CUBA BRIEF: Trump Set To Roll Back Obama’s Cuba Policies, Manuel Noriega, Dictator Ousted by U.S. in Panama, Dies at 83

The Federalist, May 30, 2017

President Trump Is Right To Undo Obama’s Cuba Coddling

By David Marcus

The central premise of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy was that, deep down, everyone on earth shares the same values. It is a gracious, humble, and optimistic way of perceiving the world. Under this precept, any opening of commerce and diplomacy can only be positive. Looking the other way at human rights abuses is just the cost of doing business. After all, who is the United States to talk?

This was the grand, pacifistic, and self-deprecatory basis upon which the United States under Obama loosened its half-century-old economic embargo on Communist Cuba. The purpose of the embargo, so long ago, was to isolate in the Western Hemisphere a nation dedicated to a murderous ideology. The genocides of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong was not some accident of Marxism gone wrong. It was Marxism, exactly as intended.

This is why the Trump administration is wise to repeal Obama’s gift to the repressive Cuban government, for which he received nothing in return. The Cuban state still represses speech and throws critics in prison. It still controls the lives and economic opportunities of all its subjects—because, let’s be clear, they aren’t citizens.

The United States relaxed the travel and business sanctions against Cuba for one reason, and one reason alone: Obama felt America had become too big for its britches. He wanted to stop the bullying and moralizing about capitalism and democracy, and enter a world in which freedom is relative. After all, maybe the humble Cuban folk are happy in their lot.

But here is the problem. When you travel to Cuba, hoping to bring your dollars to a struggling people, the struggling people don’t get your dollars. Instead, your dollars are exchanged into a convertible Cuban currency that you can spend in Cuba, and support those shopkeepers with, but which has no relative value. It’s a restricted currency, because the moment a Cuban owns it, it becomes property of the state.

The only things that can sustain communist regimes are terror and external support. Cuba has always has plenty of both. It was the jewel in the Soviet Western crown, an island paradise. Yet for half a century boats teeming with refugees that often sank beneath their weight sought desperately the shores of Florida. We welcomed them. The Obama regulations reversed that. Trump is wise to restore that beacon of freedom.

President Trump has declared war on the media. The media abides. The administration and the media can spar. Each side is accusing the other of threatening democracy, or America, or whatever. It’s theater. It’s politics. But nobody is going to jail or being tortured. Trump hasn’t thrown dissidents in prison, the Castros have. So who are the heroes and who are the villains?

Why should we open up to Cuba when it continues to oppress its people in horrible ways? Why must we succumb to relativism, when we know the Cuban regime is terrorizing its own people? Maybe it takes a Donald Trump to make this clear.

Maybe the great capitalist, the Baron of Brand, is exactly the person we need to show how Cuba’s negligent Marxist policies lead to a failing economy and a country defined by a storied and long-gone nightlife and a few great baseball players who fled.

As president, Obama’s motto was “America is at fault.” And, look, America has been at fault at times. We are not a perfect society, and it’s important that we understand our shortcomings. But the Castros throw journalists in jail. They torture them without important discussions on NPR and PBS about the relative value of torture. We don’t.

Cuba is a keystone. It’s the earliest link between Europe and the New World. It irks the free world that this keystone hews to Putinist, pro-communist apologies about freedom. If Trump is a Russian puppet, he sure didn’t show it by punishing communist Cuba. If anything, it’s a thumb in Comrade Putin’s eye. Hopefully, it will be one of many from a president who might not be as enamored of the Russian bear as everyone thinks.

David Marcus is a senior contributor to the Federalist and the Artistic Director of Blue Box World, a Brooklyn based theater project. Follow him on Twitter, @BlueBoxDave.


The Daily Caller, 5/29/17

EXCLUSIVE: Trump Set To Roll Back Obama’s Cuba Policies

By Alex Pfeiffer


President Donald Trump is set to announce a rollback of former President Barack Obama’s policies toward Cuba, The Daily Caller has learned.

Two sources told TheDC that the development is due to the behind-the-scenes efforts of Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

This information coming from an anti-embargo group, which spoke on the condition of anonymity, was confirmed Sunday by John Kavulich of the nonpartisan U.S. – Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “The Trump Administration has been ‘ready’ since February 2017 to announce changes, but issues unrelated to Cuba have intervened,” Kavulich said.

Former President Obama worked to enact several changes to Cuban policy during his tenure in office. He ended the policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” that gave Cuban illegal immigrants a path to legal status, opened travel to the island nation, re-established diplomatic relations and loosened restrictions on doing business in the country.

These moves were applauded along bipartisan lines, but Cuban hardliners weren’t pleased. Trump himself has been on both sides of the issue. He told TheDC in 2015 that the “concept of opening with Cuba is fine,” but on the campaign trail he threatened to “terminate” deals that the Obama administration made with Cuba.

The campaign trail rhetoric carried over into the administration, as Trump said in a February press conference that he has “very similar views” on Cuba as Sen. Rubio.

His administration launched a “full review” of Cuban policy, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer told TheDC Sunday that there “are no updates on this issue at this time.”

Rubio and Rep. Diaz-Balart, however, have been publicly confident that Trump will bring back hardline policies against Cuba. The National Journal reported Wednesdaythat Diaz-Balart said he is “1,000 percent sure the president is going to deliver on his commitment.”

“I have no doubt that you’re going to see in short order a different policy,” the Cuban-American legislator added. Rubio tweeted in March that he is “quite confident” Trump will “treat [Cuba] like a dictatorship.”

