June 16, 2017 BY:
President Donald Trump issued a harsh rebuke of the Obama administration’s dealings with the communist regime in Cuba, pledging to put the interests of the Cuban people first and work to end repression on the island as he recasts America’s relationship with its government.
“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” he said Friday in a speech in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood surrounded by Cuban-American supporters and prominent Cuban dissidents.
Trump also launched a broadside against the Castro regime, challenging it to stop beating and incarcerating political opponents and harboring U.S. fugitives. Instead the Cuban government needs to start opening itself to “political and economic freedoms,” a free press, and free and open elections, he said.
“We will work for the day when a new generation of leaders brings this long reign of suffering to an end—and I do believe that end is in the very near future for Cuba,” he said. “We challenge Cuba to come to the table with a new agreement that is in the best interest of both their people and our people.”
Any changes to the relationship between the United States and Cuba, he said, “will depend on real progress toward these and other goals.”
“With God’s help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve,” he said in an impassioned speech at Miami’s Manual Artime Theater, a former church named after one of the leaders of the Brigade 2506 Bay of Pigs veterans whose group endorsed him last October.
“We will respect Cuban sovereignty but we will never turn our backs on the Cuban people,” he added.
The President personally thanked a one-time rival for the presidential nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), as well as several Cuban-American members of Congress, for their role in helping to formulate his partial rollback of Obama’s Cuba policies.
Gone were any harsh words from the GOP primary campaign. Instead, Trump credited Rubio as a “tough” political opponent.
“He is tough, man!” Trump exclaimed.
Trump also thanked several Cuban dissidents standing near him in the crowd and acknowledged that some of them had spent decades imprisoned by the Castros.
Speaking specifically about the regime’s human rights abuses, he said, “My administration will not hide from it, excuse it or glamorize it.”
The line was an obvious reference to President Obama’s trip to Havana to meet with Raul Castro in 2016, which critics harshly criticized for playing down the regime’s brutal record. Obama held a public press conference with Castro that ended in an awkward moment when Castro raised the two leaders’ arms together in the air.
Obama also held a private meeting with dissidents that the White House press corps was not allowed to cover. In advance of Obama’s visit, dissident groups reported a surge in mass arrests.
Despite the condemnation of Obama’s Cuba record, Trump’s new policies only offer a partial rollback.
The embassies in each country will remain open, and Trump will not reinstate the wet foot, dry foot policies of the past when Cubans who made it to the United States were allowed to remain legally in the country.
The new approach also leaves many of Obama’s looser travel and commercial polices in place, with one major exception.
The new policy would eliminate one of 12 different categories of travel Obama allowed—individual, so-called “people-to-people” travel. Instead, U.S. visitors would once again be required to travel in groups with a set itinerary designed for educational, not strictly tourist, purposes. Travelers would be subject to Treasury Department scrutiny of their trip and could face fines if it did not comply with rules.
The group trips would require U.S. visitors to travel with a guide from an educational group—a requirement the Obama policy had lifted.
U.S. visitors also will be prohibited from staying in any hotels doing business with the Cuban military, including the Four Points Sheraton, which Starwood took over from the military in a deal the Obama administration approved. However, the policy changes appear to allow Marriott, Starwood’s parent company, to continue operating the hotel.
Additionally, travel and money sent by Cuban Americans could continue unaffected.
Trump’s changes would still allow commercial flights and cruise ships trips to Cuba, as long as U.S. visitors aren’t traveling there strictly as tourists. These visitors will be allowed to pay bank fees at the military-run bank and rent private properties such as those offered by Airbnb.
Critics say the threat of a Treasury audit could have a chilling effect on travel and hurt business for the private-run bed and breakfasts and restaurants Americans often frequent.
While far from a major reversal of Obama’s détente with Cuba, the revised policy has borrowed from suggestions from more hardline Cuban-Americans who believed Obama had struck an uneven bargain with the Castro regime. Rubio played a “central” role in helping the administration recast the policy, according to a senior administration official, while other members of Congress were instrumental as well.
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