Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cuban Perspective on Trump

Top diplomatic negotiator in Cuba warns Trump: 'aggression doesn't work'

Exclusive: Josefina Vidal, who has led the island’s negotiating team since 2013, says Cuba will not be cowed by the incoming president’s bluster and threats
Donald Trump has threatened to undo efforts by Barack Obama to normalise diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US. 

Helen Yaffe in Havana and Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent

Tuesday 17 January 2017 04.00 EST Last modified on Tuesday 17 January 2017 04.02 EST

Senior Cuban negotiators say the island will not be cowed by intimidation and bluster from Donald Trump, despite the incoming US president’s threat to rekindle Cold War animosities.

“Aggression, pressure, conditions, impositions do not work with Cuba. This is not the way to attempt to have even a minimally civilised relationship with Cuba,”Josefina Vidal, a foreign ministry department head, told the Guardian.

Cuba’s wait-and-see approach is guided by Trump’s unpredictability – and the knowledge that all previous 11 US administrations held talks with representatives from Havana despite the often hawkish public rhetoric coming from Washington.

Vidal has led the island’s negotiating team with the US since 2013, including 18 months of secret discussions, facilitated by Canada and the Vatican, that led to the joint announcement by Cuban president Raúl Castro and Barack Obama on 17 December 2014 of a normalisation of diplomatic relations.

Trump has warned that he is prepared to undo that progress. During the US election campaign, he told an audience of right wing Cuban-exiles in Miami that “all of the concessions that Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order which means the next president can reverse them and that is exactly what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands”.

But Cuban officials say that they plan to wait for action rather than words because Trump has repeatedly flip-flopped on the issue of rapprochement – and also put his business interests above his country’s laws.

During the campaign, it emerged that Trump sent his corporate representatives to Cuba in 1998, and again in the 2000s to probe for openings, in violation of the US trade embargo. Three months after launching his campaign to become the Republican party candidate, Trump was the only GOP contender to express a positive opinion of the reopening of bilateral relations, saying “the concept of opening with Cuba is fine”.

Trump’s transition team includes several figures linked to Cuban-American groups which take a hard line on Cuba, advocating the continuation of the US blockade and an end to rapprochement.

Dr Yleem Poblete has been named to Trump’s National Security Council “landing team”, lawyer John Barsa, to the Department of Homeland Security and lawyer Mauricio Claver-Carone advisor to the treasury department. Claver-Carone is executive director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC and among the fiercest opponents of Obama’s Cuba policy.

But Vidal says it is “‘too early” to predict which path the new administration will follow. “There are also other functionaries, businessmen, that Trump has named, including in government roles, who are in favour of business with Cuba, people who think that the US will benefit from cooperation with Cuba, on issues linked to the national security of the US,” she points out.

Her analysis of Trump’s unpredictability – particularly in contrast to Obama – is echoed by Ricardo Alarcón, until recently considered the third most influential man in Cuban politics.

“For two years we have been talking to a sophisticated president with an intelligent, skilful discourse. Now we have a gentleman who is capable of saying anything and nobody is sure what he is going to do,” said Alarcón, who spent 30 years representing Cuba at the United Nations and another 20 years as president of the country’s National Assembly, before retiring in 2013.

From the 1970s to the 2000s, Alarcón led secret talks with US officials, in a backdoor channel that was first opened by Che Guevara in 1961, just eight months after diplomatic relations had officially been broken off.

Whether this historical willingness to engage in discussion is continued under Trump will depend on whether the new president takes a pragmatic economic approach or a confrontational political line.

Rafael Hernandez, the director of Temas, an influential journal of political and social debate published in Havana, believes Trump’s business instincts will prevail over the threats.

“This is all bluff. And we are accustomed to the bluff from the governments of the United States. I don’t underestimate Trump’s capacity for aggression, I am simply saying that this is a state that is motivated by interests and the interests are in favour of business, and in the case of Cuba lifting the blockade is nothing more than responding to the interests of business.”

There is little appetite in the US Congress for lifting the embargo, but over the past two years the Obama White House has passed a number of measures to improve ties between the two neighbours.

Listing the fruits of engagement at a conference last month, Vidal noted that in addition to Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2015 – the first by a US president for 88 years – there have also been 23 high-level visits, 51 technical meetings and 12 agreements signed in areas ranging from co-operation on the environment and air-travel to health and the fight against drug trafficking. 12 more were in the pipeline.

