Has U.S. changed its Cuba policy?

Sep 7, 2018 by

Progresso Weekly

Has U.S. changed its Cuba policy?

By Jesus Arboleya on August 31, 2018

The U.S. Department of State recently lowered its danger alert on travel to Cuba. In just one year it evolved from Category 4, the maximum possible, to Category 2, whereby “prudence” is recommended when making the trip, a warning applied to many countries around the world.

The move is intended to rectify, in part, a policy that has been opposed by a majority of persons throughout the American political and social spectrum.

It was also announced that the Department will partially resume consular services in its Cuba embassy, but only offering services to U.S. citizens visiting or residing in the country. Services offered to Cubans who aspire to travel temporarily or permanently to the United States remain suspended forcing them to travel elsewhere to process the appropriate documentation.

According to the State Department, these measures are a response to recommendations made by the Accountability Review Board (ARB), an independent group convened by the Department after the embassy incidents. The group advised for the strengthening of non-specified security measures for its personnel in Cuba, who may only remain for one year in the country without the company of their families.

Nothing indicates that this is a step towards improving relations with Cuba. On the contrary, actions against the country have intensified and Cuba continues to be one of the objectives of the North American offensive against the progressive processes in Latin America.

The reduction of personnel at the U.S. embassy in Cuba has not helped, though.

Recently, the Congressional Research Service released a memorandum stating that the U.S. embassy situation in Cuba “potentially reduces the capacity of the State Department — and obviously other agencies — to understand the situation on the ground and report about its developments.”

In other words, they were blinded or shortsighted in the face of the changes taking place in Cuba and reduced their capacity to influence them. Even the so-called ‘dissidents’, who are given millions to subvert the Cuban system, have publicly complained about the effects that the limited access to the U.S. embassy have caused them — which might be one reason for correcting the error.

It could also be assumed that the move is the result of the erosion of the credibility of the mysterious “sonic attacks,” which served as an excuse to reduce the personnel of both embassies. However, truthfulness does not seem an important attribute, or a major factor, when it comes to the Donald Trump administration.

The best explanation must be sought in the internal politics of the United States. Especially when you consider the midterm elections this November where Republicans face a very complicated situation.

For some time now, trips to Cuba by U.S. citizens have been looked at in American policy from two different perspectives. The prevailing one has been to prevent them, in the understanding that it is opposed to the climate of hostility that should govern the relations between the two countries. The other is to promote them, inasmuch as they assume that the influence of the United States in Cuba increases and favors the development of the private sector, seen as an agent of change of the Cuban system.

Obama assumed the second strategy. And Cuba accepted the challenge, confident of its political strengths and its correspondence with its own economic development plans. Months after the Obama policy implementation, and despite a blockade that prevents U.S. citizens from traveling as tourists, the move represented a notable increase in the trips of Americans to Cuba, and their use of North American companies and institutions interested in various forms of exchange to get there.

The Trump measures reduced the flow of travelers by almost 25 percent in relation to the previous year. Due to the legal and financial dangers involved in acting under pre-existing travel alerts, more than 80 percent of U.S. tour operators were forced to cancel trips to Cuba, and academic and cultural exchanges planned were also affected.

Lowering the alert level for these trips facilitates their increase. It also helps satisfy the clamor by powerful interests linked to the travel industry (hoteliers, airlines, tour operators, travel agencies and cruise ships), as well as academic and cultural institutions, including religious groups, many of which are important contributors to the U.S. electoral processes.

An unresolved problem with the recent provisions is the damage that this policy has caused to the Cuban-American community and its possible effect on the elections in Florida.

The United States has acknowledged that it will not comply with the immigration agreements with Cuba, which establishes a minimum of 20,000 visas a year for Cubans wishing to settle in that country. This year, barely 8,000 visas have been granted, significantly affecting a family reunification program that has been in operation since 1994. Even more serious, the closure of the United States consulate in Havana has prevented thousands of people from traveling to visit their relatives in the U.S.

According to a recent Florida Latino Voters survey, an essential issue in the upcoming elections for 21 percent of Cuban-American voters are matters related to immigration policy and family reunification. This must have triggered alarms among Republicans looking to win what are predicted to be very tight races in November and beyond.

In particular, it is a very serious problem to be considered when deciding the winners of the three South Florida congressional seats today held by Cuban-American Republicans. By promoting the separation of families, the Cuban-American right has shot itself in the foot and the bleeding can cost them their lives.

It is not unreasonable then to suppose that in the near future the U.S. government, with the discreet consent of the Cuban-American right, will undertake further measures. There is already discussion of stabilizing personnel in Cuba, at least through the elections, to create the feeling that it is a problem in the process of being solved. That is why, until now, the vociferous “Cuban historical exile” has not riled against it.

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