Trump’s Cuba dilemma

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Cuban celebrating National Rebellion Day on 26 July

On 16 June US President Donald Trump announced his intention to roll back the Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba in order to ‘seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and the United States of America’. His speech, delivered to an ensemble of reactionary Cubans in Miami, promised to enforce greater restrictions on travel and trade. Trump denounced Cuban socialism as the ‘Cuban people’s oppressor’ and praised previous US interventions on the island. However, he stopped far short of reversing Obama’s Cuba policy or of breaking off diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States re-established in 2015. James Bell reports.

President Trump faces the same problem that Obama confronted in 2014. Put bluntly, the strategy of economically and politically isolating socialist Cuba in order to destroy it, adopted by US imperialism since 1961, has not worked.

A new path is still required. However, Trump needs the support of Cuban-Americans who favour a harder line towards Cuba. In the 2016 presidential election the Republican Party secured Florida with a narrow margin of 1.2%. This was in no small part due to the support of this demographic who account for 72% of Republican voters in Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county. So Trump plays at being the strong man towards Cuba. Characteristic of his political inelegance, Trump’s policy is a hodgepodge of ideas intended to bridge this contradiction.

Tourism

In 2015, Obama ruled that US citizens travelling to Cuba no longer had to apply to the government for a licence, but could simply register their visit under one of 12 categories. While tourism remained prohibited, it was possible for US citizens to visit independently for ‘educational and cultural’ purposes. Trump’s administration will now roll back this right, prohibiting the independent ‘people to people’ travel category outright and severely restricting travel for educational purposes.

If a non-Cuban US citizen now intends to travel to Cuba, they will need to do so as part of a group under the guidance of a US-approved guide who will decide their itinerary. Similarly, US citizens travelling to Cuba for educational purposes will need to provide more details of what educational purpose is being served and, if their trip is approved, may be required to travel under supervision. The US Treasury Department has stated that, under these changes, a ‘traveller’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess.’

Ironically, while Trump claims to wish to bolster Cuba’s embryonic private sector, his travel restrictions will likely penalise that sector hardest. Until now, US visitors travelling to Cuba on independent ‘people to people’ visas have tended to be accommodated in private homes. They will now travel on organised trips which will be accommodated in state-run hotels.

Transactions with the Cuban military

Trump also announced the prohibition of US transactions with Cuban enterprises controlled by the military. These enterprises are controlled by the Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (GAESA), a holding company for the Cuban Ministry of Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR). While this will have an impact on the Cuban economy, the effect has been greatly exaggerated. In 2004 the Miami Herald published an article which falsely claimed that 60% of Cuba’s economy is controlled by GAESA and MINFAR.

Since Trump’s speech this lie has been reiterated by many bourgeois news outlets, including The Economist, The Times and The Guardian. According to William LeoGrande, Professor at the American University, GAESA and MINFAR account for around 21% of hard-currency income from both state enterprises and the private sector, 8% of total state revenue and 4% of GDP. Furthermore, the Cuban military operates on a model of self-sustainability and Trump’s manoeuvres are unlikely to severely damage its finances.

Where this will impact on Cuban enterprises most is in the tourist sector, with GAESA controlling around 40% of hotels alongside several restaurants and convenience stores. The explicit intent of this policy is to reduce state revenue. Either way, in 2016 US visitors accounted for just 7% of Cuba’s 4.1 million visitors, so this is not a devastating blow to the economy. In fact, since Trump’s announcement, the number of bookings by US citizens to visit Cuba has soared as they rush to visit the island before the policy becomes law.

Remittances

Remittances to Cubans from friends or family living in the US have also been placed on Trump’s agenda. In September 2009, Obama removed the limits on remittances from family members implemented under the Bush administration. Remittances from non-family sources were capped at $500 and required a licence. In January 2015 Obama raised the cap to $2,000 and removed the need for a licence. Rather than tamper with this system, Trump plans to extend the number of Cuban citizens who are banned from receiving remittances, previously confined to Communist Party officials. Under the new regulations virtually any Cuban holding an appointed position in Cuba’s democratic structure will be banned from receiving remittances from the US, including elected trade union representatives. This attempts to disincentivise participation within Cuba’s socialist democracy by means of naked bribery.

New guy, same goal

In FRFI 244 we argued that the process of normalisation begun by Obama in 2014 represented a change of tactic in US imperialism’s war against Cuban independence and socialism. Rather than the brute force of economic and political isolation, the US was now pursuing a policy designed to exacerbate inequalities in Cuba, promote private property and, ultimately, materially and ideologically distort the progress of the Cuban Revolution. Despite the threat that this posed to Cuban socialism, it reflected the strength of the Revolution, which had not collapsed but developed after decades of aggression from the imperialists on its doorstep.

Whatever he says, Trump’s Cuba policy does not halt or reverse the trajectory begun in 2014. Where he has introduced changes, he has done so with the objective of deepening the contradictions which Obama undertook to foster. In most areas, policy remains the same, despite more aggressive rhetoric. The blockade will remain in place until Cuba has a government compliant with the interests of US capital. The ‘wet foot-dry foot’ policy will not return. Trump, like Obama before him, seeks to destroy socialism by actively creating divisions within Cuban society itself.

The Cuban Revolution, however, will not fall. As Raul Castro said on 14 July: ‘Cuba and the United States can co-operate and co-exist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence. And today, I add, nor will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions of any kind, just as we have never done throughout the history of the Revolution. Despite what the government of the United States does, or does not decide to do, we will continue advancing along the sovereign path chosen by our people.’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 259 August/September 2017