Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Year one of the Trump Administration and a new Cuba policy: Trade is up and detentions are down

A look at some numbers for 2017 and U.S. - Cuba relations.
President Trump at the Manuel Artime Theater with Cuban Americans in 2017
Cuba in 2017 remained a repressive totalitarian regime with prisoners of conscience, and a one-party communist dictatorship that has used its military and intelligence apparatus to control Venezuela, turning that nation into a colony that it is plundering.Things had gotten worse for Cubans, especially following the Obama Administration's engagement with the Castro dictatorship, including a state visit in March of 2016. The current Administration has rolled back a number of Obama era Cuba policies, spoken out on the human rights situation in Cuba, and Ambassador Nikki Haley defended the morality of U.S. sanctions on the Castro regime.

Despite the claim by the architect of the previous Administration's Cuba policy, that President Trump's turn around on the Obama Administration's Cuba policy would fail, trade between the United States and Cuba was at its highest level in 2017 following its collapse between 2014 and 2016 when the previous Administration was pushing its new Cuba policy.

President Barack Obama announced his new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 and the following year U.S. trade in goods with Cuba dropped $118.9 million from $299.1 million in 2014 to $180.2 million in 2015. This economic relationship has improved under the Trump Administration despite news that the Cuban economy is worsening and the regime's creditors are nervous.

Trade peaked under Bush in 2008 and began a steady decline under Obama
Obama Cuba policy flawed
President Obama downplayed commuting the sentences of three Cuban spies, including Gerardo Hernandez who was serving a life sentence for his role in a murder conspiracy that claimed four innocent lives in 1996 and freed them the same day.  This was part of the price paid to free an American hostage, Alan Gross, that had been an impediment to normalized relations.

President Obama does the wave with Raul Castro at a baseball game in Cuba
The Obama Administration apparently ignored the mysterious attacks that began in November of 2016 at the U.S. Embassy in Havana when 24 American diplomats and their dependents suffered severe injuries, including brain trauma.

On the human rights front the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy was also a disaster. The suspicious deaths of human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (2012), and Harold Cepero Escalante (2012) is a terrifying alternative to the long prison sentences that the Castro regime would use to take opposition leaders out of circulation, as was the case in 2003, during the Bush administration.

Some of the Cubans killed by the Castro regime during the Obama years
Over the eight years of the previous Administration (January 2009 through January 2017) high profile activists met untimely deaths that appear to have been carried by Castro's state security service. The same spy agency that President Obama's October 2016 Presidential Directive on Cuba orders the CIA to share intelligence with.

The number of politically motivated arbitrary detentions documented by the Havana based, Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation since 2008 demonstrates a dramatic rise in repression between 2008 and 2016, that spiked dramatically in the year of the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy announcement in 2014 from 6,424 arbitrary detentions in 2013 to 8,899 in 2014. This also occurred with troubling incidents of violence by regime agents.

 During President Obama's last year in office the number of arbitrary detentions reached their highest number since 2010 with 9,940 arbitrary detentions. Despite this, on his way out of office in January 2017, President Obama closed the door on Cuban refugees.

Under Trump's first year a dramatic reduction in arbitrary detentions in Cuba
During 2017 there were 5,155 Cubans arbitrarily detained, and although still far too high, it is a dramatic improvement over 2016. There are still prisoners of conscience enduring horrid and dangerous conditions in Cuban prisons and dissenters sent to psychiatric institutions for punishment.

However in the area of religious freedom. Things have gotten worse in Cuba. "From January to December 2017 Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recorded 325 separate violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba. Christians across a wide range of denominations were affected. Many of these cases involved large numbers of victims. By comparison, CSW reported 220 FoRB violations in Cuba in 2014, 180 in 2013, 120 in 2012 and 40 in 2011."

Overall the changes in tone and substance by the current Administration, so far, have been an improvement over the previous failed policy of the prior Administration that scrapped an old policy that was containing the regime, replacing it with one that legitimized the dictatorship, marginalized democrats, and negatively impacted U.S. interests.

The Trump Administration has taken positive steps, with its policy changes on Cuba, but more needs to be done.

1 comment:

  1. The Trump administration has not rescinded Obama's Cuba policy. Trump has the power to do so, but he has not. His Cuba policy is not much different from Obama's. The supposed changes were cosmetic. None of his initiatives do much to stem the flow of money to Castros' military. We must remember that Trump has a financial stake in U.S. businesses such as Marriot, Google and the cruise lines that continue to operate in Cuba unmolested. Trump's "new" Cuba policy continues to contravene the Cuba Democracy Act, the Helms -Burton Act and the Cuban Adjustment Act. So Cuban exiles are back to square one. How Cuban exiles allowed themselves to be deceived by an unscrupulous, pathological liar is beyond my comprehension. Freedom rests on the integrity and good character of its people and leaders. Unfortunately, and distressingly, the current president does not possess these attributes. The nation has gone astray. As much as we want Cuba to be free, we cannot betray our moral convictions, and close our eyes to the terrible harm Trump is inflicting upon the USA and our democratic principles. There is chaos and corruption in the White House. I pray for the USA. I pray for the Cuban people.