Fidel Castro, El Comandante of the Cuban Revolution, died Friday, November 25, three days before American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United began to resume regularly scheduled airline service between the two countries, and 17 days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in a stunning upset.
Perhaps Fidel didn’t want to live to see the changes that now threaten to undo his Revolución.
What can Cuba expect in a matter of months when Donald Trump takes office?
“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” President-elect Trump tweeted on November 28, 2016.
This was more than posturing for negotiations. Before running for office, in technical violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Donald Trump, the businessman, had explored the possibility of investing in Cuba.
Yet, there are stark realities hampering “progress” on Cuban fronts—and for both Havana and Washington.
Cuba demands the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty before anything else is negotiated—including direct foreign investment and privatization. The U.S., for its part, insists on a program to compensate American citizens and companies whose assets and properties were nationalized or seized by the revolution.
This is a stalemate that has no resolution. And it is a stalemate further complicated by the U.S. embargo—which was amended by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 which requires that both Castro brothers be removed from office before the embargo can be lifted.
It would take an act of Congress to repeal Helms-Burton first before the embargo itself could be lifted. It would be political suicide for Raúl Castro to back away from demanding the return of Guantánamo Bay.
In March 2016, during the primaries, Donald Trump’s campaign reached out to Cuban-Americans, realizing they needed to consolidate the Cuban-American vote in South Florida in order to carry Florida in the general election.
As part of those discussions, it became clear that Trump could easily reverse Barak Obama’s opening to Cuba—which was done by executive order to circumvent a recalcitrant Congress.
What makes reversing Obama’s opening easy is the lack of progress made since July 2015, when diplomatic relations were restored. The embargo is still in place, ordinary tourism by U.S. citizens remains illegal, and there is, apart from half a dozen token deals, no progress in commercial investments.
This week, when U.S. airlines begin to fly to Cuba, they will land, refuel, and depart. The only “investment” is leasing counter space in Cuban airports. The only hotel “deal” is Starwood’s contract to manage a single hotel. Starwood neither owns the property nor has authority to hire employees; it is a minority partner with the Cuban government. The sale of American agricultural products continue under a preexisting protocol designed to unload surplus U.S. agricultural production and prevent a humanitarian crisis in Cuba.
President-elect Trump sees this lack of progress as evidence of everything that is wrong with Washington, where nothing gets done.
He promised the Cuban exile community that the status quo—where Cubans on both sides of the Straits of Florida have been waiting for Godot for six decades—will end with his “can do” administration.
The brash billionaire businessman, as part of the frustration of the “do nothing” politicians in Washington that catapulted him to victory, is determined to “put an end” to the “Washington’s incompetence in dealing with a communist regime on American’s doorstep.”
In other words, the incoming Trump administration is leaning toward confrontation and not accommodation in its dealings with Havana.
“Why can’t Spain or Mexico give Raúl Castro political asylum?” a source inside the Trump campaign asked in March 2016, a clue as to where Trump’s advisors are thinking: Cuba without the remaining Castro—and without a one-party government, the Communist Party of Cuba.
The implication is that Trump’s advisers do not rule out military intervention—and military occupation—of Cuba to achieve this “opening” and move to “democracy” on the island nation.
This attitude is emboldened by the reality that since the War on Terror was declared following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has become desensitized to wars of invasion and military occupation throughout the world.
As Trump said in a statement over the weekend, “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
And, as everyone knows, Havana deserves a Trump hotel.