Donald Trump

Donald Trump Seems Likely to Throw Cold Water on the Thaw in U.S.-Cuba Relations

Following Fidel Castro's death, Republicans want to revert to a policy that failed for half a century.


No thaw for you, Raul
Giorgio Viera/EFE/Newscom

President-elect Donald Trump's policy on the future of U.S.-Cuba relations has never been exactly made clear.

At various points during the Republican primary campaign, he described President Obama's restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba as "fine" but then later described the approach as a "very weak agreement" that he would reverse as president "unless the Castro regime meets our demands." But Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he had aspirations to open a hotel in Cuba, and Newsweek also reported that one of Trump's companies did business with Cuba in the late 1990s, in violation of the embargo.

Now that Fidel Castro is dead, rumblings among Trump's inner circle and some Republican heavyweights appear to indicate the next president intends to slow or even reverse some of the recent political and economic openings between the two countries.

RNC chairman and Trump's incoming-chief of staff Reince Priebus told Fox News Sunday that he "absolutely" expects Trump to push back on the lifting of certain sanctions without some major changes from Raul Castro's government. Priebus added, "Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners—these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships, and that's what president-elect Trump believes, and that's where he's going to head."

Two of Trump's bitterest rivals during the primary campaign, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz—both senators of Cuban descent—said yesterday that they would be in favor of rolling back the normalization of relations with Cuba.

Cruz said on ABC's This Week that "what the Obama administration has done has strengthened Raul Castro," while Rubio reportedly said, "now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with [the Cuban people] against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights."

What all these Republican bigwigs appear to be missing is that the half-century-long embargo did not defeat the Castros, or communism, or lead to any meaningful liberalization of economic or human rights on the island nation. If anything, it provided the Castros with a ready-made excuse that the source of Cubans' poverty and isolation was yanqui imperialism.

Isolating the Castros hasn't worked and is a self-spiting position from an American point of view. Allowing for more trade with Cuba will allow for more information to flow to the people, who when freed from the myopia caused by some of the strictest government censorship in the world will stand a better shot of overthrowing their tyrannical one-party system. Reverting to the previously failed position is worse than fighting the last war, it's fighting the last losing war.

NEXT: Venezuela Seizes Medicine from Catholic Charity, Skips Talks with Opposition as Starving Residents Flee Country in Boats

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  1. Maybe Trump will be able to negotiate a good deal where the United States gets to continue new relations with Cuba but only now the Cubans have to pay for the whole thing.

    1. That’s kind of the deal now.

      1. its still illegal for cubans to do business in dollars, correct?
        (*i know this is violated all the time, but its still the ‘rule’)

        basically, all the business done w/ foreign companies will go through the govt cashier where a big bite gets taken.

  2. Just wait until you see Trump’s deal with Cuba. It will be great – the best deal ever.

    1. It’s hard to see how he could do worse.

  3. Let the guy get inaugurated first. Then feel free to criticize any policy he actually implements. Until then, all these articles speculating how awful Trump is make Reason writers look like scared little bitches. It’s quite unbecoming.

    1. I love how people and the media were incredulous about this behaviour with Obama. All of a sudden, it’s healthy skepticism to speculate again!

    2. We should wait until bad policy is implemented to criticize? Are you saying Trump needs a safe space?

      1. bad policy

        implies some kind of concrete policy plan actually exists

  4. It’s probably better to keep the lines of communication open now that Castro that prick is gone. But the U.S. should still maintain a principled stance since the Cuba is still run by tyrants.

    1. There’s still a Castro prick there, though.

    2. What principle would that be again?

      1. Okay fine be that way. But give me America over tyrants any day, guy.

  5. The flaw in the logic that many on the right have about dealing with dictatorships is that they believe that embargos make conditions miserable enough for citizens of that country to revolt against their leaders. The issue is that humans are remarkably resilient and can make do with not-so-good living standards and lack of freedom, as long as no comparison point exists. Obama’s positive work with US-Cuba relations seems to be accidental at this point, but what it does is that it gives Cubans that has yet to exile that tangible contrast.

    1. Depends on the dictator. With some dictators, trade really does improve the life of the citizens. But if the place is a true totalitarian state like Cuba or North Korea, trade doesn’t help anyone except the elite running the country and accomplishes nothing except fun the apparatuses of oppression.

      It would be one thing if we could really trade with Cuba in any kind of a free way. But we can’t. All we can do is buy goods and services owned by and produced by the Cuban government. When you go to a resort in Cuba, the Cubans that work there are not making any more money than they would be anywhere else. And the money they make is entirely dependent upon the government’s opinion of them. The employees’ lives are no better than they would be if you didn’t go there. The only people who benefit from you spending your money there are the people who rule Cuba.

      Cuba is quite literally a giant prison. If the local prison started selling goods that the prisoners had been forced to make, would you buy the goods thinking it would make the prisoners more free? If you did, you would be fooling yourself unless you had reason to actually believe the people who ran the prison cared about the prisoners. Cuba is no different except that we have 50+ years of experience that tells us that the people who run the prison see the Cuban people as slave labor and no trade with Cuba is ever going to benefit them anymore than buying cotton from the antebellum South benefited the slaves there.

