CUBA BRIEF: Will Trump condemn providing dollars to the Cuban military tomorrow? Cuban Americans speak out ahead of Trump’s Little Havana visit, Reversal a victory for freedom

CubaBrief:  “My administration’s policy will be guided by key U.S. national security interests and solidarity with the Cuban people,” according to a draft of President Trump’s directive to be issued tomorrow. According to Politico, the President is also reviewing what to do about GAESA, the business arm of the Cuban military that receives millions from American tourists visiting the island. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) are said to have had major input into President Trump’s Cuba policy. The article follows:  


Politico, June 15, 2017

Trump to clamp down on Cuba travel and trade

The president’s policy, set to be issued Friday, will roll back Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with the island.

By Marc Caputo and Daniel Ducassi

Making good on a campaign pledge, President Donald Trump on Friday will announce a significant rollback of former President Barack Obama’s accord with Cuba by clearly banning tourist travel to the island, restating the importance of the 56-year-old trade embargo with the island and instituting a broad prohibition on financial transactions with companies significantly controlled by the Communist government’s military, according to a draft version of the directive obtained by POLITICO.

The administration says its goal is to put an end to business transactions that financially benefit the Castro regime while the Cuban people get little in return.

“My administration’s policy will be guided by key U.S. national security interests and solidarity with the Cuban people,” the draft of the five-point, eight-page Presidential Policy Directive reads. “I will seek to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. To that end, we must ensure that U.S. funds are not channeled to a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society.”

For American tourists, Trump’s policy means that the days of drinking Havana Club rum in a Havana club will likely soon be over.

Under a strict interpretation of the directive, an American probably can’t even stay in an Old Havana hotel or use a tour service because they’re run or controlled by Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A., or GAESA, the business arm of the Cuban military that controls a vast swath of the country’s economy, including most of Cuba’s foreign-run hotels. The prohibition includes any subsidiaries or affiliated companies, along with certain other state-controlled entities.

“The policy the Trump administration is announcing regarding Cuba based on President Trump’s core conviction that what the Cuban exile community is asking for is right and just,” the White House said in a written statement to POLITICO. “The oppressors of the Cuban people are the Cuban government who have increased repression on the island against dissidents and Ladies in White since reestablishing diplomatic relations. Prior to that, it was not clear to some if the Obama policy toward Cuba would work; today it is clear that the Obama policy toward Cuba does not.”

The GAESA concept was proposed in a bill in 2015 by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and other Cuba hardliners. The bill went nowhere but the two, especially Rubio, urged Trump to adopt it as a centerpiece of the policy that he is scheduled to announce Friday at a Miami theater that bears the name of Manuel Artime, a leader of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Castro.

A Bay of Pigs veterans group endorsed Trump a week before the election. In return, people familiar with the president’s decision-making said, Trump wanted to make good on his promise to crack down on Cuba.

“This is a new way to enforce the old embargo,” said John S. Kavulich, president of U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. He estimates that 60 percent of the total Cuban economy is under GAESA’s authority and as much as 80 percent of the tourism economy is controlled by the military-run holding company.

For U.S.-based companies such as the Marriott-owned Starwood Hotels, the Trump policy could mean the cancellation of its special U.S. government license – obtained last year under the Obama administration – allowing it to sign a deal with GAESA giving it management over a historic Havana hotel.

The directive instructs the Secretary of the Treasury to consult with the Commerce Department to promulgate new rules 90 days after the presidential policy directive is issued Friday.

Paying for goods and services from Cuba’s small class of independent entrepreneurs, known as “cuentapropistas” who often run small cafes or inns out of their own homes, will be permitted.

While tourism to Cuba is banned by federal law, the Obama administration had been allowing people to travel to Cuba and spend money as part of “people to people” educational trips for visitors who plan a full itinerary of educational exchange activities, though there had been little to no enforcement of these requirements.

The Trump administration is stepping up requirements on those sorts of trips, requiring a full-time schedule of activities that “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that the travel must result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler” and Cubans, according to the draft. Travelers to Cuba will have to keep detailed records of all their financial transactions in the country for five years to make available to the Treasury Department if requested.

The president is also directing the Treasury secretary to regularly audit Cuba travel to make sure U.S. travelers are following the rules on avoiding GAESA-linked transactions. Anyone who travels to Cuba, however, might be able to stay at an Airbnb or eat at independent restaurant, although that interpretation is not clearly spelled out in the draft order. But those who go to the island under a U.S. license will need to keep strict notes proving they’re complying with the new executive order – or face fines.

“The airlines might complain that they will see less demand for travel because travelers can no longer spend money at the military-run properties. But whatever reduction we do see in travel is direct proof of how much the military is benefiting from the current policy,” Rubio told POLITICO. ““The pro-engagement groups point to the expansion of privately owned small business as a major defense of the current policy. This new policy helps them. It puts these private businesses at an advantage, because Americans can only spend money with them, not the military monopoly.”

