back to Cuba policy. In Miami President Trump denounced Obama's "terrible and misguided deal" with Cuba and told his wildly cheering audience he was "canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal." But rather than canceling the deal, Trump only modified it. Although he prohibited individual travel to Cuba, the president's executive order permits "educational, government, religious and social" travel to the island. That means group tours and cruise ship visits will continue while the decades-old Cuba trade embargo remains in place. Only Congress can lift the embargo.
Trump's policy will attempt to restrict business transactions that benefit the Cuban military, but those restrictions will be difficult to enforce in a military dictatorship. The controversial "wet foot, dry foot" policy that President Obama eventually canceled will remain inoperative. Under that policy, Cubans who were able to set foot on U.S. soil were allowed to remain in our country, thereby discriminating against immigrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a leader in the Cuban-American community, praised the new Trump policy because it will undermine the Cuban military while still allowing Americans to travel to the Caribbean island only 90 miles off the shore of South Florida.
"Here's a good deal," Rubio said. "Cuba has free elections (and) stops putting people in jail for speaking out. … Cuba stops helping North Korea evade U.N. sanctions, and sends that cop-killer from New Jersey (Joanne Chesimard) back to an American jail where she belongs." Ms. Chesimard was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. However, she escaped from prison in 1984 and has been living in Cuba as Assata Olugbala Shakur ever since.
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"I want to commend President Trump for … demanding the return of Joanne Chesimard to face justice in New Jersey for killing Trooper Foerster," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor. In my opinion Ms. Chesimard's extradition to the U.S. should be a condition of any new bilateral agreement with Cuba.
"Nothing changed because of Obama's opening," said Professor Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami's Cuban-American Studies Institute. "Cuba remains an enemy of the United States, and an ally of Russia, North Korea and Syria." He also cited Cuba's abysmal human rights record, as did U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who noted "political opponents (of the Castro regime) continue to be imprisoned (and) dissidents continue to be jailed."
Univision, a popular Spanish-language TV network, estimates there are nearly 100 political prisoners in Cuban prisons and Human Rights Watch says there are "dozens" of them. They need to be released before we normalize relations with that country.
I dealt with Cuba policy when I served as U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Otto J. Reich's public affairs officer in the late 1980s. Reich, a Cuban-American activist, was closely associated with Col. Oliver North in support of the Nicaraguan "Contras" in the 1980s. Needless to say, that was a challenging diplomatic assignment. I'll spare you the gory details.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, lived and worked in Latin America for more than 20 years.