Commentary: Trump’s policy on Cuba fails the smell test

The Donald Trump administration announced a change in relations with Cuba in July 2017, so those who have been paying attention may not have been surprised by the new round of restrictions. Still, the type and timing of the rules is suspect, such that it certainly seems like an early appeal to the base against an easy target.

Cuba’s proximity to U.S. shore, its cast of characters and lore and its infamous Cold War record with America are all part of its past, yet the Cold War has never really ended with the island’s leaders.

Even as American presidents have steered U.S. policy closer to communist countries like China, Vietnam, and Laos, our view of Cuba’s brand of communism evidently goes counter to the latter pattern. Certainly, national security adviser John Bolton has done his share to ratchet up the propaganda by lumping Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua together as alternately the “Troika of Terror” and “Triangle of Terror.” Too bad neither label seems to be catching on like President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” phrase.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Beside stopping cruise ships and private craft from visiting Cuba, the new Trump policy took aim at “veiled tourism” education programs like People-to-People Ambassador Program. I take exception to that characterization! How else could I have stayed up 66 hours straight during my 2003 trip to Cuba with the latter group?

While Trump White House personnel obviously believe that more sanctions and less commerce with Cuba will stifle its government and military and lead to wholesale change, that formula has foundered for a half-century. Within the last decade, Cuba’s reform policies allowed growth in private sector employment and decentralization of state-run businesses.

Those improvements were justifiably rewarded by the Barack Obama administration in the form of renewal of diplomatic ties and reopening of embassies. The just-announced Trump rules on Cuba will adversely impact Cuban entrepreneurs here and there, a steep price to pay for the president’s proclivity to reflexively repeal Obama overtures.

For the lucky few Americans whose travel to Cuba is still permitted, there are still limits on purchases of items which are claimed upon return. The dilemma is this: to spend the entire allotment on cigars or rum, because buying half of the total on each will leave one unsatisfied.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science at Delaware State University. A member of People-to-People Delaware, he was awarded a People-to-People grant for travel to Cuba in 2003.

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