By Martha Andres Roman, Washington (PL) One year after President Donald Trump’s decision to reverse much of the rapprochement with Cuba, two realities finally emerge: the backward step in links and the interest of many sectors to improve them.
The two countries’ ties had already developed for two and a half years after their respective governments announced the beginning of a process of normalization of relations, but on June 16, 2017 the U.S. President announced that it would eliminate some of the progress made.
‘With immediate effect, I am canceling the completely unilateral treatment of the last administration,’ Trump said that day in a Miami theater before an unrepresentative group of Cubans whom the President addressed as if they embodied all the people born on the island.
Even when polls on the subject showed the majority support of the U.S. people to closer ties with the neighboring country, the Republican signed the Presidential National Security Memorandum on the Strengthening of the United States Policy toward Cuba.
This document announced future restrictions on travel by the Americans to the Caribbean nation and further obstacles to economic, commercial and financial transactions.
In a speech marked by numerous interventionist demands, the head of State ratified then the validity of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by Washington to Cuba more than 55 years ago.
Months after that speech, on November 9, the announced restrictions entered into force, including that people subject to U.S. jurisdiction are prohibited from conducting direct financial transactions with some 180 Cuban entities and sub-entities.
It was also determined that the trips of Americans to the island would continue restricted to 12 existing categories, none of them for tourist purposes, but the educational visits between individual citizens -without academic character- were eliminated, among other measures.
The Cuban government rejected such regulations and affirmed that the White House’s decision confirmed a resurgence of the blockade, a policy condemned again in the UN by 191 countries only a week before.
At the same time, while some legislators welcomed the measures and others like Republican senator Marco Rubio said they had to go further, several Congress members and economic sectors rejected them.
Democratic representative Kathy Castor considered that such regulations are part of Trump’s retrograde stance to return to failed isolationist policies against the island and its people.
Meanwhile, Republican congressman Mark Sanford said the ban on travel to Cuba, enacted at a critical moment of the Cold War, was outdated and an unfair limitation of American freedom.
Before the measures announced by the President in Miami take effect, another chapter began that also strongly affected bilateral ties.
Last August, the U.S. press released that diplomats from their country at the Embassy in Havana reported a series of health incidents forcing their departure from the island and an evaluation by medical personnel in the United States.
Although Cuba repeatedly stated that it was not responsible for the facts and complies with the provisions of the 1961 Vienna Convention regarding the protection of diplomats, on September 29 the State Department announced the withdrawal of more than half of its staff from the Caribbean country.
It also announced that the visa issuance from there was suspended, and published a Travel Alert in which it recommended to U.S. citizens to avoid visits to Cuba.
Those decisions, described as excessive by some Congress members and U.S. sectors, were followed on October 3 by the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from this capital, all measures remaining in force to this day.
No wonder then that this June 14, when the two countries held the 7th Meeting of the Bilateral Commission in Washington DC, the Caribbean country rejected the backward step imposed on the links and drew attention to its negative consequences for the two peoples, emigration and the regional and international environment.
The Cuban delegation reiterated that the blockade continues to be the fundamental obstacle to any prospect of improvement in mutual relations and denounced the resurgence of that policy.
It also urged to desist from the political manipulation of the alleged health cases, which Washington insists on describing as attacks despite acknowledging that their causes are unknown.
CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR RAPPROCHEMENT
Despite the current context, the President of the Engage Cuba coalition, James Williams, recently told Prensa Latina that wherever they go they see more support for the improvement of ties.
The incumbent, whose organization promotes the lifting of the blockade, lamented that Trump’s administration only listened to a couple of voices within Congress and took the wrong side of the story.
But that does not mean that the support of the American people and in the Capitol has decreased, I think it has intensified, he said.
The best proof of it was the creation on June 11 of the Pennsylvania-Engage Cuba State Council, composed of prominent leaders of the place and aimed at seeking support for the opening to the island and the end of travel and trade restrictions.
The state became the number 18 to join the Williams’ organization, something previously done by Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Also this week, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp announced that the Senate Agriculture Committee approved an amendment introduced by her and Republican John Boozman to increase access to the Cuban market for U.S. agricultural products.
The provision, introduced in the Agriculture Bill of 2018, would allow the Department of this sector to use its export market development programs to create, expand and maintain a presence in the neighboring country at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.
That is one of the several legislative efforts defended by Congress members, which include the Agricultural Exports to Cuba Law with 64 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
In addition, during this period has actively continued the work of the organizations of solidarity with Cuba, which last October held their most recent annual conference in Seattle city, in the state of Washington.
Twelve months after the signing of a memorandum that harms bilateral ties, many people in the United States wish the same thing expressed this month in Havana by Republican Senator Jeff Flake: ‘more cooperation, more travel, more communication anda better relationship’ with Cuba.
* Prensa Latina News Agency’s Chief Correspondent in the United States