Sunday, September 25, 2016

Trump's new Cuba position provokes anxiety on the island

Trump's new Cuba position provokes anxiety on the island
Updated: SEPTEMBER 21, 2016 — 12:40 PM EDT
by ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, The Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) - Donald Trump's threat to undo President Barack Obama's
detente with Cuba unless President Raul Castro abides by Trump's list of
demands is provoking widespread anxiety among ordinary Cubans, who were
paying little attention to the U.S. presidential campaign until now.

Trump had been generally supportive of Obama's reestablishment of
diplomatic ties and normalization of relations, saying he thought
detente was "fine" although he would have cut a better deal.

Then, in Miami on Friday, the Republican nominee said he would reverse
Obama's series of executive orders unless Castro meets demands including
"religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of
political prisoners." Castro said in a speech the following day that
Cuba "will not renounce a single one of its principles," reiterating a
longstanding rejection of any U.S. pressure.

While Hillary Clinton maintains an electoral college advantage, Cubans
are suddenly envisioning the possibility of a U.S. president who would
undo measures popular among virtually everyone on the island, from
hard-line communists to advocates of greater freedom and democracy.

"I don't think he'd make such a drastic decision. Or would he?" Bernardo
Toledo, a 72-year-old retired state worker, asked nervously. "It would
be disgraceful."

While the detente announced on Dec. 17, 2014 has had limited direct
impact on most ordinary Cubans, it has created feelings of optimism
about a future of civil relations with Cuba's giant neighbor to the
north. An Univision/Washington Post poll of 1,200 Cubans taken in March,
2015 found that 97 percent supported detente.

For most ordinary people in a country that's had only two leaders over
nearly six decades, and where the president's word is law, Trump's
unexpected reversal was a reminder that a single election might wipe
away those closer ties.

"All we want is to be left in peace. Isn't he thinking about our
families?" complained pharmacist Heidi Picot. "How could he do something
like this, make everybody worried?"

Still, some Cuban experts on relations with the U.S. saw the candidate
as merely pandering to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in South Florida, and
don't believe a President Trump would follow through with his campaign
pledge. Detente is increasingly popular among Cuban-Americans and South
Florida pollsters say Trump is not ahead with them by the margins
managed by previous Republicans who've won Florida.

Hillary Clinton has declared her support for continuing Obama's policy,
which has reopened the U.S. Embassy, re-established direct flights and
removed Cuba from a list of state terror sponsors. It also has done away
with most limits on cash remittances from the U.S and increased
cooperation on topics ranging from law enforcement to public health.

"I don't think it will be very easy for Trump to reverse some things,"
former diplomat Carlos Alzugary said. "Break diplomatic relations? Put
Cuba back on the list of terrorist states? Those things are almost

Cuba's state media had been virtually silent on the U.S. presidential
campaign, seemingly uncertain of how to square the polarizing and highly
competitive race with the oft-repeated Cuban assertion that U.S.
democracy offers false choices between nearly identical corporate pawns.

Trump's statement generated an unusual amount of official coverage over
the weekend. State radio stations and other government-run media accused
the Republican of pandering to Cuban-Americans in an attempt to win
Florida's electoral votes.

A Trump reversal would fit a historical pattern, started under Jimmy
Carter, in which Democratic presidents build ties to Cuba and their
Republican successors largely undo them.

Obama has worked hard to make the opening irreversible by building
popular and corporate support at home. In Cuba, the government has
welcomed some new ties, like scientific cooperation and commercial
flights. It has stalled on others, like ferries from Florida. Some
observers believe that's because Castro's government fears building ties
that a hostile future U.S. administration could use in the interests of
regime change.

The Cuban government has given no indication of whether Trump's
statement will give new impetus to U.S.-Cuba normalization, or cause the
process to stall in what could be its last three months.

Meanwhile, Cubans remain hopeful, but increasingly worried.

"It's a way to move the economy forward, to diversify," said Yenitsia
Arango, a 34-year-old nurse. "The door's been opened to better relations
and it's not a good idea to go in reverse."

Correspondent Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.


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