New travel rules will not reform Cuba
It isn't a complete return to Cold War tensions, but President Donald Trump's tough talk last week about Cuba is not a productive way to end political repression or reform the island's tattered economy.
The president struck the wrong tone when he told Cuban-Americans in Miami that he is canceling the Obama administration's "completely one-sided deal with Cuba" to force Cuba's leaders to end crackdowns on political dissent, promote free speech and improve the island's economics.
Although it is only a partial rollback of Barack Obama's policy and impacts mostly travel thus far, the president is doubling down on decades of failing hard-line attempts to isolate and topple the repressive Cuban regime.
We've seen this play before and the ending is predictable and unproductive. Trotting out some Cold War rhetoric, Trump announced a ban on American travel to Cuba as private citizens and imposed requirements that larger groups jump through hoops to travel there. Fifty years of hard-line isolationist policies didn't topple the Castro government; a return now will not produce better results.
Since Obama and the Castro regime restored diplomatic ties in 2015, American companies have enjoyed new investment opportunities, and private citizens have taken advantage of the travel benefits. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a conservative governor in a conservative state, visited the socialist island in 2015, announcing a desire to work with Cuban leaders and businesses "to find ways that Texas can capitalize on the growing economic opportunity."
Normalization of relations with Cuba has widespread support among almost every group, with the exception of Miami's Cuban exile community. A Pew Research Poll conducted two years ago found that 63 percent of Americans applauded Obama for resuming diplomatic relations. Another poll showed that 97 percent of Cubans favored normalized relations.
Cuba has begun to decentralize agriculture, relax restrictions on small businesses and real estate, expand access to consumer goods, and develop a private sector. Google, Airbnb, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Airlines and other companies already have or are considering investments in Cuba.
Trump's travel restrictions complicate those decisions, hurt working-class Cubans who need foreign currency, and run the risk of pushing the Cuban government leadership away from closer economic ties to the United States. Cuba had expressed a willingness to negotiate other issues, but its tone toughened after Trump unveiled the new policy. The U.S. is "not in the condition to lecture us" on human rights abuses, said a prepared statement from Cuba.
So far, embassies in Washington and Havana will remain open. Direct flights between the United States and Cuba will continue. Cuban-Americans will still be able to send money to relatives on the island and travel there.
Times have changed. U.S. policy should make it easier for companies and individuals to normalize relations with Cuba, not turn back the clock. We look forward to the day when all aspects of the embargo against Cuba are lifted.
Dallas Morning News, June 21, 2017