Trump cannot reverse U.S.-Cuban peoples’ relations

by Gloria La Riva

On June 16 in Miami, surrounded by ultra-right Cuban-Americans, Trump declared with much bombast he is “canceling completely” Obama’s “one-sided deal with Cuba.” He outlined new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and a directive to maintain the blockade.

A wide range of organizations, individuals and businesses have denounced the measures, including tourism companies, progressive governments and organizations worldwide.

Cuba’s official response came quickly. “The Cuban Government condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure.”

In a diatribe peppered with 1950s-style anti-communist rhetoric, Trump announced a reversal of actions by President Obama that had eased up on the U.S. travel ban to Cuba and permitted limited business transactions. Trump also issued a directive requiring U.S. officials to maintain an uncompromising stance for the U.S. blockade.

In March 2016, Obama relaxed travel restrictions to allow U.S. people to travel individually to Cuba, under the people-to-people educational category of the Treasury Department. U.S. airlines’ direct flights to Cuban cities began in late August 2016.

U.S. travel to Cuba grew quickly. Last year, a record 600,000 Americans traveled to Cuba. This includes Cubans residing in the United States who have family on the island. According to Cuban sources, just this year, from January to May, 284,565 non-Cuban U.S. citizens traveled to Cuba, as many as traveled in all of 2016.

Now, with Trump’s new restrictions, U.S. people will only be allowed to go by licensed group travel. All U.S. travelers will be strictly monitored under the new decree and face prosecution, fines or jail if found to be in violation. Cubans living in the U.S. are not affected by the new restrictions.

The Cuba Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild issued a statement, offering to support any travelers, whether in groups or not, who travel to Cuba and need legal assistance. Subcommittee chairman Art Heitzer said, “We do not know what kind of enforcement this new administration may attempt, to chill or penalize U.S. residents for exercising their right to travel, but we need to be prepared.”

U.S. corporations and all travelers will be banned from doing business with or using Cuban hotels or other operations run by Cuba’s military and the Ministry of the Interior. Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, FAR, operate various hotels across Cuba.

Trump portrayed the Cuban military’s tourism operation negatively. But as Cuba’s statement countered, the FAR enterprises fill Cuban state coffers. That income helps finance Cuba’s renowned universal health care, education and other services that the Cuban people enjoy.

On Monday, June 19, in a press conference, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez expanded: “It is an infantile idea that with this policy they could separate the people from the government, or the citizens from our glorious Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior. They are the people, the people in uniform.

“On the contrary, these measures strengthen our patriotism, our dignity, our decision to defend by all means our national independence in the spirit of José Martí, Antonio Maceo and Fidel Castro Ruz.”

Trump’s speech raised hypocrisy to new heights. He accused Cuba of human rights violations, without any evidence or proof, as justification for his anti-Cuba moves. Yet, last month, he traveled to Saudi Arabia and saluted without reservation an absolute monarchy that carries out weekly public beheadings, denies women their rights, and allows no elections. In Guantánamo prison on U.S.-occupied territory, prisoners have been brutally tortured and denied the most basic human rights.

The U.S. blockade is the greatest violation of human rights, waged against 11 million Cubans.

Cuba’s statement noted, “The United States is not in the position to teach us lessons. We have serious concerns about the respect for and guarantees of human rights in that country, where there are numerous cases of murders, brutality and abuses by the police, particularly against the African-American population; the right to life is violated as a result of the deaths caused by fire arms; child labor is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there is a threat to impose more restrictions on medical services, which will leave 23 million persons without health insurance. … ”

U.S.-Cuba peoples’ relations cannot be reversed

For more than a year before this new Trump attack, U.S. travelers have no longer feared prosecution for going to Cuba. They are traveling throughout the island, engaging with Cubans freely. They stay in state-run hotels and they rent rooms in Cuban citizens’ homes. They enjoy food in all kinds of restaurants, from luxury hotels to cooperative restaurants to “paladares” that thousands of Cubans operate privately with government license.

Trump pretended that he just wants to support the Cuban people. That is another big lie, like so many he has made in his six months as president.

The Cuban people are the direct target of the 55-year U.S. blockade. This cynical Trump policy will only create more economic hardship for the Cuban people if U.S. travel is curtailed.

The freeing of travel restrictions has been liberating for the people of the United States. For too long they were fed the most negative lies about Cuba, to justify U.S. aggression and blockade against Cuba.

Now they are seeing Cuba for themselves: the social peace, the absence of homeless people on the streets, a country that has extended solidarity to the world, a dignified people who see and treat the U.S. people as friends.

Trump will never be able to convince the people of the United States to go along with his anti-Cuba agenda. The people have learned too much.

They want peace and normalization of relations with Cuba. Opposition to the U.S. blockade of Cuba is overwhelming, with 73 percent of U.S. people favoring the end of the U.S. blockade, according to a 2016 Pew Research poll.

And the right-wing Cubans surrounding Trump are ancient history. They don’t reflect the reality in Miami, with 63 percent of Cubans living in Miami opposed to the blockade, and 72 percent of those between 18 and 59.

Every previous U.S. president since 1959 has tried to destabilize and undo the Cuban Revolution. Each one failed and so will Trump.