Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Trump's new position provokes anxiety

Published:Thursday | September 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this March 21, 2016 file photo, Cuban President Raul Castro, right, lifts up the arm of President Barack Obama at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Palace of the Revolution, in Havana, Cuba in March. Donald Trump's pledge to undo Obama's detente with Cuba is provoking widespread anxiety among ordinary Cubans.


Donald Trump's threat to undo President Barack Obama's detente with Cuba unless President Ra?l Castro abides by Trump's list of demands is provoking widespread anxiety among ordinary Cubans, who were paying little attention to the United States (US) presidential campaign until now.

Trump had been generally supportive of Obama's re-establishment of diplomatic ties and normalisation of relations, saying he thought detente was "fine" although he would have cut a better deal.

Then, in Miami on Friday, the Republican nominee said he would reverse Obama's series of executive orders unless Castro meets demands including "religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners". Castro said in a speech the following day that Cuba "will not renounce a single one of its principles," reiterating a long-standing rejection of any US pressure.

While Hillary Clinton maintains an electoral college advantage, Cubans are suddenly envisioning the possibility of a US president who would undo measures popular among virtually everyone on the island.

While the detente announced on December 17, 2014 has had limited direct impact on most ordinary Cubans, it has created feelings of optimism about a future of civil relations with Cuba's giant neighbour to the north. An Univision-Washington Post poll of 1,200 Cubans taken in March 2015 found that 97 per cent supported detente.

For most ordinary people in a country that's had only two leaders over nearly six decades, and where the president's word is law, Trump's unexpected reversal was a reminder that a single election might wipe away those closer ties.

Still, some Cuban experts on relations with the US saw the candidate as merely pandering to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in South Florida, and don't believe a President Trump would follow through with his campaign pledge.

Hillary Clinton has declared her support for continuing Obama's policy, which has reopened the US Embassy, re-established direct flights and removed Cuba from a list of state terror sponsors. It also has done away with most limits on cash remittances from the US and increased cooperation on topics ranging from law enforcement to public health.

Obama has worked hard to make the opening irreversible by building popular and corporate support at home. In Cuba, the government has welcomed some new ties, like scientific cooperation and commercial flights. It has stalled on others, like ferries from Florida. Some observers believe that's because Castro's government fears building ties that a hostile future US administration could use in the interests of regime change.