Cuba to USA: You’re “not in a position to teach us lessons”
A television set shows U.S. President Donald Trump announcing his new Cuba policy, in a living room decorated with images of Cuban leaders at a house in Havana, Friday, June 16. | Ramon Espinosa / AP

On Friday June 16, President Donald Trump gave one of his typically bombastic speeches in Miami. Trump accused the Cuban government of oppressing its own people, claimed the Obama administration had negotiated a bad deal with the island nation in 2014, and announced a new “strong” U.S. policy toward Cuba. With this speech, Trump was signaling a partial fulfillment of a campaign promise he made in last year’s presidential elections.

The changes Trump proposes, contained in outline form in a new “National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” did not satisfy the most hard core anti-Castro zealots in the Cuban exile community in South Florida. However, they do represent a setback in the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba which got underway with the joint announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in December of 2014.

Trump’s new changes violate the sovereignty of the Cuban nation, harm instead of help ordinary Cuban people, and trample on the right of U.S. citizens to travel abroad in times of peace. Accordingly, the new policy has produced a sharply negative response from the Cuban government, from other foreign leaders including Bolivian President Evo Morales, and from organizations and individuals within the United States which support U.S.-Cuba friendship.

The new policy has yet to be spelled out in detail; doing so will require input from the U.S. Treasury and Homeland Security Departments. Whether there will be a mechanism for public input into this process has yet to be seen, and there could also be litigation, a field of action in which the Trump administration has not fared well so far.

In general terms, Trump’s speech and his “Memorandum” indicate that the United States will not break off diplomatic relations with Cuba or close the Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. or the U.S. one in Havana. Cooperation with Cuban government agencies on a whole range of issues of mutual interest, such as smuggling and drug trafficking, will not be stopped. Nor was anything said about putting Cuba once more on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” Travel to Cuba will still be permitted for various purposes.

However, trade relations with Cuban entities run by the Cuban armed forces or security agencies will be prohibited, and “person-to-person” visits by U.S. citizens to Cuba will be stopped or confined to group tours arranged by travel companies approved by the U.S. government. U.S. travelers to Cuba will also have to prove that their activities in the country did not diverge from the new policy guidelines, i.e., that they were not going there as ordinary tourists (federal courts have ruled that the government cannot forbid travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba; previous administrations have got around this by forbidding them to spend money that would support the island’s economy).

The fact that the new policy did not go all the way to reversing the 2014 Obama-Castro agreement displeased the most hardline Cuban exile politicians. The relative “moderation” of the proposed changes is likely due to a number of factors. First, public opinion in the United States runs 73 percent in favor of ending the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba entirely, with even Republicans favoring the opening to Cuba.

Secondly, major corporate interests, including but not exclusively agribusiness, strongly support ending the blockade also, because they want to make more money by selling more of their products to Cuba. Even among Cuban-Americans, it is no longer the case that the majority support a hardline U.S. policy toward Cuba.

However, the elites of the Cuban “diaspora” are wealthy and influential, in Miami, New Jersey, and elsewhere, and thus still have a disproportionate influence over U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba. In the person of people like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), they are also the only Cuban Americans in the United States Congress, and thus can pose as being the true representatives of Cuban-American feeling on the subject.

As a result of these trends in mass and elite opinion, one city council after another, and even the Alabama state legislature, has recently passed resolutions calling for an end to restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba. To further these efforts, the North American Congress on Latin America is distributing a model city council resolution for activists to use in their communities.

There is also healthy bipartisan sentiment in the U.S. Congress for passing legislation that would eliminate the legal underpinnings of the Cuba blockade, including especially the Toricelli Amendment and the Helms-Burton law. Obama’s 2014 announcement of changes did not, and could not, eliminate the most harmful aspects of the laws establishing the U.S.’ blockade against Cuba. This can only be accomplished by new legislation, which is the reason for the campaign to get city and county councils and state legislatures to pass resolutions demanding such changes.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry responded to Trump’s speech and Memorandum with a carefully worded statement on its website. It called for continued cooperation between the United States and Cuba in areas of mutual benefit. However, it denounced Trump’s violent and untruthful anti-Cuba rhetoric and once more rejected hostile interference by the United States in Cuba’s internal affairs.

It pointedly referred to the hypocrisy of Trump’s criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record by referring to well-known flaws of democratic governance and human rights in the United States:

“The United States are not in a position to teach us lessons. We have serious concerns about the respect for and guarantees of human rights in that country, where there are numerous cases of murders, brutality, and abuses by the police, particularly against the African-American population; the right to life is violated as the result of deaths caused by firearms; child labor is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there is a threat to impose more restrictions on medical services, which will leave 23 million persons without health insurance; there is unequal pay between men and women; migrants and refugees, particularly those who come from Islamic countries, are marginalized; there is an attempt to put up walls that discriminate against and denigrate neighbor countries, and international commitments to preserve the environment and address climate change are abandoned.”

The Miami theater at which Trump gave his speech is named for Manuel Artime, a Central Intelligence Agency asset captured after the failed “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in April 1961. No doubt the choice of that venue by Trump was intended to be symbolic of his support for the aims of the anti-Castro movement among Cuban exiles in the United States. However, since the Bay of Pigs invasion was a disastrous failure, perhaps it will turn out to be symbolic of the failed policy of hostility to Cuba to which Trump wishes to return.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.