If You Want to End Trump’s Cold War Against Cuba, Vote for Joe Biden
As President, Biden Would ‘Reverse the Failed Trump Policies’
In the United States, Americans have been laser focused on the Coronavirus pandemic that will undoubtedly go down in history as President Donald Trump’s fatal error, the one that hopefully will cost him a second term in office. As of Oct. 21, 8.3 million people in the US had contracted the virus, and at least 221,571 had died of COVID-19, according to the New York Times database. At this moment, cases are surging in states across the country, particularly in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains.
Almost anyone who can vote has by now heard of Trump’s admission to Bob Woodward that he knew about the dangers of this virus early, in January, and that he kept it from the public until mid-March. What he managed to accomplish with his Coronavirus Task Force was too little, too late.
This alone should be enough to deny him another term.
But even as we focus on our own plight, Americans should recall that the fate of other countries — at least for the next four years — also depends largely on the outcome of this high-stakes presidential election. This is the case for the people of Cuba. And this is yet another reason to vote against Trump.
Recently, Dawer Pérez Cañete, my good friend from Cuba who now lives in California, called his mother who still lives in his hometown of Las Tunas. Dawer noticed that he couldn’t see his mother’s face on WhatsApp. He thought she might be sitting outside in the dark. Actually, she was sitting in her living room, dark because the tube-shaped light bulb for her lamp was broken, and none of the stores had replacements. To continue the call, she moved to her bedroom where the lamp was still working.
I met Dawer when he was a student in my English class at the Maryland community college where I teach. He stood out because he already had an advanced degree. For almost four years, he has been working as a manager for Equalitech, a non-profit organization that specializes in digital access, language learning, and career and life skills training for the low-income community in Goleta, California. I read about the incident with his mother on his Facebook Page, Voices for Cuba.
As he spoke with his mother, Dawer smiled sadly, thinking of the many ways in which people on the island go without because basic items like lamp tubes are always in short supply. Waiting for what you need is a way of life in Cuba that has been greatly exacerbated by the 60-year-old US embargo on that country, which imports many of its necessities.
And that brings us back to Donald Trump.
Donald Trump’s War on Cuba
Cuba is one area of the world where Trump’s policies deserve extra scrutiny and condemnation because of their cruelty.
By making the Cuban blockade even more onerous and imposing other stringent rules on the island, Trump has brought the Cold War back with a vengeance, all to curry favor with conservative voters in the Florida Cuban exile community. The people of Cuba have suffered greatly as a result.
In contrast, President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba was a shining example of diplomacy at its best. His historic visit to Cuba has been compared to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to the People’s Republic of China, which ended decades of estrangement between the US and China.
Obama’s Promise to Bury the Cold War
Obama’s March 2016 trip to Cuba, the first of any US president in 88 years, was a humanitarian as well as a political gesture.
“I’m here to bury the last vestige of the Cold War in the Americas and to forge a new era of understanding to help improve the daily lives of the Cuban people,” Obama said during his visit to Havana.
Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser for the White House under Obama, explained the rationale for the trip, Rachel Glickhouse reported for Medium. “For more than fifty years, the United States pursued a policy of isolating and pressuring Cuba,” Rhodes acknowledged. “While the policy was rooted in the context of the Cold War, our efforts continued long after the rest of the world had changed. Put simply, U.S. Cuba policy wasn’t working and was well beyond its expiration date.”
In July 2015, several months before Obama’s Cuban trip, the Pew Research Center reported growing public support for US ties with Cuba and for an end to the US embargo, with almost three-quarters of Americans favoring both. Obama tried to persuade Congress to dismantle the embargo, but that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, Congress became more divided by the time he left office.
Obama’s Accomplishments in Cuba
Nevertheless, Obama accomplished a remarkable number of changes to the Cuba — US relationship during his two terms in office. He reestablished diplomatic ties, severed since 1961, and reopened a US Embassy in Havana. In 2014 he announced and subsequently carried out cooperation between our two nations on issues of “shared interests,” including “health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response.”
Obama lauded the role Cuban doctors have played in supporting health care in areas of the world most in need. “Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola,” he said, “and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.”
While continuing to promote “democracy and human rights in Cuba,” Obama removed “Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
“At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction,” Obama said.
US Tourism Benefits Cuba
Perhaps most importantly, Obama made it significantly easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and use their credit and debit cards there. Following Obama’s trip to the island, American tourism to Cuba exploded, powering an economic boom for small business owners of Airbnb style rentals, hotels, and restaurants.