The Florida senator also told El Nuevo Herald, “We’ve been walking through all these issues with the president and his team, figuring out the right steps to take and when.”

Sen. Menendez has not spoken on the topic since Trump became president, and a spokeswoman told TheDC she is unaware of these concessions from the Trump administration.

Diaz-Balart’s office did not respond to a media inquiry about behind-the-scenes work with the Trump administration, and a Rubio spokesman said he can’t provide TheDC with “anything at this time.”

The anti-embargo group told TheDC that Trump will announce these changes in a June speech in Miami. The White House also refused to confirm or deny this.

Kavulich said that the administration will enact “increased enforcement relating to travel,” and “a focus upon discouraging transactions with entities controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) of the Republic of Cuba.”

Starwood Hotels & Resorts International currently has a hotel under management that is owned by a company controlled by the FAR, according to Kavulich.

The move to enact stricter policies toward Cuba will likely land the president criticism from several of his Republican colleagues. A bill introduced by Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake Thursday to remove all travel restrictions with Cuba has nine Republican cosponsors.

“Recognizing the inherent right of Americans to travel to Cuba isn’t a concession to dictators, it is an expression of freedom,” Sen. Flake said in a statement. “It is Americans who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban government.”


The New York Times, May 30, 2017

Trump Administration Nearing Completion of Cuba Policy Review: Sources


WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is nearing completion of a policy review to determine how far it goes in rolling back former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba and could make an announcement next month, according to current and former U.S. officials and people familiar with the discussions.

President Donald Trump’s advisers are crafting recommendations that could call for tightening some of the trade and travel rules that Obama eased in his rapprochement with Havana but which are expected to stop short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility, the sources said.

The policy review, coordinated by the National Security Council, is expected pick up steam now that Trump has returned from his first foreign trip, one administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump threatened in a tweet shortly after his election in November to “terminate” Obama’s approach unless Cuba made significant concessions,

The White House said in February that Cuba policy was under comprehensive review and that human rights on the island would be a major part of any revised strategy.

Obama implemented his Cuba normalization measures through executive actions that bypassed Congress, and Trump is believed to have the power to undo much of it with the stroke of a pen. [More]



The New York Times, May 30, 2017

Manuel Noriega, Dictator Ousted by U.S. in Panama, Dies at 83


Manuel Antonio Noriega, the brash former dictator of Panama and sometime ally of the United States whose ties to drug trafficking led to his ouster in 1989 in what was then the largest American military action since the Vietnam War, has died. He was 83.

President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama announced Mr. Noriega’s death on Twitter early Tuesday morning.

Mr. Varela’s post read, “The death of Manuel A. Noriega closes a chapter in our history; his daughters and his relatives deserve to bury him in peace.”

Mr. Noriega died around 11 p.m. Monday at Santo Tomás Hospital in Panama City, a hospital employee confirmed. An official cause of death was not immediately available.

Mr. Noriega had been in intensive care since March 7 after complications developed from surgery to remove what his lawyer described as a benign brain tumor. His daughters told reporters at the hospital in March that he had had a brain hemorrhage after the procedure. He had been granted house arrest in January to prepare for the operation.

His medical problems came on the heels of a legal odyssey that had begun with the invasion and led to prison terms in the United States, France and finally Panama. While imprisoned abroad he suffered strokes, hypertension and other ailments, his lawyers said.

After returning to Panama on Dec. 11, 2011, he began serving long sentences for murder, embezzlement and corruption in connection with his rule during the 1980s.

It was an inglorious homecoming for a man who had been known for brandishing a machete while making defiant nationalist speeches and living a lavish, libertine life off drug-trade riches, complete with luxurious mansions, cocaine-fueled parties and voluminous collections of antique guns. It was a quirky life as well: He liked to display his teddy bears dressed as paratroopers.

Playing Both Sides

Mr. Noriega, who became the de facto leader of the country by promoting himself to full general of the armed forces in 1983, had a decades-long, head-spinning relationship with the United States, shifting from cooperative ally and informant for American drug and intelligence agencies to shady adversary, selling secrets to political enemies of the United States in the Western Hemisphere and tipping off drug cartels. Whose side he was on was often hard to tell.

It was an awkward embrace that befitted the history of American and Panamanian relations since the United States built the Panama Canal early in the 20th century. The United States continued to operate the canal — and govern a strip of territory alongside it — for eight decades before turning it over to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999.

In the 1990 book “In the Time of the Tyrants,” a chronicle of the Noriega years, the journalists Richard M. Koster and Guillermo Sánchez Borbón gave a startling example of Mr. Noriega’s double-dealing. While providing secrets about Cuba to the United States, they wrote, Mr. Noriega sold Fidel Castro thousands of Panamanian passports, at $5,000 each, for use by Cuban secret agents and possibly agents of other Soviet bloc nations.

The authors estimated that his illicit gains came to at least $772 million. (The White House put his personal fortune at $200 million to $300 million in the months before his ouster.)

“He craved power and became a tyrant,” Mr. Koster and Mr. Sánchez wrote in laying out Mr. Noriega’s ultimate undoing. “He craved wealth and became a criminal. And the careers came in conflict.”

Mr. Noriega’s two-facedness was known to the American authorities. But they saw him as useful in their efforts to maintain influence in Panama at a time of political instability and leftist uprisings in Central America. He provided, for one thing, an important listening post in the region. [More]