Closing the door to Cuba would be a grave mistake
US president Donald Trump has announced that his administration will implement new restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, effectively reversing Barack Obama’s attempts to normalise relations between the two nations.
When Obama went to Cuba last year, it was the first visit by an American president to Cuba in nearly a century. It followed on from two years of secret negotiations between Cuba and the US. In 2014, the White House announced that travel, trade and diplomatic relations would begin to be re-established. In 2015, the US removed the Cuban government from the official US list of state sponsors of terrorism, and that same year the US re-opened its embassy in Havana, closed since 1961, and Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington.
These moves were more symbolic than concrete. Only Congress has the authority to lift the embargo, which has been in place since the Cuban revolution. While travel and trade between the US and Cuba have increased, and direct commercial flights have been reintroduced, progress in Congress has been slow. A number of bills have been introduced addressing various aspects of the embargo but have not received enough support to pass. Nonetheless, this change in approach to Cuba, made by the Obama administration in the face of a largely hostile Congress, was of great historic importance.
Trump has said that he will attempt to reverse some of the relaxations in travel and trade that Obama implemented. While direct commercial flights will not be suspended, nor will the embassies be shut, there will be tighter restrictions on travel. Tourism to Cuba is still technically banned by the US, but there are 12 categories of permitted travel. And, in addition, Obama allowed ‘people to people’ trips, meaning, in practice, people could travel to Cuba as tourists, which thousands of Americans have been doing. Trump has stated that money spent in Cuba must not benefit the military or the state security services, and that reversing the Obama detente will help tackle Cuba’s repressive politics and human-rights abuses.
Leaving aside the fact that the US supports and arms Saudi Arabia (one of the most repressive regimes in the world and the largest funder of Islamist groups), the simple fact is that this decades-old blockade has done nothing for Cubans other than impoverish them further. The move towards normalising relations between the two nations was one of a handful of rational and humane foreign-policy decisions made by the Obama administration. It should not be reversed.
Tara McCormack is a lecturer in international politics at the University of Leicester. She is author of Critique, Security and Power: The Political Limits to Critical and Emancipatory Approaches to Security, published by Routledge. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)
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