    2. what’s the logic of helping regimes that brutalize their people?

      1. The point is to help the people, not the regime. Yes, the latter is inevitable if the former is happening. But the people can’t overthrow their regime if they don’t have the means.

        Moreover, the converse has not proven true: while sanctions and embargoes are useful wartime tactics, they don’t effect regime change on their own.

  6. There’s plenty of situations where ice will melt in cold water. Do you even cocktails, broh?

    1. Burn!

  7. Since Obama has opened relations, repression in Cuba has increased. Admittedly there has not been a huge amount of time, but there were more open relations with most of the world for years, and that did not work either. I do not think it matters much either way.

    1. Reason has long claimed that ending the embargo would make Cuba more free. Well Obama ended it and Cuba is less free now than it was before. It turned out exactly like the skeptics said it would. But Reason thinks if we just try harder it will work this time.

      1. Milton Friedman used to point out that it was possible to have economic freedom without political freedom, but that the opposite never occurred. Hong Kong and Singapore were cases in point; both economically free but neither with Western-style political choices.

      2. Nothing more needs to be done at this point. There is no “try harder” because there’s nothing left to be done. Let people trade; whether it ends the regime or not is a matter for the people of Cuba to decide/effect. Trade can’t do it any more than an embargo can.

        This is not the argument that Reason is making but that’s because it’s full of shallow thinkers who make facile arguments nowadays.

  8. In another milestone in improving air service between the United States and Cuba, an American Airlines 737 took off Monday morning on the first regularly scheduled flight between Miami and the Cuban capital in more than half a century.

    The Havana-bound plane, which took to the air just after 7:30 a.m., carried 145 passengers. As passengers waited at the gate, AA treated them to pastelitos, cupcakes emblazoned with the airline logo, and coffee. As they boarded, AA employees placed straw hats on their heads.

    Read more here:…..rylink=cpy

    1. What an egregious display of cultural appropriation.

      1. When America is great again that won’t happen.

  9. Two of Trump’s bitterest rivals

    *Most bitter* would have rolled off the tongue betterer.

    1. Not ‘most bitterest’?

  10. New Cuba Policy:

    1) Invade.
    2) Conquer.
    3) Execute all the members of the Communist Party of Cuba.
    4) Leave forever.

  11. Obama was an idiot who got nothing from the deal. Opening trade with Cuba is an economic growth explosion for them. Obama should have demanded release of political prisoners at a minimum for removing sanctions. Otherwise it is nothing more than a reward for the regime that denies freedom.

    1. None of Obumbles deals have benefitted the US. His trade deals, Iran deal, Cuba deal, etc have all been to the benefit of the other parties. I don’t recall political prisoners coming up except for him straight up paying ransom for them.

      This is no accident.

    2. Economic growth helps the people who live in Cuba. That’s reason enough to lift the embargo.

      1. No, it actually doesn’t help the people of Cuba since the state owns everything. Investment in Cuba requires 51% ownership by the regime the rest is foreign. Cuban currency for tourists isn’t what is being paid to the employees.

        Economic growth helps the regime by providing it more cash to repress it’s people more, nothing else.

        1. nothing else

          And this is where you go from solid ground to thin ice. Yes, the Castros will be enriched. But to say that nothing else will happen is baseless. There are no guaranteed outcomes, true. But that knife cuts both ways. The embargo hasn’t removed the Castros from power or led to a popular revolt. If the Cuban people have some ability to enrich themselves, even if the Castros take the lion’s share, that still gives them means that they didn’t have before to affect change.

          1. And yes, the Cubans weren’t boycotted/sanctioned by most other countries besides the U.S. before. I know that and am not pretending/claiming otherwise. Trade with the U.S. is probably not going to be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” and leads to Cuban freedom. I’m not claiming it will. But to maintain the embargo, one must say that there is no benefit to trade (as you did) and that claim is baseless.

  12. Well, to be fair, please remember that Trump is an idiot.

  13. Republicans want to revert to a policy that failed for half a century.

    As opposed to a new policy of pumping hard currency into Cuba and the pockets of los hermanos Castro and their inner circle.

    1. Its worked so well bringing freedom to China and Vietnam. [/s]

      1. Both the average Chinese citizen and the average Vietnamese citizen are more free now than they were in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.

        “Not very free” != “No freer than before”

  14. After the Spanish American war there was a push to annex Cuba and have it become a state. This idea was shot down because after visits to Cuba we realized it is…wait for it…full of Cubans.

    Entire populations are not held at the point of a gun and oppressed by single, determined individuals. Dictators and corrupt governments are the product of the culture it comes from. Dictators often get into power in the first place by popular elections.

    1. Excuse my youth/naivete, but I wonder if this just says that most people can accept or even like the status quo if there’s no available comparison point. Or is Cuban culture really that stubborn and difficult to evolve, with Cuban-American exiles being an extreme outlier?

    2. Also, didn’t Castro overthrow Batista rather than obtain power through popular election? I get your point about dictators being part of culture when talking about Venezuela, but it seems to fall apart when you talk about long-time totalitarian strongholds like Cuba or the DPRK.

