A recent post discussed challenges about Cuba facing the Trump Administration this April: President Trump’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Peru and the U.S. reaction to Cuba’s election of the new President of the Council of State.
Recent developments have added to the apprehension that these and other events may be occasions for more U.S. hostility towards Cuba.
Future U.S. Actions Regarding the Summit of the Americas
In a letter last week to the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Rick Scott, Florida Governor and rumored U.S. Senate candidate this year, called for the exclusion of Cuba at the upcoming Summit. This request was due to the “oppression and misery” that the Cuban people have suffered for more than 60 years. “For six decades, the sovereignty of the Cuban people has been taken hostage by a brutal dictatorship that has imprisoned, tortured and murdered innocent people to preserve their regime.”
Another reason for such exclusion, according to Scott, was the recent electoral process on the island as a “fraudulent effort to carry out the so-called elections as the dictatorship moves towards a dynastic succession.” In short, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”
The Governor’s request was reiterated by the Cuban Resistance Assembly and anticipated this last February by Freedom House’s Director Carlos Ponce when he said that Castro’s attendance at the 2015 Summit in Panama was “a great spectacle that did not represent an advance in democracy and human rights on the island.” In fact, it included the regime sending “violent groups to threaten and persecute the Cuban leaders of civil society who participated.”
Future U.S. Reaction to Election of New President of Cuba
In addition to Governor Scott’s criticism of this year’s Cuban electoral process, the previous post about challenges to the Trump Administration mentioned that on March 9 Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and five Florida Republican U.S. Representatives sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.”
On March 14, Congressman Curbelo added this statement for his reasons for such criticism: “It’s clear the Cuban people are ready for a new beginning. Now more than ever they need the support and solidarity of the American people, the American government and its diplomats, and all freedom loving people throughout the world. Given the absence of free, fair, multiparty elections this past weekend, I continue to urge President Trump to declare Raul Castro’s successor as illegitimate.”
New Officials in Trump Administration
President Trump has nominated or appointed two officials who have a history of hostility towards Cuba–Mike Pompeo and John Bolton– while another appointee, Carlos Trujillo, may hold such views.
Secretary of State Nominee Mike Pompeo
President Trump has nominated Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as the next Secretary of State, a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
In 2015, when Pompeo was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he co-sponsored a bill, the Cuban Military Transparency Act, to prevent any U.S. financial transaction with companies managed by the Cuban military that did not become law, but was implemented last year by a President Trump executive order.
In June 2017 Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) met at CIA headquarters with several members of the Brigade 2506, which is a CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles formed in 1960 to attempt the military overthrow of the Cuban government headed by Fidel Castro and which in 1961 carried out the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion landings.
John Bolton, National Security ‘Advisor
On March 23 President Trump appointed as his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who over many years consistently has been hostile to U.S.-Cuba normalization. Here are examples of his views on this subject:
- As Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bolton in 2002 accused Cuba of developing biological weapons in collaboration with U.S. adversaries and said Cuba remained a “terrorist” threat to the U.S. Bolton’s disputed claims were shown to be baseless in the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that while Cuba had the technical capability to produce biological agents, there was no evidence of any biological weapons development.
- Bolton criticized the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. in December 2014, calling the decision to pursue normalized relations “an unmitigated defeat for the United States.”
- In July 2015, just after the U.S. decided to resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, he published an article saying that this decision “untethered our foreign policy from any discernible American interests.” In short, Bolton said, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”
Unsurprisingly Senator Marco Rubio applauded the appointment of Bolton as “an excellent choice.”
Cuba immediately responded in Granma, saying Bolton had “a very dark past in relation to Cuba” with strong ties to “the ultra-right of Cuban origin in Florida.” This appointment “comes in the midst of a new campaign against Cuba in which pretexts and evidence have been used without scientific evidence to justify unilateral measures that affect hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the [Caribbean] and hinder the exchange on issues of mutual interest.”
New U.S. Ambassador to OAS
Last week the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Carlos Trujillo as the new U.S. Ambassador to OAS. I have not discovered Trujillo’s views about U.S. policy towards Cuba and the OAS relationship with the island, but given his background and support by Senator Rubio, I suspect that he too is hostile towards the Cuban government.
Conference at Florida International University
Recently Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., participated in a conference at the Florida International University in Miami that was organized by Senator Rubio and some of his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives.One of the topics of the meeting was how to improve democracy in Cuba and Venezuela. Before the meeting, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart said, “The Castro regime continues its decades-long oppression of the Cuban people, while providing illicit support to other sham regimes in the region, including those in Venezuela and Nicaragua. By promoting democracy, civil society and human rights in our hemisphere, we promote stability and prosperity among our neighbors, and strengthen friendships with allies.”
New U.S. Federal Government Budget
The budget approved by the United States Congress last week, which will allow government financing until mid-2018, includes $ 20 million for promotion of democracy in Cuba, scholarships to promote leadership among young Cubans and improving Cuba’s access to the internet. Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, says these are funds to “promote a supposed regime change in Cuba.”
On the other hand, Congress did not adopt a proposed amendment to the budget that would have restricted funding for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to pre-Obama Administration levels. This congressional rejection was applauded by Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba. It said, “By eliminating this senseless budget provision, Congress has averted a foreign relations debacle that would have upended progress on law enforcement cooperation, migration, and commercial ties. We commend the bipartisan majority of lawmakers that fought to preserve our diplomatic engagement with Cuba. Slashing embassy funding would hurt Cuban Americans and the Cuban people, and turn back the clock to a discredited counter-productive Cold War policy that failed for over 55 years.”
Although not surprising, these developments are unfortunate for those of us who advocate for increased normalization between the two countries. We must continue to be vigilant in resisting any and all Trump Administration hostility towards Cuba.
 Rick Scott asks the OAS to exclude Raúl Castro from the Summit of the Americas, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).
 Press Release, Curbelo: Following Another Empty Voting Exercise on the Island, the Cuban People Need Support and Solidarity (Mar. 14, 2018).
 Falćon, Foreign Policy of the United States: the extremists circle closes, CubaDebate (Mar. 26, 2018); CIA, The Bay of Pigs Invasion; Brigade 2506, Wikipedia.
 Bolton, Obama’s outrageous Cuba capitulations, N.Y. Daily News (July 13, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief: 3/23/18; The regime complains of a possible worsening of relations with Washington after the appointment of Bolton, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).
 The Senate confirms Carlos Trujillo as US ambassador to the OAS, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 23, 2018); Press Release, Rubio Welcomes Confirmation of Carlos Trujillo to Serve as U.S. Ambassador to OAS (Mar. 23, 2018).
 Press Release, Diaz-Balart, South Florida Members of Congress Host Ambassador Haley for Latin American State of Affairs Discussion (Mar. 2, 2018).
 Washington releases funds for subversion in Cuba and border wall in Mexico, Granma (Mar. 25, 2018); Press Release, Engage Cuba Applauds Defeat of Budget Provision to Slash Funding for U.S. Embassy in Havana (Mar. 23, 2018).