“This is an amazing community. The Cuban-American community has so much love, I saw that immediately. What you built here, a vibrant culture, a thriving neighborhood, the spirit of adventure; it is a testament to what a free Cuba could be. And with God’s help a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve,” is what President Donald Trump said on Friday, June 16 to a packed audience at the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana, Florida. President Trump visited the exile community to announce changes to American-Cuban relations and to roll back several Obama-era policies that made travel between the two formerly hostile countries more lax.
“Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America. We don’t want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba,” Trump said to a crowd who cheered “Cuba si! Castro No!”
The policy changes include more stringent and restricted travel to the island, barring Americans from planning private trips to Cuba, unless they are part of an authorized educational tour. American businesses will also be prohibited from dealing with the Cuban military or any commercial entities associated the Cuban government.
However, the United States embassy will remain open in Havana, and flights between the two nations will still be available.
Cuban-American politicians Mario Diaz-Balart and Marco Rubio energized the crowd with their anti-Castro and anti-communist rhetoric as they introduced Trump. “He will not gloss over the human rights abuses and the pleas of political prisoners. You will no longer have to witness the embarrassing spectacle of an American president doing the wave with a ruthless dictator at a baseball game in Cuba,” said Diaz-Balart.
“Many will characterize this as an effort to punish the Cuban regime, and it will punish the Cuban military that oppress its people and helps Maduro oppress people in Venezuela,” said Senator Marco Rubio. “But more than anything else, this change empowers the people of Cuba, not the government, not the regime, but the people, so that they can enjoy the freedom and the liberty with a very clear message: America is prepared to outstretch its hand and work with the people of Cuba, but we will not empower their oppressors.”
Rubio contrasted how the former administration worked more closely with the Castro regime than the actual Cuban people. “Less than a year and a half ago when an American president landed in Havana, he was greeted by a regime, to outstretch his hand to a regime; today an American president lands in Miami to reach his hand out to the people of Cuba,” Rubio said.
Senator Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba in 1956, has had a consistent opposition to the Obama administration’s relationship with Cuba. In an interview with Anderson Cooper in 2016, Rubio criticized Obama’s decision to visit Cuba, referencing an incident where the Cuban government was caught assisting the government of North Korea with weapons; and repeated that he would not visit Cuba until it was free.
The announcement was not made without local and foreign criticism. La Granma, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and the most widely distributed paper in Cuba, said the opinions and attitudes of Cuban-Americans in Miami did not represent the sentiment of all Cubans in the United States in this article.
“Al parecer, Trump está convencido de que la exigua minoría de ultraderechistas que lo rodeaba este viernes es representativa de los casi dos millones de ciudadanos de origen cubano que viven en los Estados Unidos.”
“It appears Trump is convinced by the ultra-conservative, meager, minority that surrounded him on Friday that they are representative of the two million citizens of Cuban origin that live in the United States.”
In another article, the state-controlled newspaper said the United States was reverting to coercive and antiquated tactics, which would not only hurt their developing economy and sovereignty, but also international commerce.
Brent Wilkes, the CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens had this to say about Trump’s speech about his administration’s new policy on Cuba:
“We must continue to pressure the Cuban government to raise their human rights standards and support their efforts to move towards a democratic system of government. The Trump Administration’s announcement reversing the Obama policies with regard to Cuba are unfortunate in that they only hinder the Cuban government’s effort to provide its people with economic and political freedoms. In addition, the new policies will continue to isolate the Cuban people from ideas, perspectives and technologies that would help to realize their social, political and economic prosperity. Moving forward, LULAC urges the Trump administration to embrace a policy that opens doors rather than close them.”
The Venezuelan newspaper Correo del Orinoco also decried Trump’s announcement and allied itself with the Cuban government. It published an article reinforcing its allegiance to Cuba, “Venezuela stands in solidarity with Cuba over the reestablishment of the United States block announced by Trump.”
As equal as the criticism has been, there has been equal praise of the president’s tough stance against the regime. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, leader of opposition group: the Cuban Patriotic Union, wrote a letter to President Trump asking for renewed sanctions against the government.
“We believe that this is the moment for a maximum reversal of some policies that only benefit the Castro regime and does very little or nothing for the oppressed people. It is time to impose strong sanctions on the regime of Raul Castro,” Ferrer wrote.
Cuban-born Miami-Dade County Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, lauded President Trump’s new policy in a statement: “The United States is the land of hope and opportunity for the world. Our policies should reflect our values and empower people over regimes. Although Fidel Castro is no longer in power, his brother continues to lead one of the world’s most cruel and brutal regimes. The Cuban military is an instrument of the state, and reducing its access to American dollars is a positive move that I strongly support.”
At the end of the speech, Trump signed the legislative order; however, the new policies will take several months to be fully enacted and implemented, the “Wet-foot, dry-foot” policy will not be restored and was not mentioned at all on Friday. The policy expedited American citizenship to Cuban refugees.
Before signing the order, President Trump acknowledged the struggles and suffering endured by many of the Cuban exiles in attendance, even sharing the stage with three former political prisoners.
“Many of you have witnessed terrible crimes committed in service of a depraved ideology,” Trump said. “You saw the dreams of generations held captivate, what communism has done, 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 from mass, you have heard the chilling cries of loved ones and the cracks of firing squads piercing through the ocean breeze.”
Madari Pendas is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami. Her work has appeared in the Accentos Review, Pank Magazine, The New Tropic and the Miami New Times. Madari focuses on women’s issue abroad and Latin America.