June 24, 2017 – Jim Ferlo
Once again, Donald Trump has positioned himself and his appointees in the federal government on the wrong side of history. This is the harsh and unacceptable reality of reactionary policy changes pushed by the Trump administration in regards to the environment, military spending, health care, our democratic rights, relations with our allies; and now turning the clock back on normalization efforts with Cuba begun under the Obama Presidency. Despite the fact that a clear majority of Cuban-Americans living in Florida want the Obama era opening of relations with Cuba to continue, our vituperative and arrogant President chose to deliver his Cuba policy change to the most right wing hand-picked “made for television” audience of dissidents in Miami. Notwithstanding President Trump’s vitriol his executive actions still must work through the regulation process of the Commerce and Treasury Departments and are not effective immediately. We will continue to mobilize and fight.
It was clear during his campaign and subsequent meetings with Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart that together they were demanding an end to diplomatic relations as well as closure of our Embassy in Havana. Thanks to the broad-based solidarity movement in our country and around the globe over the last several decades demanding an end to the illegal blockade and the unfettered right to travel to Cuba, Mr. Trump had to temper his reactionary stance. In typical campaign mode, Trump’s minions organized a reactionary and receptive audience in Miami’s “Little Havana” to hear his falsehoods and attacks on the people and government of Cuba. The effect of his orders is tempered because leadership in his own Republican Party, countless U.S. corporations, hundreds of elected officials, and thousands of U.S. tourists representing broad sectors of the American public have travelled to Cuba. They have returned with the documented common sense conviction that we must end the U.S. imposed blockade and travel ban completely. In fact, in both the U.S. House and Senate there is significant bi-partisan support for numerous pieces of legislation that will implement these long over due changes.
This Trump-Rubio soap opera is interesting politics since “little Rubio” now has become a perceived kingpin, dictating to the Trump Administration what our policy should be on Cuba. Could it be that our legally endangered President found out that Senator Rubio sits on the important Senate Intelligence Committee and all but excused Donald Trump during previous hearings when fired FBI Director Comey was being interviewed?
A review of the actual changes announced by Trump that will occur and take effect a few months from now will be a tightening of the 12 Office of Assets Control (OFAC) categories of travel for U.S. citizens, replacing President Obama’s “good faith” obligations. U.S. citizens will now have to “prove it and travel as part of a formal group”. This can only be enforced by intrusive and repressive actions by the U.S. Treasury Department and may provide future opportunities for legal and political challenges.
U.S. citizens will no longer be allowed to spend money in hotels or businesses that are owned by the government of Cuba. Employees at these job centers are every day Cubans who earn wages to support their children and families and contribute to society. Revenue that is generated by government owned hotels and businesses supports a social system of free health care, public education and free housing. And yes, Cuba needs a military because the U.S. wolf at its door has been omnipresent since the 1959 Revolution!
In reality, fewer Americans visiting Cuba will hurt the greatly expanding privately owned businesses such as AirBnB opportunities (casa particulares), newly established private restaurants (paladares), private taxis, small retail shops and service businesses too numerous to list. The National Assembly of Cuba created and adopted policies encouraging entrepreneurial privatization to develop aspects of a market economy long before Trump decided to run for President. In my opinion, fewer U.S. tourists travelling to Cuba results in reduced support for these newly created private small businesses.
This is a completely contradictory and counter productive policy that makes little sense. So is the requirement that disallows U.S. travelers and travel agents to register in the growing number of hotels that are joint ventures between the Cuban government (51 %) and U.S. corporations (49%). Hurting the bottom line of corporations in our own country conducting profitable business in Cuba is not likely to be tolerated.
Our organization will continue the fight to (1) repeal all laws prohibiting travel to Cuba, (2) lift the immoral and illegal blockade (3) get the U.S. off of Cuban soil in Guantanamo and (4) adopt a foreign policy respecting Cuba’s sovereignty. It is outrageous that citizens of the world can travel to Cuba unimpeded—except for “free citizens” of our own country!
Join our efforts. Please visit cubasipgh.org and get involved.
Jim Ferlo is a retired State Senator and past City Council President who serves as President of the Pittsburgh-Matanzas Sister Cities Partnership.