President Trump recently rolled back a landmark executive action of the Obama Administration by tightening sanctions with Cuba and enacting more restrictions on the flow of money into the communist country. Trump spoke before a group of Cuban exiles in Little Havana, saying “Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” While the crowd standing behind him cheered, the rest of America was left scratching its head after this unpopular move.
While promising a complete roll-back, the actual executive action is quite gutless. It does place more restrictions on personal travel to the island nation, as well as ensure current financial deals do not profit the Cuban military. Visitors will still be authorized to return with Cuban cigars and goods, and travel agencies have been promised as little disruption as possible. The newly-opened American Embassy in Havana will also stay open. Concerning the future of relations between the two governments, Trump stated that he would be open to striking a new deal with the Cuban authorities if it benefited the working people instead of the Castro regime.
President Obama had eased American sanctions on Cuba in a concerted effort to normalize relations with the two countries. Secret negotiations spanned over 18 months, the result of which was released to the public on April 14, 2016. Americans seemed to approve of the deal, and many companies began long term plans to profit from the newly realized market. After over fifty years of being tough on the country, yet not seeing the fruits envisioned, America finally took a softer touch that many hoped would usher in a new era of prosperity and freedom for Cuba and its residents.
During the campaign Trump promised to reverse the actions of the Obama administration, citing the cruelties and injustices of the Castro regime as reasons to not do business with the island nation. This is in stark contrast with Trump’s relationships with other regimes, including the Saudi King Salman and Moscow’s President Putin. It is difficult to understand why Trump decided to draw a line at this particular country and the way it treats its citizens compared to other tyrants he’s more than willing to do business with. Without a consistent moral message or clear economic gains, it is difficult to determine why Trump would address this issue so early in his tenure, especially since his top campaign promises are still left unfulfilled.
Trump’s stance on Cuba has been harsh dating back to 1999 when he first ran for President of the United States. Despite a then-recent cash deal between the Trump business and the Castros, Trump publicly denounced Cuba’s military as controlling. Eventually Trump shelved his plans to to do business with Cuba but seemed to keep an open mind. As recently as March of 2016 Trump had stated that he “would, at the right time” be open to building a hotel on the island. This constant flip flop joins a long list of changing stances for the business mogul turned President.
One thing is certain, and that is that Marco Rubio played a pivotal role in the recent tightening of sanctions. Rubio has been laser focused on this task since dropping out of the primaries and has successfully manipulated Trump into tackling his pet issue. In the midst of seemingly endless scandals emanating from the White House and a constant series of failed legislative efforts, Trump would be hungry to put anything in the win column these days. While Rubio was still licking his wounds from his failed presidential bid, he used Cuba to get cozy with the President. Gone are the days of “Little Rubio”, as the President and senator have mended their relationship in their shared goal to undermine the Castro Family.
While the GOP continues to champion themselves as stalwarts of the economy and American safety, the priority of this unpopular executive action undermines their message. Many Republican senators and congressmen were vocally opposed to the move, citing American businesses and interests that could be weakened with a return to a hard line stance with Cuba. What is a short term victory for Senator Rubio and the Trump Administration may turn out to be just another unpopular stance for the historically unpopular President.