President Trump brought a fiery taste of the Cold War back to Miami today when he announced his new Cuba policy. But is his Cuba crackdown likely to leverage the democratic changes he promised?
“We now hold the cards," Trump told a cheering if sweltering crowd at the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana, declaring he was delivering on a campaign promise he made last year to more conservative Cuban-Americans that he would get tougher with Cuba.
"The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime.”
Trump said he’ll now make it harder for Americans to travel to and do business with communist Cuba, especially the military. And he insisted those measures will leverage the Cuban regime into adopting human rights reforms.
Former President Obama’s opening to Cuba has not yielded much democratic change there - but those who deal with Cuba say Trump’s new directives themselves are too modest to have that strong an effect. That includes the goal of directing more U.S. money to private Cuban entrepreneurs.
“I do believe that there will be a substantial drop in authorized U.S. travel," says Pedro Freyre, head of international practice at the Akerman law firm in Miami.
"That will impact the Cuban economy negatively, and in that sense there’s some leverage. But I think it’s going to be difficult for Trump to force change in Cuba or steer more assets to the island's private sector this way. His speech wasn’t a 180-degree turn; this was like a 10-degree turn to starboard.”
That sentiment is shared by Cubans on the island who are critical of their government’s refusal to allow more political and economic reform.
“It seemed to me the speech was more for the Cuban exile politicians in Florida than for Cuban officials here,” says Kariel González, a Havana accountant who consults private Cuban entrepreneurs and spoke with WLRN after watching excerpts of Trump’s speech on Cuban state television.
“The punitive approach Trump is taking didn’t work for more than 50 years, so why does he think it will work now? The Cuban government doesn’t work like that.”
González and Freyre say neither Americans nor Cubans will know the real effects of Trump’s policy until Administration officials work out more detailed regulations.