“To the Cuban government, I say: Put an end to the abuse of dissidents. Release the political prisoners. Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms. Return the fugitives from American justice – including the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. And finally, hand over the Cuban military criminals who shot down and killed four brave members of Brothers to the Rescue who were in unarmed, small, slow civilian planes.” President Trump
By RJ Galliano l July 4, 2017
In the early afternoon of June 16 gathered at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Vice President Mike Pence stoked the packed audience awaiting the featured speaker for over three hours on a day of 90 degree South Florida temperatures that some said felt like 110.
Florida’s who’s-who roll call of Republican politicians included Governor Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Congressman Curbelo, and key Trump administration officials such as the Secretaries of: Labor, Alexander Acosta; Agriculture, Sonny Perdue; and, Commerce’s Wilbur Ross. In attendance were the sons and daughters of a once free and independent Cuba. This Friday was an important occasion, and the administration pulled out all the stops.
In his introduction, Pence proclaimed that “under the leadership of President Donald Trump America will say once again with one voice – Que Viva Cuba Libre – Cuba Si, Castro No.”
And the crowd’s thunderous applause shook Artime Theater with repeated chants of, “Cuba Si, Castro No,” a spin on Fidel Castro’s anti-American slogan, Cuba Si, Yanqui No, at the height of the Castro Communist revolution during the Cold War era.
The setting was the perfect venue for President Donald Trump to make good on another campaign promise, to change course on U.S.-Cuba policy as set forth by his predecessor Barack Obama – a policy he had described as “a one-sided deal” benefiting “only the Castro regime” – not a very artful deal.
In the Little Havana section of Miami, Trump praised the Veterans of the 2506 Brigade, who had honored candidate Donald Trump with their Bay of Pigs award prior to the election. And, “it’s great to be gathered in a place named for a true hero of the Cuban people,” Manuel Artime.
“Finally, I want to recognize everyone in the audience who has their own painful but important story to tell about the true and brutal nature of the Castro regime,” said Trump. “We thank the dissidents, the exiles, and the children of Operation Peter Pan – you know what that means – and all who gather in the cafes, churches, and the streets in this incredible area and city to speak the truth and to stand for justice.”
Trump spoke directly to each and every one of the Cuban exiles and their families thanking them “all for being a voice for the voiceless,” calling them witnesses to the “terrible crimes committed in service of a depraved ideology” that has been allowed to linger for over a half-century 90 miles from Key West, Florida.
He captured their hearts and minds while embracing their pain saying, “You saw the dreams of generations held captive” by communism. “You knew faces that disappeared, innocents locked in prisons, and believers persecuted for preaching the word of God. You watched the Women in White bruised, bloodied, and captured on their way to Mass. You have heard the chilling cries of loved ones, or the cracks of firing squads piercing through the ocean breeze.”
Trump’s words of truth were absorbed by an audience thirsting for active leadership that understood the suffering of a hardworking and productive Cuban-American community whose exile parents and grandparents, many of whom arrived with only the clothes they were wearing and empty pockets, stripped of productive property, largely considered themselves an exile community grateful to the United States, who as refugees easily assimilated into the American fabric, contributed to the country’s prosperity, yet, longed to return to a free and independent Cuba.
As a lame duck in the waning two years of his presidency, Obama, with the secret assistance of Pope Frances, who hailed from Argentina, had negotiated with the Castro regime to help pave the way for a greater U.S. opening to Cuba. Then on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 during a relatively quiet period in Washington when many Americans, including the news media and government officials, were gearing down for the year in anticipation of the Christmas and New Year holidays, Obama announced from the White House that the U.S. would reopen its embassy in Havana, closed since 1961. Raul Castro coordinated a similar announcement. This timing was equivalent to making a major announcement at the end of the week late on a Friday afternoon, intended to bury a story affording it minimal coverage.
In a dissembling opening statement, Obama began, “Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” No, not really, Obama was attempting to forge a radically new relationship with the Castro government, whose people are not entitled to the freedoms of speech, religion, association, travel, private property, or even the ownership of the fruits of their enslaved labor. That long held policy shift didn’t serve to improve the natural rights of the Cuban people but only helped to prop up a long-failed Cuban dictatorship, whose economic lifelines had slipped away or were in danger of disappearing altogether. Moscow’s oil subsidies, throughout the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s had evaporated by the time the former Soviet Union fully collapsed in December 1991 and, were in danger of slipping away once again following the death of Venezuela’s dictator, Hugo Chavez, in March 2013 – Fidel Castro’s faithful comrade and ally.
Obama’s announced Cuba policy shift came on the heels of the Democrat’s Senate loss in the 2014 Midterm elections, giving Republicans control of both the House and Senate.
The State Department’s announced intention to remove Cuba from the list of designated terrorist states paved the way for Obama to normalize relations, including travel, trade, and financial transactions, in effect throwing the Castro regime another desperately needed lifeline.
During the Reagan administration, Cuba, acting as a Soviet proxy, attempted a takeover of Central America by supporting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the communist guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala. The failure of Havana to heed Vernon Walter’s warning to halt its support of these guerrillas led to Cuba being placed on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1982, until Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry rescinded Cuba’s designation and paved the way toward normalization of diplomatic relations.
As a result of Obama’s attempted rescue of the bankrupt Castro regime, Interest Sections in the respective capitals became Embassies essentially overnight, normalizing diplomatic relations. But the Obama administration was unable to officially lift the economic and trade embargo against Cuba without Congressional approval, for which he would not be able to muster the necessary support.
While President Trump was inclined to reverse course on Obama’s Cuba policy, Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart were instrumental in working with him and his administration to overcome the decades-long institutional bureaucratic inertia resident at the U.S. Department of State. This time, however, the outcome would be different.
Trump and his fledgling administration would not disappoint the patient crowd waiting for hours at the Manuel Artime Theater on the East Side of Miami’s Little Havana district.
President Trump proclaimed, “effective immediately, I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba” and challenged Havana “to come to the table with a new agreement that is in the best interests of both their people and our people and also of Cuban Americans.
“I am announcing today a new policy, just as I promised during the campaign, and I will be signing that contract right at that table in just a moment.”
Check off another campaign promise fulfilled.
Trump set the bar high and was uncompromising when it came to calling for the scheduling of internationally supervised free and fair elections, legalizing all political parties, and releasing all political prisoners. He put forth a policy that would strictly enforce U.S. laws involving the embargo, financial institutions and transactions and the ban on open tourism and trade. More importantly, Trump’s retooled U.S.-Cuba policy pronouncement is intended to bypass the military-government control of the economy so as to benefit the Cuban people and expand the private sector on the encarcerated island.
“To the Cuban government, I say: Put an end to the abuse of dissidents. Release the political prisoners. Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms. Return the fugitives from American justice – including the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. And finally, hand over the Cuban military criminals who shot down and killed four brave members of Brothers to the Rescue who were in unarmed, small, slow civilian planes.”
In preparing to sign his administration’s new Cuba policy declaration, largely reversing Obama’s December 2014 action, President Trump concluded in active leadership style, “I just want to end by saying may God bless everyone searching for freedom. May God bless Cuba. May God bless the United States of America. And may God bless you all…Now I’m going to sign…So this says, ‘strengthening the policy of the United States toward Cuba.’ And I can add, ‘strengthening a lot.’”
RJ Galliano founded the Institute for U.S. Cuba Relations and served as editor of the U.S. Cuba Policy Report, archived at the Library of Congress. He is a director at SFPPR and editor of SFPPR News & Analysis.