Future of U.S.-Cuba business ties doubtful after Castro’s death

With support from such lawmakers as Marco Rubio, the embargo against Cuba won't end soon

Nov.November 27, 2016 10:30 AM
Miamians gather in the streets to celebrate Fidel Castro's death (Credit: Joe Radely / Getty Images)

Miamians gather in the streets to celebrate Fidel Castro’s death (Credit: Joe Radely / Getty Images)

Fidel Castro’s death could accelerate the restoration of a full commercial relationship between the United States and Cuba, but uncertainty abounds as both countries undergo major political transitions.

Miami attorney Pedro Freyre, whose U.S. clients include several seeking business opportunities in Cuba, told the Wall Street Journal that he expects the death of Castro to hasten a restoration of U.S.-Cuba commercial ties: “If there was one person who embodied the Cuban revolution, it was Fidel Castro, and now he’s gone.”

Freyre, who runs the international practice at the Akerman law firm, also told the Journal that economic openings in China, Russia and Vietnam didn’t begin “until the revolutionary leader was gone.”

Castro’s brother Raul, who succeeded him as president of Cuba in 2008, announced in a television broadcast that “our commander in chief of the Cuban revolution” died at 10:29 p.m. Friday.

Yet the half-century-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba appears likely to continue with support from federal lawmakers who refuse to end it.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who was a Republican candidate for president this year, said in a statement that Castro’s death will not lead immediately to political reforms in Cuba: “The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not.”

Senator Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey who opposes efforts by President Barack Obama to restore normal relations with Cuba, said in a statement that “recent lopsided concessions in U.S. policy towards Cuba have not led to an iota of positive changes in the way the regime rules or the Cuban people live.”

President-elect Donald Trump may have signaled his approach to Cuba policy by appointing Mauricio Claver-Carone to his team in charge of the administrative transition at the U.S. Department of Treasury, which enforces the embargo against Cuba. Claver-Carone is a conservative lobbyist who opposes normalized U.S.-Cuba relations and serves as a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee.

Many Cuban-Americans view the appointment of Claver-Carone to the Treasury Department transition team as a sign that Trump will reverse the rapprochement with Cuba that Obama and Raul Castro initiated in December 2014, which led to the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana in August 2015 and Obama’s historic three-day visit to Cuba in March of this year.

Richard Feinberg, a professor at University of California, San Diego, and the author of a book about the Cuban economy, told the Wall Street Journal that the appointment of Claver-Carone “alarmed the Cuban government,” too.

But Javier Corrales, an expert of Cuba at Amherst College in Massachusetts, told the Wall Street Journal that many Republicans support the Obama policy of engagement with Cuba: “All the fundamental interests – shipping companies, the farm lobby, oil, construction and evangelicals – support it.” [Wall Street Journal] Mike Seemuth

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