There has also been a dramatic spike in the movement of people between the two nations. Last week, it was revealed that nearly 285,000 US citizens visited Cuba in 2016, a growth of 74% on the previous year. Add a similar number of Cuban-American visitors and over half a million people travelled to Cuba from the United States.

Full migration in the opposite direction, however, was disincentivised last week, when the White House announced the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” migration policy, which privileged Cuban arrivals in the US over migrants from other countries, granting them automatic residency and citizenship within one year.

Although commercial ties are minimal and financial restrictions remain in place, Obama used his executive powers to grant licences to selected US companies to operate in Cuba: six telecoms, four cruises, one hotel, eight airlines, and two small banks. In mid-December, Google signed a deal with the Cuban government to install servers on the island that will speed up access to the internet.

On the eve of Trump’s inauguration, the first legal Cuban export to the United States in more than 50 years will take place, in the form of 40 tons of charcoal produced in Cuban cooperative farms.

As they wait to see how much of this will be dismantled or continued by Trump, Cuban official stress the benefits of closer ties with the US go far beyond the island’s borders.

‘These last two years show that many good things have been done not only for Cubans and for the Americans, but for others.” Vidal says. “Because when Cuba and the US cooperate in confronting drug trafficking, this is an important contribution to the region, or when Cuba and the US cooperate in confronting [viruses such as] zika, dengue and chikungunya, as we have been doing recently, we are making an important contribution to humanity. When Cuba and the US cooperated in Africa to fight Ebola, they made an important contribution to the health of the world.”

But nothing is taken for granted. The Cuban Communist party’s long-term development plan circulated for debate after the 7th congress in April 2016 makes no assumptions about changes in US policy towards Cuba. Raúl Castro has asserted the need for “civilised co-existence” with the United States, but not at the cost of sovereignty and independence.

Dr Helen Yaffe is a fellow in the economic history department at the London School of Economics. The Cuban officials cited in the article were interviewed during research funded by a Rockefeller-LSE grant. The project is carried out with Nick Kitchen, from the US centre at LSE.


Cuba's Message to China

Cuba-US ties uncertain under Trump: expert

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/1/20 14:54:14

Under Donald Trump, the future of the ties between Havana and Washington remains uncertain, despite a recent thaw, according to a Cuban expert. 

Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday. 

Luis Suarez, a Cuban expert on international relations, believes Trump's administration will maintain some of Barack Obama's policies towards Cuba, but revert others. "They are going to make a case-by-case analysis of which policies are suitable, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for their own interests," Suarez told Xinhua in a recent interview. 

Certain bilateral agreements on security matters, for example, enjoy bipartisan support in the US Congress and benefit Washington's national security interests. 

"Cuba is perceived by the designers of US military and security policies as an ally in the fight against drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration and transnational crimes, and Trump shouldn't modify that," said the academic, a professor at Havana's Higher Institute of International Relations. 

However, Trump had criticized outgoing President Barack Obama's rapprochement with Cuba as "weak," and signalled he would strong-arm Havana into making more concessions to the United States. 

Trump will be more disposed to applying "hard power," that is military or economic mechanisms, to sway Cuba, in contrast to the soft-sell approach of his predecessor. 

"The rather original and creative soft power that Obama used, a combination of persuasion and smarts, won't be continued. Trump is likely to use more instruments of hard power, including negotiating with Cuba through force and coercion," Suarez said. 

In general, Suarez doesn't expect the "environment of reciprocity and mutual respect" that has characterized negotiations since December 2014 to prevail. 

The two countries have signed 21 agreements in different areas such as environmental protection, maritime safety, joint search and rescue, air transport, energy and others. 

Many of these accords may be subject to a "re-analysis of policy toward Cuba, from their perception that Obama made many concessions to the Cuban government," Suarez said. 

One positive sign has been the incoming administration's response to Obama's scrapping of the "dry foot-wet foot" immigration policy, which exclusively lured Cubans to the United States with the promise of fast-track residency, and has for decades made a mockery of legal migration. 

According to the White House, Trump's team was told of the move before it was announced on Jan. 12, and so far there have been no objections. 

In the past two weeks, Washington and Havana have inked cooperation agreements on joint responses to potential oil spills in the gulf and the Florida Straits; on law enforcement and information sharing; and on maritime and aeronautical search and rescue. 

US policy toward Cuba still aims to bring about regime change, Suarez warned, so it's possible Trump will crank up confrontation. 

In view of a possible setback in bilateral ties, Suarez said the Cuban government must continue to diversify its international economic relations and develop "proactive policies."


No comments:

Post a Comment