Rubio said the proposal shifts the onus to the Cuban government to give its citizens the right to prosper without government interference. Rubio, Diaz-Balart and the Trump administration say Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba opened markets more but enriched the military-run government, not the Cuban people. And repression, meanwhile, increased.

But there’s still healthy skepticism that a crackdown on spending on the island will actually lead to regime change or a substantial improvement of the human rights situation when a decades long embargo has already failed to do so.

“No matter what President Trump may decide, the net impact on Cuba’s decision making on human rights issues will probably be nil,” said Mark Entwistle, a former Canadian ambassador to Cuba who now advises Canadian and American companies on doing business there.

The new policy targets state officials, significantly expanding which Cuban government officials are subject to certain financial sanctions, such as being barred from having a U.S. bank account. That previously included not just members of the Cuban cabinet and high-level military officers, but will also now include ministers and vice ministers, top leadership for all Cuban ministries and state agencies, the top leaders of the party-controlled labor union confederation, employees of the Ministry of the Interior (which controls the state security force), employees of the Ministry of Defense, members and employees of the national assembly (as well as members of any provincial assembly), editors of state-run media, and justices and employees of Cuba’s highest court.

The Justice Department will be required to issue a report to the president within 90 days on American fugitives living in Cuba. Perhaps the most famous example is Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur, also known as JoAnne Chesimard, who was convicted in the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, among other crimes. She escaped from prison, and after five years on the lam, fled to Cuba in 1984.

In what may presage a funding a request for more money for regime change efforts, the Secretary of State and the head of USAID are directed to review all of the U.S. democracy development programs in Cuba to make sure they line up with federal law.

There will be some other exceptions for spending money in Cuba, though few that would apply to anyone visiting for pleasure. Still allowed will be spending related to U.S. government operations on the island, such as the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and the diplomatic mission on the island, and spending that supports programs aimed at building democracy in Cuba or further U.S. interests and certain transactions with airports and seaports dealing with travel and trade, such as docking and landing fees.

Purchasing visas, too, will be permitted for those who are allowed to travel to Cuba. Transactions related to the sale of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices— exceptions to the embargo that have already been carved out in U.S. law—will still be okay.

And remittances from Cubans living in the U.S. will also still be allowed.

The changes won’t be a complete roll back of the normalization of relations pursued under the Obama administration. The U.S. embassy in Havana will remain open as an embassy, as opposed to its precursor, the “U.S. Interests Section.”

The Trump administration also won’t be reinstating the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which gave safe haven to Cuban refugees who successfully reached American shores, on the basis that it encouraged Cubans to make the perilous journey across the Florida Straits. In January, the Obama administration ended the policy, which faced criticism for giving preferential treatment to Cubans over other immigrants.


WSVN (Channel 7 Miami), June 15, 2017

Cuban Americans speak out ahead of Trump’s Little Havana visit

MIAMI (WSVN) – South Florida’s Cuban-American community sounded off on President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Little Havana, where he is expected to announce changes to the current U.S. policy with Cuba.

The commander in chief is expected to make the announcement at the Manuel Artime Theater, located at 900 SW 1st Ave., Friday afternoon. How big the changes in policy will be, however, remains to be seen.

The event comes nearly two years after the U.S. and Cuba formally restored relations, an occasion marked by the reopening of a U.S. embassy in Havana, on July 20, 2015.

Trump has been a longtime critic of the Obama administration’s dealings with the Castro regime. “They don’t know how to make a good deal. They wouldn’t know how to make a good deal if it was staring them in the face,” said Trump during a campaign appearance in Little Havana, weeks before he was elected.

The theater where Trump will be making his policy speech was named after the political leader of Brigade 2506 in the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba. 

Those veterans said they are looking forward to hearing from the commander in chief.

“For the first time, a president is coming to Miami to talk about the Cuban issue,” said Humberto Diaz Arguelles, president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.

Frank Calzon, the president of the nonprofit Center for a Free Cuba, insisted the current policy is not working as they continue to strive for freedom and human rights for the people of a communist nation. “We would like the president to cut off any relationship between the American intelligence services and the Cuban intelligence services,” he said.

There are also those who oppose any plan that would close doors and take away tourism dollars. “These people are benefitting greatly, not only from Americans spending money, but sharing their ideas with them,” said Collin Laverty, founder and president of Cuba Educational Travel.

Trump is expected to tighten travel restrictions and make moves to put pressure on the Castro regime.

“You’ll definitely see some changes or provisions. They’re trying to stop the funding of the Cuban military,” said WSVN political analyst Brian Fonseca.

