The death of Fidel Castro – whom President-elect Donald Trump called a “brutal dictator” in a statement the next day – could give Trump a politically feasible way to retain part of President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba.
Trump has threatened to undo executive orders by President Obama that narrowed the scope of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in a variety of ways. Obama substantially increased the number of U.S. businesses that can operate on the island and the number of Americans allowed to visit. Among other executive actions, President Obama has boosted the volume of legally imported Cuban rum and cigars.
Trump said in his statement Saturday that Castro left a legacy of “firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
But the developer-turned-president also speculated that Castro’s death is a pivotal period allowing Cubans to “finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”
Another pivotal period will unfold in two years. Castro’s brother Raul, 85, who succeeded the revolutionary leader as president of Cuba in 2008, has said he will step down in 2018, potentially ending the Castro brothers’ decades-long control of the Cuban government before the end of Trump’s first term as president.
A wide swath of U.S. industries – from agricultural interests and banks to hotel and restaurant operators – will push Trump to sustain Obama’s policy of business-friendly engagement with Cuba.
Even if Trump rescinds some of Obama’s executive orders to re-engage with Cuba, he is unlikely to re-establish a purely isolationist policy toward Cuba.
Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American program at the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, told the Los Angeles Times, “There is going to be a strong push back” from U.S. business interests worried about a return to isolating Cuba. “Trump is after all a hotel man. I suspect he will understand the potential for American enterprise.” [Los Angeles Times] – Mike Seemuth