The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under The Trump Administration

Many U.S. citizens who welcomed the last two years of U.S.-Cuba normalization are worried about whether that policy will be continued by the future Trump Administration. Therefore, examination of past comments about Cuba by prospective members of that future administration is appropriate. Here is such an examination.

A prior post recounted the responses to the death of Fidel Castro from President-elect Donald Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, prospective White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Trump aides Kellyanne Conway and Jason Miller. The basic conclusion of their remarks was that Mr. Trump would be seeking a better deal with Cuba than the Obama Administration had negotiated.

More recently, at a December 16 “thank You” rally in Orlando, Florida, Trump told the crowd, “America will also stand with the Cuban people in their long struggle for freedom. Their support has been unbelievable. The Cuban people. We know what we have to do, and we’ll do it. Don’t worry about it.”[1]

Additional negative views about U.S.-Cuba rapprochement are found in comments by others in the prospective Trump Administration.

The most negative words came from Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, transition team member for the Department of the Treasury. After the election in an op-ed article in the Miami-Herald he argued,“Obama’s new course for Cuba has made a bad situation worse.” It concluded with this statement: “There’s no longer any rational strategy behind President Obama’s ‘Cuba policy.’ It has gone from what it initially portrayed as a noble purpose to pure sycophancy in pursuit of ‘historic firsts. Unfortunately, those Cuban dissidents who recognized Obama’s intent from the beginning and labeled it ‘a betrayal’ of their fight for freedom have now been proven correct. Their foresight has come at a terrible cost.”[2]

A similar hostile analysis of rapprochement come from Mike Pompeo, a Congressman from Kansas and the nominee for Director of the CIA.[3] Here are two examples. Immediately after the December 17, 2014, news of the release of Alan Gross from Cuban prison, Pompeo said, “Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has once again taken the opportunity to appease America’s enemies by releasing convicted spies, reviewing Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terror, and attempting to re-establish diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. In March 2016 Pompeo said, Obama’s trip to Cuba was “misguided for the flawed Cuba policy it represents,” including the dropping “ Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, . . . [loosening] sanctions, and . . . [opening] a U.S. Embassy in Havana while there has been zero needed political reform, no increase in freedom, and inadequate loosening of Castro’s grip on power.”

General Michael Flynn, the proposed White House National Security Advisor, sees Cuba as an enemy. Promoting a book he co-authored (The Field of Fight), Flynn stated his belief that the U.S. is in “a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela. Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organizations such as Iran, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.” (Emphasis added.) Another Kelly article says the world is divided into two sets of enemies. First, there are the radical Islamists, whom he sees as America’s principal foes. Then there is a constellation of hostile anti-democratic regimes that he calls “the alliance” that includes both Islamists and non-Islamists that collaborate against the West because we’re their common enemy. The alliance includes Russia, Syria, North Korea, China, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua.” (Emphasis added.) [4]

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, however, has not expressed an opinion on U.S.-Cuba relations. Only tangential clues turn up. [5] For example, Tillerson has negotiated multi-billion dollar deals with Putin and Kremlin-confidant Igor Sechin, the head of a Russian state-owned oil company who has negotiated oil deals with Cuba. But at ExxonMobil’s May 2014 annual stockholders’ meeting, Tillerson said the company had no plans to participate in Cuban deposits development by Russian oil major Rosneft because of U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

Guardedly positive comments about Cuba have been made by General John Kelly, the nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security, who recently served as the U.S. military’s Commander of the Southern Command with responsibility for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Last January Cuba was a first-time participant in the Caribbean Nations Security Conference, when Kelly said, “We’ve normalized now and, regardless of how we think of each other in terms of politics, we have very, very common challenges.” Kelly also said that the Naval station at Guantanamo Bay is “strategically valuable” and should remain open after the detention facility is closed and possibly jointly operated with Cuba employing Cubans. At an earlier Pentagon briefing he said, “the Guantanamo Naval Base is a hugely useful facility to the United States.”