The president’s plan is backed by South Florida Republican leaders. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are expected to join Trump on Friday. “Tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people,” said Rubio.

Rubio said the changes will be a step in the right direction. “It’s a better deal for the Cuban people, which is who we’re trying to help here, by empowering them, and doing so in a way that does not empower their oppressors,” he said.

Friday’s event is expected to begin at 1 p.m.

Copyright 2017 Sunbeam Television Corp.


The Washington Examiner, June 15, 2017              

Trump’s expected reversal on Cuba is a victory for freedom

by Erich Reimer | Jun 15, 2017, 12:01 AM

President Trump is expected this Friday to reverse the Obama administration’s policy of opening up political and economic relations with Cuba. Thanks in part to the advocacy of Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, America will likely return to a policy that allows us to exert our political, moral, and economic strength to push for freedom and human rights in an authoritarian regime just a hundred miles from America’s shores.

It has already been over half a year since Fidel Castro passed away at age 90 as a seemingly out-of-place historical icon, with a peace that few of his victims knew. Just like when Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez passed away in 2013 or North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il in 2011, there was briefly a flash of hope that this would be an opportunity for the repressive police state and command economy to finally unravel itself.

Yet Cuba continues to remain an authoritarian regime that has little room for freedom of any kind, whether political, economic, religious, or otherwise. For America to reward a regime that has steadfastly refused to move in the direction of freedom with sudden political and economic legitimacy would be a surrender of the moral struggle we’ve waged with Cuba for the past half-century.

Proponents of President Obama’s Cuba-opening policy cite precedent in how America has regularly established relations with authoritarian regimes, including Communist ones such as China and Vietnam and otherwise. Proponents further cite the theory that increased interrelation pushes authoritarian nations to slowly edge towards human rights and international cooperation.

Yet it would be difficult to back up such claims with historical examples. Nations such as Vietnam and China are deeply immersed in the world economic system, yet their human rights abuses continue just as frequently as before. In fact, often our ability to condemn such abuses becomes limited because of how deep our economic interrelation now is with them.

With no change in human rights in Cuba, American dollars will be spent funding authoritarian repression and a regime that has historically supported insurrectionism across Latin America and the world against America’s interests. That tarnishes America’s moral authority in exchange for a small economic gain.

We see in a nation like Venezuela how the socialist regime has been able to survive in large part because of foreign financing and aid. While Cuba continues to slog on economically, nonetheless by establishing economic relations with the regime it is almost certain it will never collapse economically of its own accord. In a terrible irony, America would be indirectly subsidizing socialist repression.

Lastly, while America has in the past opened up to nations such as China and Yugoslavia, those decisions were based significantly due to incredible geopolitical concerns at the time due to the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s threat. There is no current excruciating geopolitical situation that demands that we must make the difficult decision of compromising our commitment to freedom and opening up to Cuba.

Furthermore, the same argument for establishing relations with Cuba could very well be applied to a nation like North Korea. North Korea differs from Cuba by degree, not by type. North Korea’s repression reaches a level beyond even the tastes of the Cuban regime, but nonetheless once a rationale is embraced that so easily puts aside our commitment to human dignity, that is the natural end.

America has stood firmly on the side of freedom for the Cuban people for over half a century. Our strong stand against Cuba’s regime has been undoubtedly a bulwark in preventing socialist repression from spreading across South America, as was a real concern during the Cold War.

President Trump and Senator Rubio are wise and right in continuing to push the cause of liberty in Cuba. While it may be a long time before the Cuban people see freedom, we cannot abandon their cause so easily.

Erich Reimer is a Republican activist and freelance writer.


SFWeekly, June 14, 2017

Cubaist Portrait

Habitually detained by Cuban authorities, Tania Bruguera’s art combines performance with activism. She’s even running for president (although she will not win.)

The Cuban police and officials who have interrogated Tania Bruguera — and who continue to interrogate her whenever she’s on the island — resort to grossly Kafkaesque questioning, which shows how desperate they are to intimidate and discredit the performance artist.

A Cuban native, Bruguera is an internationally acclaimed political artist whose C.V., which stretches back 30 years, includes a Guggenheim fellowship; big exhibits at the Venice Biennale, Tate Modern, and the National Museum Wales; and plaudits from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which called her “one of the foremost figures in contemporary art” when it bought one of her video works.

But authorities say Bruguera isn’t a real artist. They’ve even said this to her face when, via her own Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism, she tried to deliver food, mattresses, and money to an area hit hard by Hurricane Matthew.

Essentially, Bruguera is banned from doing art in Cuba. Cuban authorities consider Bruguera persona non grata because her performances — in Havana and elsewhere — have criticized the government’s policies and treatment of its own people, inspiring other Cuban citizens to speak out, too. [More]