Soon — maybe as early as Friday — President Donald Trump, with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, is expected to announce a presidential initiative that will roll back the Obama-era efforts that loosened the 56-year-old United States embargo on Cuba. How far will the president go?
More important than the actual content of the executive changes, though, will be how the United States Congress, businesses and other interested groups react to Mr. Trump’s reversal of policies that, according to Pew Research Center, 75 percent of Americans support.
Key, too, will be the reaction of the Cuban government. For the past half-century, the gerontocratic Cuban regime has survived because the embargo has not just isolated the Cuban people from their closest neighbor of more than 300 million — including close to two million fellow Cubans — but also provided a convenient excuse for the regime’s economic failure.
Despite the assertions of its advocates, the embargo’s harshness has never correlated with improvements in human rights. The worst crackdown in modern Cuban history was in April 2003, when the Cuban government rounded up 75 human rights activists and independent journalists and sentenced them to an average of 20 years in prison. That was precisely when the embargo was at its tightest, under George W. Bush’s administration, when even Cuban-Americans were restricted in how often they could travel to the island to visit relatives or send them money. (Most political prisoners were released in 2010-11 through a deal brokered by the Vatican.)
What the United States lacked then but has now is leverage. Since President Barack Obama announced the first in a series of dramatic reforms on Dec. 17, 2014, to normalize relations, the United States and Cuba have collaborated on fighting narcotics trafficking and money laundering, cooperated on improving port and airport security, and managed to secure visits from officials like the United Nations special rapporteur on human trafficking.
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