“Matilde Portela, an Airbnb host, reveled in the flood of American tourists,” Washington Post reporter Anthony Faiola wrote. “An aspiring business executive at age 73, she quickly learned the art of niche marketing…’We had so many Americans coming that we didn’t know where to put them,’” Portela said. But after Trump took over, the number of Americans visiting Cuba dropped by 40 percent during the first three months of 2018 alone, Faiola reported.
The Cuban people directly benefitted when Obama removed limits on the amount of money that could be sent to Cubans from relatives in the United States. In addition, “U.S. financial institutions [were] allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions,” and US exporters were allowed “to sell goods in Cuba.”
Donald Trump’s One Plan: Destroy Obama’s Legacy
Donald Trump came into the White House with one plan — to destroy everything his predecessor in office had achieved. Top on his list were two of Obama’s signature achievements: The Affordable Care Act and his historic reunification with Cuba. Despite his efforts to destroy the ACA, the law remains in effect — hobbled, but not completely broken. The same is not true of Cuba.
Trump not only destroyed what Obama had so carefully created; he revived the Cold War and took it where no president had before. In a “bitter reversal of fortune,” Trump banned American travel to Cuba and halted the cruise ships, destroying the economic boom of the Obama years and helping to bring on Cuba’s “worst economic setback in years,” Faiola observed. “Lines have snaked for hours in front of markets selling rationed meat.”
Trump also enacted Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which no previous administration had done. This action in 2019 “reversed more than two decades of US policy toward Cuba,” reported Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. It authorizes “lawsuits by American citizens against Cuban government entities ‘trafficking’ in property that was confiscated six decades ago by the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.”
Trump has unleashed this law solely to appeal to conservative Cuban voters in South Florida before the election. Trump’s excuse — that he is “punishing” Cuba for its support of the Nicolas Maduro government in Venezuela — is laughable coming from a US President who openly admires dictatorial regimes, from Saudi Arabia to Russia.
Arturo Lopez Levy of NACLA calls the Helms-Burton Act “one of the most repudiated pieces of ‘trade’ legislation in the world.” Under Title III, “American courts will be open to hear any claims for lost properties by Cubans who became American citizens before 1996 after January 1, 1959,” he said.
“The former Cuban economic and political elites seem poised to try to claim all of these properties,” Lopez said, but not “the responsibility of mismanaging a country to the point of revolution.”
World Opinion Opposes Trump’s Sanctions
In world opinion, the Trump administration is alone in imposing stricter sanctions on Cuba, Levy said. “Trump’s return to sanctions will neither empower any relevant actor in Cuba’s politics nor change the Cuban government’s behavior.”
Moreover, Levy noted that “Cubans of almost every political persuasion will see Vice President Pence’s announcement that the United States will sanction oil shipments from Venezuela to Cuba as sanctions for the sake of sanctions — a means to create scarcity, desperation, and chaos in the island.”
The Trump administration has even tried to stop other countries from accepting the help of Cuban doctors by accusing those countries of human trafficking. “Ralph Gonslaves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the incoming chairman of Caricom (the bloc of 15 Caribbean member countries) said the US charges are “nonsense.”
“Currently there are more than 470 Cuban medical personnel working alongside their counterparts in nine Caribbean countries…to assist in managing the spread of COVID-19,” Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported.
Joe Biden Represents Hope for Cuba
Given the draconian policies of Trump, the improvements that the Cuban people might experience under a Joe Biden presidency cannot be underestimated. And the benefits to Americans to once again have friendly relations with an island people just 90 miles off the coast of Florida are incalculable.
Biden has indicated that he will restore the same policies towards Cuba that President Obama implemented when Biden served as his Vice President.
“I’d try to reverse the failed Trump policies, it inflicted harm on Cubans and their families,” Biden said in an interview with NBC 6 in South Florida. “I’d pursue a policy of advancing interests and empowering the Cuban people to freely determine their own outcome, their own future,” he said.
If the Democrats regain control of the Senate, Biden’s goal could become a reality.
During these final weeks of the campaign, Biden is also going head-to-head with Trump in South Florida and other areas of the state. “Here in Florida, you can determine the outcome of this election,” Biden told the Tampa Bay Times. “We win Florida and it’s all over.”
Ultimately, if you want to help end Trump’s Cold War Against Cuba, vote for Joe Biden.