President Trump released new regulations that implement his Cuba policy this week, a follow-up to his campaign promise to end his predecessor Barack Obama’s failed approach of appeasing the Castro regime.
Trump’s new regulations reorient the policy in the right direction. As such, the president should consider further steps should situation on the island not improve.
In remarks given in June, the president declared:
The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people — they only enrich the Cuban regime. The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry. The outcome of the last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement.
President Trump’s regulations finally closed the loopholes Obama created that allowed for violations of the embargo and the U.S.’s tourism ban. Specifically, the new rules restrict commercial engagement with Cuban military and security apparatus by banning business entities under their control.
Facts clearly demonstrate that President Obama’s policy of unilateral engagement largely served to empower and legitimize the Castro regime at the expense of the Cuban people. The Obama administration issued numerous executive decrees overriding existing law, never once asking for the Castro regime to change its repressive behavior. While the White House paved the way for big business interests, the regime was granted carte blanche to suppress human rights activists.
Last year alone, the Cuban government arrested nearly 10,000 of them, including members of religious groups. Christian organizations routinely report the spike in religious persecution on the island, including detentions and government seizure of property.
Trump should expand his policies to further contain this outrageous state behavior. For starters, if a key component of Trump’s strategy is depriving the military of resources, the President should restrict engagement with the Ministry of Tourism. Cuba’s military-run tourism industry is a top source of revenue for the regime.
From a broader policy perspective, the President should be wary of bureaucratic resistance, particularly at the State Department, slow rolling his agenda. From day one of his administration, elements of the bureaucracy at the State Department have undermined his efforts on Venezuela and now on Cuba. In order to address this problem, the administration must continue filling key foreign policy roles.
Moving forward, the president should develop a strategy to deal with outstanding debt to nearly 6,000 Americans. Valued at $8 billion, the Castro regime’s illegal theft of Americans money and assets is the largest seizure of American property by a foreign government in history. Trump has an opportunity to correct this injustice.
Another potential landmine the White House should keep its eye one is the regulation’s expansion of allowable exports to Cuba’s “private sector.” Economic freedom is virtually nonexistent in the communist style government run by a military dictatorship. In order to rent rooms in their home, drive a cab, or even repair electronics, Cubans must seek a license from the government. Depriving the political opposition of economic resources is a tried and true strategy of the Castro regime. By referring to grantees of entrepreneurial licenses as the private sector, the Trump administration runs the risk of accepting Obama’s flawed legal basis for undermining U.S. law.
State Department bureaucracy is not the only threat to Trump’s agenda. The little known U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) receives over $15 million annually from Congress for programs specifically related to Cuba. To date, many of these programs are still operating to serve the Obama administration’s priorities, a problem that should quickly be addressed.
President Trump has a unique opportunity to change the destiny of 11 million Cuban deprived of freedom. It is also a chance for the U.S. to change its focus from empowering the Castro regime to supporting the democratic forces on the island. These new regulations help start that momentum.
Ana Quintana is a policy analyst on Latin America and the Western Hemisphere at The Heritage Foundation.