    3. “””After the Spanish American war there was a push to annex Cuba and have it become a state. “”

      Instead we got Puerto Rico, a place where more then half the people have fled to the States and which is practically bankrupt.

      Thanks President McKinley [/s]

  15. Economic growth helps the people who live in Cuba. That’s reason enough to lift the embargo.

    Based on discussions I have had with people who have been running Cuba tours for years, the whole “Visit Cuba, an authentic Paradise on Earth” scam is structured in such a way that the Cuban government is practically the sole beneficiary.

  16. Shorter Anthony:

    I hope Trump does what I want concerning Cuba.

  17. Questions: What goods can Cuba obtain from the U.S. that it can’t obtain from all the other nations of the world that are free to trade with Cuba? What does Cuba have to sell us that we can’t get elsewhere? Tourism and perhaps a major league team. Havana Sugar Kings, but what else? Why did Castros get away with blaming their lack of goods on the U.S. embargo when the rest of the developed world would sell them anything they liked?

    1. I tried making this point with a neighbor, along with the rulers controlling all economic activity and determing/paying slave wages. He’s convinced 0bama’s policy change is the right thing to do and that change will eventually come. I also pointed out that the regime was on the brink of collapse because Russia long ago lost interested in subsidizing them and Venezuela no longer has the cash to spare to do likewise. He’s an 0bama true believer. I may as well have been trying to deprogram a Scientologist.

  18. Dictators thrive on bad relations with the US. Are we not The Great Satan? Not only do we justify the starving of their subjects, but when one of our well-meaning presidents reaches out to their oppressed people it gives hope to dissidents. The hopeful are then identified, rounded up and shot.

  19. I guess that ultimately it depends what you think the Embargo was intended to accomplish in the first place. Cuba is not free and likely will not be free, so for me the question is this: how valuable is slave labor divorced from any principle of human rights? We’ve already proven we don’t actually care about this issue, so I suppose why draw the line at Cuba at the end of the day. (And by ‘we’ I simply mean ‘America’)

    Slave labor is terrific, as long as it’s not in our backyard is the mantra of the day and while some countries do kind of OK with that dynamic (China, for example) it’s always the subtitle that no one is interested in reading when it comes to international trade with Communist/Totalitarian states.

    In my view, the Embargo was successful in that it prohibited us from using the Cuba people as slaves by proxy but that’s just my, like, opinion man.

    1. Like most moral questions, is it not better left to the individual to decide?

      1. In terms of slavery, are the individuals in a position to decide at all?

        1. Even slaves have ambitions.

          1. So, no, then.

            Unless you view capitalism as an increased likelihood of revolt among the underclass in Communist Totalitarian states, which is questionable but at least possible, than doing business with them amounts to slavery by proxy in my book. This is what some might call ‘comparative advantage in labor’ perhaps.

            I’ve heard the argument go both ways, but it’s undeniable that most of the advantage gained through trade in those countries is held by those doing the oppressing by-and-large. China makes it less clear cut, but at the same time for every step forward there have been two steps back. Almost half a century has gone by, and while they have made great strides they’re still run by top-down leaders propped up almost entirely by trade from the rest of the world. *shrug*

            Until the revolution, all I can do is try and buy as much as I can from America but it’s so ubiquitous and expensive that it’s hard to deny: slavery is profitable for everyone but the slave.

            1. So, no, then.

              No to what? You shifted the “who” from my comment (Americans, specifically American citizens not acting on behalf of the U.S. government) to your response (Cubans).

              Unless you view capitalism as an increased likelihood of revolt among the underclass in Communist Totalitarian states

              That is exactly my view, or at least a good summation of it.

              doing business with them amounts to slavery by proxy

              Hence why I said “even slaves have ambitions”. Yes, the Cuban government is oppressive. Yes, its people are enslaved. But they are still people and they aren’t going to overthrow their government without the means and will to do so.

              slavery is profitable for everyone but the slave

              And thus the moral quandary of slavery. But, embargo and emancipation are not the same thing.

              1. “…they aren’t going to overthrow their government without the means and will to do so.”

                So, the US should facilitate regime change?

                The soft bigotry of low expectations in this shallow hopey-changey article, as if Cubans don’t know they’re getting a shitty deal from their rulers.

  20. What do Reason mag libertarians imagine a reasonable or equitable outcome looks like? NO standards goals or objectives? Unlimited waves of Cubans freely coming here with zero restrictions? All the cop killers, fugitives and hijackers allowed back in no harm no foul kiss and make up? If EVERY law is terrible then what do they think should be the guiding principles ?

    1. All the cop killers, fugitives and hijackers allowed back in no harm no foul kiss and make up?

      Who are you referring to?

  21. But pouring cold water on frozen things is literally the best way to thaw them!

  22. Maybe when Cuba pays the $7 Billion or so dollars they owe US citizens for expropriating property owned by them before the revolution, then the embargo should be lifted. But it seems to me, allowing trade with a country that steals from you is not really a good idea. I try not to patronize thieves, and was witness to my relative’s farms and properties being seized by the Cuban revolutionaries. There was a reason we buried the farm equipment.

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