President Donald Trump is reportedly set to backtrack on his past support for opening up diplomacy with Cuba, and instead bring back aspects of the 54 year long embargo against the island nation. According to Fox News, he will announce this policy shift during a speech in Miami on Friday.
Trump is likely to close the U.S. embassy in Cuba’s capital, Havana, and reimpose restrictions on flights to Cuba from the United States. Although the former decision was expected, the latter is a surprisingly radical move that will heavily affect freedom of travel for ordinary Americans, given that Cuba is just 90 miles from the United States and there are dozens of flights to Cuba from U.S. cities every day.
Trump is also set to call for greater political freedom in Cuba and the release of political prisoners by the ruling communist regime there. It is unclear whether these demands will serve as prerequisites for maintaining the thaw in relations with Cuba.
According to the report, it is also possible that Trump will attempt to restrict the dealings of American businesses with the Cuban military, although this remains unconfirmed. It also suggested that this move was not directed at the current Cuban leader, Raul Castro, but the individuals set to succeed him after his announced retirement in 2018.
In September 2015, Trump told the Daily Caller that “50 years was enough”, and that he supported the general idea of “opening with Cuba”, making him the only Republican candidate aside from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to support the normalization of ties. However, he believed a “better deal” could have been made with Cuba in exchange for ending the U.S. embargo.
During a CNN Republican presidential debate in Miami in March 2016, he elaborated further on his position, reiterating that he believed in some degree of opening with Cuba but clarifying that he was “somewhere in the middle” between President Obama and the other Republican candidates on the Cuba issue. In particular, he sought to remove the potential for litigation of the United States by Cuba. Asked what he would do about the embassy in Havana, he continued, “I would probably have the embassy closed until such time as a really good deal was made and struck by the United States.” This response inflamed Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who demanded the reimposition of the embargo, and declared that any theoretical opening of relations with Cuba should be contingent on the country embracing democracy, extraditing U.S. fugitives and jettisoning their historic allies, an unrealistic outcome which would greatly reduce the possibility of any deal being made.
Since President Trump’s election, Rubio has continued his push for drastic measures on Cuba. After a dinner with Rubio in March, Trump stated that he now had “very similar views on Cuba” to the Florida Senator. Rubio is said to have worked “diligently behind the scenes” to guarantee this shift in Trump’s position to one much closer to his own. Trump has suggested that part of his motivation for changing tack was in order to reward Cuban-Americans for having been “very good to [him], in the Florida elections.”