Editorial: Don't reverse course on Cuba
Tampa Bay Times
One of President Barack Obama's most dramatic moves for the nation and for Florida has been restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba. But Donald Trump's surprise election could throw that off course, which would be a loss for American security and trade, for people and businesses in Florida and for democracy in Cuba. The incoming Trump administration should send an early signal that there is no interest in resurrecting the Cold War.
Trump's victory follows the steps Obama has taken over the last several years to move U.S. relations with Cuba in a new direction. The Democratic incumbent has made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money back home, eased some restrictions on commerce and travel, and opened up new routes to Cuba with commercial flights. The two nations formally re-established embassies in 2015, and this year Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly a century. It was a fitting use of his waning time in office and a starting point for the next administration.
But the next administration now is Trump's — and the Republican real estate developer has not fleshed out any coherent policy on Cuba. Trump has criticized as "weak" the steps Cuba is required to take as part of the reconciliation process, and he has threatened to reverse course unless Cuba does more to open up its society. But Trump has not taken a firm stand on way or another.
Cuba responded to Trump's election Tuesday by announcing a week of military exercises. While Havana did not link the two events, the timing should not be lost on anyone who rejoiced in Obama's efforts to end a half-century of enmity between the two nations. Trump's victory follows America's decision last month to abstain in the annual vote at the United Nations in condemning the Cuba embargo. Though inside baseball in the diplomatic world, the U.N. vote was widely lauded around the world, and it raised expectations for Cuba to respond in kind by doing more to liberalize civil society.
Trump's election puts this emerging relationship in limbo. It gives Havana the wiggle room it doesn't deserve to test the new administration, freeze any progress toward civil reforms and purge a next generation of leaders who would cooperate with Washington. It also shuffles the deck for America's business community, which has invested in new flights and other trade opportunities with Cuba. And it is especially unsettling for Florida and the Tampa Bay area, which has long-standing ties to Cuba and has spent heavily to improve its ports and airports to seize new opportunities with its southern neighbors.
The Obama administration was right to change course on Cuba, and advocates need to keep pushing Congress to end the embargo. Cuba needs to do more to return the good faith by ending the harassment of its own citizens and expanding rights to freely speak, associate and travel. Its political system is as outdated and morally indefensible as the embargo. The Trump White House needs to continue speaking out on the need for civil liberties and the rule of law.
But the two nations were right to set their sights on the future. Though Obama set a new course through executive action, it was exactly the breakthrough tactic this relationship needed to get back on the right track. Trump should build on what Obama started, and he should not overturn those executive orders. It would be a waste to have the novelty of reopening the embassies wear off because the new administration doesn't grasp the changing attitudes on Cuba, especially in Florida. Cuba is on the cusp of a leadership change itself. In purely practical terms, Trump should see Cuba as an opportunity to reset his own relationship with Hispanics as much as that between the two nations. The nation's business sector and its third-largest state need to impress on the next president the value of remaining engaged.
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