Washington • President-elect Donald Trump’s threat Monday to “terminate” the U.S. detente with Cuba could trigger opposition from some Republican lawmakers and corporate leaders who favor continued engagement with Havana.
Since 2014, when President Barack Obama began to normalize relations with the island, the United States has taken numerous steps to increase commercial travel, commerce and the flow of information to Cuba. On Monday, the first regularly scheduled commercial flight in more than 50 years from the U.S. to Havana landed while passengers aboard the American Airlines jetliner cheered.
After Fidel Castro’s death Friday at age 90, top aides to Trump signaled that the Cuban government must move toward enacting greater freedoms for its people and giving Americans more in return if it wants to keep the warmer U.S. ties that Obama initiated. Castro’s younger brother, Raul Castro, 85, took control in 2006, and later negotiated with Obama to restore diplomatic relations.
Trump’s aides said nothing on Cuba has been decided. But Trump tweeted Monday, “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.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a frequent critic of Trump during the presidential campaign, cautioned in a statement against returning to a “get tough” policy that isolates Havana and restricts travel and business activities. Such an approach, Flake wrote over the weekend, will hurt the Cuban people and make the U.S. government “a convenient scapegoat for failed socialist policies.”
Flake, who accompanied Obama during a visit to Cuba in March, said “allowing more frequent and consequential ties between Cubans and Americans is more likely to accelerate the desired change in Cuba.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested pressure from both U.S. corporate interests and supporters of the detente would keep Trump from dramatically changing course. Earnest cited the new, daily commercial flights, new licenses for U.S. hotel operators and agricultural investment as examples of the sort of corporate investment that could not be undone without dealing an economic blow to both U.S. businesses and Cubans.
“It’s just not as simple as one tweet might make it seem,” Earnest said. “To cancel all of that would deal a significant economic blow to those Cuban citizens.”
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., has pushed for expanded trade with Cuba and in June backed an amendment to a government spending bill that would lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba.
“We’ve had good intentions behind our isolation policy toward Cuba, but the results have not changed,” Boozman said. “It’s time to try a new approach.”