In an October 2015 interview, Kelly said that the U.S. “Coast Guard has worked with the Cubans over the years, but mostly in terms of rescue-at-sea and humanitarian activities. But the other four services – Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines – have had zero relationships with the Cubans. There is a meeting called the “fence-line meeting” at Guantánamo where the Base Commander, a U.S. Navy Captain, meets about weekly with a counterpart on the other side. They talk and chat a little bit, but it’s not much of a relationship.’ In addition, “There are no drugs in Cuba.” [6]

As Kelly neared retirement as Commander of the Southern Command in January 2016, he said, “What tends to bother [terrorist groups and rights activists] . . . is the fact that we’re holding them [at Gitmo] indefinitely without trial … it’s not the point that it’s Gitmo. If we send them, say, to a facility in the U.S., we’re still holding them without trial.” If “ it were agreed Guantanamo should be closed, logistically it wouldn’t be hard, and remaining detainees could be held in the U.S.— “They’re not going to escape, for sure.”

One advocate for rapprochement in the Trump team is (or has been?) Kathleen (K.T.) McFarland, named as Deputy National Security Advisor. She has publicly backed open relations with Cuba. In 2014, she wrote “We must take steps now to ensure that Cuba doesn’t become a Russian or Chinese pawn, and thus serve as a launch pad to threaten America’s security were they to establish a military presence.” [7]

Basic Internet searches about the following members of Trump’s team failed to find any comments about Cuba: General James Mathis (Secretary of Defense), Vincent Viola (Secretary of the Army), Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), Todd Ricketts (Deputy Secretary of Commerce), Nikki Haley (U.N. Ambassador) and Jeff Sessions (Attorney General).[8]

Conclusion

The above analysis of commentaries by members of the Trump team regrettably suggests a dim future for continuation of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Those of us in the U.S. who believe that this is an erroneous move need to continue to advocate for normalization and to share that opinion with our Senators and Representatives, the Trump Administration and our fellow U.S. citizens.

======================================

[1] Lemmongello, Trump thanks Florida at Orlando rally, Orlando Sentinel (Dec. 116, 2016).

[2] Claver-Carone, Obama’s Cuba policy makes bad situation worse, Miami Herald (Nov. 16, 2016).

[3] Pompeo, Rep. Pompeo Responds to Shift in Policy with Cuba (Dec. 17, 2014); Pompeo, Independent Journal Review: Mr. President, There Is A Reason No U.S. President Has Visited Cuba for 88 Years (Mar. 21, 2016).

[4] Carden, The Real Reason to Worry About Gen. Michael Flynn, Nation ( Nov. 18, 2016); Totten, How Trump’s General Mike Flynn Sees the World, World Affairs (Nov. 30, 2016).

[5] Schoen & Smith, Why Rex Tillerson would be a disaster as Secretary of State, FoxNews (Dec. 13, 2016); ExxonMobil says not to cooperate with Russia’s Rosneft in Cuba, Prime Bus. Net (May 29, 2014). Tillerson’s close relationship with Sechin is covered in MacFarquhaar & Kramer, How Rex Tillerson Changed His Tune on Russia and Came to Court Its Rulers, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2016) and Kashin, Rex Tillerson’s Special Friend in the Kremlin, N.Y. Times (Dec. 22, 2016).

[6] Assoc. Press, Cuba to attend security conference with US for first time (Jan. 12, 2016); U.S. Dept Defense, Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Kelly (Mar. 12, 2015); Lockhart, A Conversation with General John F. Kelly, SOUTHCOM Commander (Oct. 15, 2015); O’Toole, Here’s What America’s Longest-Serving General Most Fears, Defense One (Jan. 11, 2016).

[7] Ordońez, Trump’s been inconsistent on Cuba. Will Castro’s death make a difference? McClatchy DC (Nov. 26, 2016).

[8] As always I invite comments pointing out errors of commission or omission. No similar searches were done for Ryan Zinke (Secretary of Interior), Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy), Andrew Puzder (Secretary of Labor), Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), Tom Price (Secretary of Health and Human Services), Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education), Scott Pruitt (Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency), Linda McMahon (Administrator of Small Business Administration), Seema Verma (Administrator of Center for Medicare and Medicaid), Stephen Miller (Senior Advisor to President for Policy), Gary Cohn (Director of National Economic Council), Mick Mulvaney ( Director of Office of Management and Budget) and Don McGahn (White House Counsel).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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