Normalization with Cuba seems likely to be another Obama policy that will be undone by the incoming administration:
President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to “terminate” normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba if he can’t get “a better deal” from Havana may leave him at odds with many in the U.S. business community and in deeply Republican states.
The thing to remember with Trump’s “better deal” rhetoric is that he says this about every negotiation to create the impression that he is not absolutely opposed to reaching an agreement, but then he demands concessions that the other side is never going to give. There is usually no “better deal” to be had, but Trump can’t admit that because it would require giving Obama’s people credit for doing something right and because it eliminates the need for his supposedly superior deal-making skills. That ends up putting him in a position no different from that of hard-line rejectionists, but it creates the illusion at the beginning that he is more willing to compromise.
Reversing Obama’s policy so soon after it started would be a serious mistake. The opening to Cuba has only barely begun and needs to be given time to work. Now that Fidel Castro is gone, it should be even easier to continue a policy of engagement with Cuba. It also makes sense politically. Normalizing relations with Cuba is more broadly popular than other Obama policies that Trump has campaigned against, and there is more Republican support for Obama’s changes to Cuba policy than there is for many of his other initiatives. Trump doesn’t have to cater to hard-liners on this issue unless he wants to. If Trump doesn’t want the policy to continue, he can reverse everything Obama did. That would be unfortunate for the U.S., and it would be even worse for Cuba, and it would start Trump’s tenure off with a senseless blunder that will further sour relations with the rest of the hemisphere.
Joshua Keating notes that reversing Obama’s opening to Cuba would have consequences for the U.S. in the wider region:
Trump’s moves could also have wider diplomatic implications for the U.S., particularly in Latin America, where there’s significant public support for the Castros and the embargo (which is almost universally opposed internationally) has long been a source of tension. Ecuador’s left-wing President Rafael Correa suggested in October that if Trump were elected, like George W. Bush before him, that would lead to the election of more left-wing governments in the region. Trump is already mistrusted and disliked there because of his immigration rhetoric, notes Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, adding that “if Trump acts on his Cuba rhetoric, I think it’s going to create a lot of strong reactions and anti-Yanqui feeling. And not just on the left.”
Trump would be wise to continue the opening with Cuba in recognition that engagement is the best way to advance U.S. interests there. That engagement isn’t necessarily going to lead to swift political or even economic change in Cuba, and significant political change may be a long time yet in coming. Regardless, continued and increased engagement will gradually strengthen the ties between our countries and improve conditions inside Cuba while benefiting American businesses. That is a good deal for all concerned, and it shouldn’t be abandoned for the sake of chasing after a “better deal” that doesn’t exist.