Imagine this utopian scenario: On Friday afternoon, President Trump walks up to the podium at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, where he is scheduled to announce his new, draconian, US policy toward Cuba. “I know you expect me to roll back my predecessor’s historic breakthrough on Cuba policy,” he tells an audience of hardline Cuban-Americans, including veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. “But let me tell you about that long, drawn-out Cuba policy review my administration has been conducting since January. They tell me the policy of normalization is actually working! It is advancing US business and strategic interests, helping Cubans become independent of the Communist state. No kidding. Who knew? It’s working!”
“Just this week,” Trump could say, “I have heard from Google executives how well their effort to connect Cubans to the Internet is going. And AirBnB has told me that over the past two years they have put $40 million into the pockets of average Cubans who are renting their homes to US tourists. $40 million! People, that is a helluva lot more than our pathetic USAID democracy programs are doing for the Cuban people, believe me.”
“And guess what, this week my daughter, Ivanka, received an appeal from 55 female Cuban entrepreneurs thanking her for, and I quote, ‘your interest in and dedication to women.’ They informed her that Cuban women have fueled the growth of the private sector in Cuba. They invited her to come to Cuba to ‘support travel, trade, and exchanges between our two countries.’ So if I restrict travel now, then Ivanka and Jared will not be able to go to Havana and scout future hotel sites for the Trump organization. Also, I have just received a letter from the CubaOne Foundation, an organization of young Cuban-Americans who are building bridges to their families and younger Cubans on the island. They pointed out that the ‘better deal’ with Cuba that I promised you during the campaign ‘means advancing US interests and improving the quality of life of the Cuban people, not returning to Cold War policies.’”
“I hate to say it folks, but this policy of positive engagement really, really looks like a winner, absolutely, 100 percent! That old policy of aggressive hostility? It’s lame…such a loser.”
Of course, Donald Trump will say none of the above, since he is not, to use a political-science phrase, a “rational actor.” Instead, the president plans to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to discredit the Obama policy of positive engagement, denounce the Castro government, and demand that Cuba take specific actions as a quid pro quo for improved relations. In a sure-to-be-futile attempt to coerce Cuba, Trump intends to announce new restrictions on the freedom of US citizens to visit the island, as well as on future commercial interaction.
The president’s new, eight-page executive order on Cuba, which Trump plans to sign in Miami tomorrow, will once again unleash US harassment of citizens traveling to the island, subjecting them to a Treasury Department “audit” of the purpose of their travel. US travelers will also be banned from staying at, eating at, or going to cultural events at most state-owned hotels. The new restrictions will effectively limit lodging options for hundreds of thousands of visitors, bringing a halt to the growth in the number of travelers who have taken advantage of the Obama administration’s open-door policy on travel to the island. The new directive also bans the ability of US companies to do business with any Cuban entity controlled by Gaesa, the conglomerate of tourism-related agencies administered by the Cuban military.