Nostalgia seems to be very popular in Washington. While the neocons and Democratic Party hard-liners have succeeded in bringing back the Cold War with Russia, it looks like President Trump is determined to take us back to a replay of the Bay of Pigs!
In Miami on Friday, the president announced that he was slamming the door on one of President Obama’s few foreign policy successes: easing 50 years of US sanctions on Cuba. The nostalgia was so strong at Trump’s Friday speech that he even announced participants in the CIA’s disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in the audience!
President Trump said Friday that his new policy would be nothing short of “regime change” for Cuba. No easing of US sanctions on Cuba, he said, “until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.”
Yes, this is the same Donald Trump who declared as president-elect in December that his incoming Administration would “pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past. We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments.” Now, in another flip-flop toward the neocons, President Trump is pursuing regime change in Cuba on the pretext of human rights violations.
While the Cuban government may not have a spotless record when it comes to human rights, this is the same President Trump who just weeks ago heaped praise on perhaps the world’s worst human rights abuser, Saudi Arabia. There, he even participated in a bizarre ceremony to open a global anti-extremism center in the home of state-sponsored extremism!
While President Trump is not overturning all of President Obama’s Cuba policy reforms — the US Embassy will remain open — he will roll back the liberalization of travel restrictions and make it very difficult for American firms to do business in Cuba. Certainly foreign competitors of US construction and travel companies are thrilled by this new policy, as it keeps American businesses out of the market. How many Americans will be put out of work by this foolish political stunt?
There is a very big irony here. President Trump says that Cuba’s bad human rights record justifies a return to Cuba sanctions and travel prohibitions. But the US government preventing Americans from traveling and spending their own money wherever they wish is itself a violation of basic human rights. Historically it has been only the most totalitarian of regimes that prevent their citizens from traveling abroad. Think of East Germany, the Soviet Union, and North Korea. The US is not at war with Cuba. There is no reason to keep Americans from going where they please.
President Trump’s shift back to the bad old days on Cuba will not have the desired effect of liberalizing that country’s political environment. If it did not work for fifty years why does Trump think it will suddenly work today? If anything, a hardening of US policy on Cuba will prevent reforms and empower those who warned that the US could not be trusted as an honest partner. The neocons increasingly have President Trump’s ear, even though he was elected on promises to ignore their constant calls for war and conflict. How many more flip-flops before his supporters no longer recognize him?
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