Trump should follow Obama's path on Cuba

Trump Cuba
President Trump shows a signed executive order on Cuba policy Friday in Miami.

In the five months since Donald Trump became president he has continually announced policies that seem to confound world leaders on his foreign policy or serve as nothing more than a desire to overturn any initiative begun under the Obama administration. Whatever his motivations, Trump’s announcements seem to have a contrarian bent, with his most recent one on Cuba policy just one more example that defies logic.

Whether it is about building a wall on our southern border, being one of three signatories (in addition to Syria and Nicaragua) to pull out of the Paris climate accord, or threatening to withdraw from the agreement designed to monitor and halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, Trump seems bent on ending programs and disbanding with any form of diplomatic engagement.

With Cuba as the latest example, one must wonder what Trump’s real motivations are. He announced Friday that he will roll back tourism to the island nation by restricting Americans’ travel there until Cuba “releases all political prisoners”; “freedoms of assembly and expression are respected”; “all political parties are legalized”; and “free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.”

Trump should have addressed such remarks to Saudi Arabia during his recent trip there. He constantly lavished praise on Saudi leaders and celebrated being feted in return, despite their horrendous record on human rights and strong financial support of the Saudi-based Wahabi movement, which continually spreads its influence throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe — wherever Muslims can be found and influenced to join in support of ISIS and other Islamic radical groups.

Having been to Cuba nine times since 2013 and organizing countless American delegations and “people to people” tourism programs under a license granted by the U.S. Treasury, I can assure Trump that progress in Cuba has been growing in numerous ways.

  • In February 2013, Raul Castro announced that he was in his last five-year term and that he would be stepping down in 2018, when elections would be held to choose a new leader.
  • We have arranged many forums in which Cuban academics, diplomats, and artists have spoken to American groups with seemingly little restrictions on what they have said, including at times, criticism of government policies.
  • The advances put forth by the Obama administration have allowed Cuban Americans to bring or send more money to their relatives inside Cuba. This initiative, as well as the increased tourism, has allowed thousands of Cubans to open up private businesses and enter into business arrangements with Cuban Americans within Cuba.
  • In 2013, few Cubans had cell phones and even fewer had access to the internet. Today, cell phones are an ubiquitous part of Cuban life and one can find internet and wi-fi zones throughout Cuba, providing access to the outside world.
  • Being gay in Cuba was cause for great concern not long ago. Today, LGBT rights have gone the opposite direction, led by no less than Marielo Castro, the daughter of Raoul Castro and director of the Cuban Nation Center for Sex Education.

While the old guard Republican Cuban Americans based primarily in Florida still hold sway over people like Sen. Marco Rubio and others whose political fortunes and financial backing have come largely from such groups, even members of this segment of Cuban Americans have been going, often very discreetly, to Cuba and looking into, if not participating, in business opportunities.

Admittedly, not all of Cuba’s restrictive policies over the years have disappeared, including those relating to human rights and political freedoms, but nearly all Cubans within Cuba would say they are better off now since the Obama overtures, than before.

Not everything Obama began with Cuba has resulted in prosperity, but there is no disputing the fact that his initiative helped bring about ongoing change for the good for both Cubans and American companies. These changes would have been unlikely to occur if the United States had continued its five-decade policy of treating Cuba as a pariah state.

For a president who promised to help create jobs and bring renewed prosperity, it is time for Trump to realize that the Obama-led policies toward Cuba have been helping to create new jobs for Americans and thousands of Cubans. Most countries and many Cubans see those polices as the right path for the island’s future.

Jerry Sorkin is the founder of TunisUSA and Iconic Journeys Worldwide and presently serves as director of marketing and product development for the Gil Travel Group. jmsorkin1@gmail.com