Cuba’s relationship with the United States of America (U.S.) has been afflicted with scepticism and antagonism since 1959. This was the year Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries eliminated Fulgencio Batista’s U.S. – backed regime in Havana and began reshaping the country’s social and economic systems. Establishment of a socialist state allied with the Soviet Union began, and for the next 50 years, each U.S. administration implemented and enforced policies that economically and diplomatically isolated the Caribbean country and further strained Cuba – U.S. relations.
There was a wisp of hope on the horizon when, on 17th December 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro had the first face-to-face discussion between U.S. and Cuban heads of state in more than half a century. They announced the beginning of a process to normalise relations between the two countries. The leaders initiated meetings to restore full diplomatic ties and eased travel restrictions. Many had strong doubts it would come to be, but then came the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
With his infamous anti-immigration stance, President Trump immediately began altering U.S. actions related to travel and immigrants, detaining more than seven hundred travellers and “provisionally revoking” over sixty-thousand visas. Families were separated and people were left without a place to go. How will this foreign policy affect Cuban people, given the tumultuous history the island has with the U.S.?
Trump arouses uncertainty for Cubans. Why? The Havana Times reports that when listening to the reactions of Cubans one can feel that Trump represents distrust and a setback in relations with the U.S. With the embargo laws still in effect, injection of U.S. dollars into the economy remains a pipe dream Cubans looking to leave the country for U.S. soil now wonder which side of Trump they will face. Will it be the businessman who initially showed interest in opening hotels on the island or will it be the one pushing a nationalist agenda, who appealed to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans by promising to get tough on Cuba?
The unfortunate truth is that their future is in his hands. Many Cubans seeking to leave Cuba and enter the U.S. are hoping that the “Wet foot, Dry foot policy” will be reinstated. This is a twenty-two year old policy which allowed Cubans who land on American soil to stay in the country while those who were caught at sea were sent back home. Yet, much is left to be desired.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer has professed that the U.S. is “in the midst of a full review of all U.S. policies towards Cuba,” and “The president is committed to an agenda of ensuring human rights for all citizens throughout the world.” Many would scoff at this statement, questioning its truth. Shortly after taking Office, President Trump made an executive order, which immediately suspended admission of all refugees for one hundred and twenty days. This came to be known as the “Muslim ban,” as it directly discriminated against predominantly Muslim countries and immigrants.
United Nations (U.N.) human rights experts have said that the president’s response to immigration was a direct violation of the country’s international human rights obligations. Added to this, U.N. Secretary-General Antóio Guterres stated that President’s Trump travel ban undermines “the integrity of the international refugee protection programme.”
The severity of Trump’s acts against immigrants fails to take the human element into consideration, the impact on human lives. This sort of outright discrimination does not bode well with Cubans, who are on the opposite side of American capitalism and therefore prone to unfair treatment.
Discrimination related to ethnicity and nationality is against the fundamental principles and values upon which a democracy, such as what the U.S. claims to be, is based upon. If refugees fleeing unfavourable situations in their country find more borders closed and restricted access to protection, it raises great concern for Cubans, who are often seeking a freer way of life.
People’s livelihoods are being played on a chessboard, as the U.S. president could freeze all progress made by Obama since they were made by executive action and not an act of Congress.
President Trump has stated that Obama’s reforms to open diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba will be reversed if the Castro government fails to release political prisoners and grant Cuban citizens more political and religious liberties. It is difficult to believe that the rights of the people are driving such a statement in light of his administration’s treatment of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, refusing them entry into the U.S. although they may be in need of an escape from persecution in their home countries. Instead, it gives reason to believe that Trump’s trump card of freedom will be played only if the Cuban government adopts changes and moves over to the social structure of the U.S. Are his proclamations seeking the interest of the Cuban people or for the sake of American business and further domination? An open Cuba means a larger market for U.S. companies.
President Trump will face compelling resistance from U.S. business leaders if he holds back on the thawing process, as many companies, such as Google and Airbnb have started investments in new ventures in Cuba since the warming of relations.
In January 2017, Cuban President Raul Castro mentioned that his government is open to pursuing a respectful dialogue and cooperation on a topic of common interest with the new government. However, until Trump makes his first move, Cubans and Americans are waiting uneasily to see what will happen with the now-tenuous opening.
President Trump is taking extreme measures against terrorism, which reminds us of the status placed on Cuba in 1982 when then U.S. President Ronald Reagan designated the country a state sponsor of terrorism. The Castro government was censured for providing support to militant communist groups in Africa and Latin American countries. Although they were only removed from terrorism list in 2015, what will happen now if Cuba does not meet the changes required by the Trump administration?
Some hold on to hope for an end to discriminatory policies based on one’s nationality, policies which lead to increased stigmatisation of Cubans. However, questions are up in the air about the future of the relationship between Cuba and the U.S.
President Trump has regularly put economic and nationalist interest ahead of ideals like the promotion of democracy and human rights. In addition, with a majority Republican U.S. Congress, the probability that the trade embargo will remain is high as anti-embargo bills are continually blocked.
Beyond speculations, we have yet to see how the Cuba – U.S. relationship will transform under a new rule. Going on Trump’s stance against immigration, many Cubans remain wary of increased sanctions and a return to frosty relations. Failure to allow continued defrosting of relations means denying Cuban people freedom of movement and other opportunities that come with an open economic system. Castro has shown interest in fostering a healthy relationship of trade, commerce, and tourism. These are important keys to for improved standards of living for Cubans.
President Castro has said that Cuba hopes to continue to normalise relations with the U.S., but he also remains strong on the point that the Trump administration should not expect concessions with affect Cuba’s sovereignty. “Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live side by side in a civilised manner, respecting our differences and promoting all that is of benefit for both countries and people,” Castro stated.
Will affairs between Cuba and the U.S. continue to thaw and the decades-old trade embargo be lifted in our lifetime? Or will the détente be halted under the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress? Leaving a gaping hole where human rights should be.