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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trump weighs shift on Cuba

Trump weighs shift on Cuba
BY MELANIE ZANONA - 05/31/17 06:00 AM EDT 70

President Trump is weighing whether to take a harder line with Cuba,
potentially risking the thaw in relations started by the last
administration.

But it's unclear just how far Trump is willing to go in reversing former
President Barack Obama's historic opening with the island nation — an
effort that has been widely popular with the U.S. business community and
a growing number of GOP lawmakers.

The White House is vigorously debating how to approach its policy with
Cuba. Trump is facing pressure from Cuba hard-liners in Congress to
scale back Obama's policies, but there are divisions in the
administration about what to do, according to two sources familiar with
the matter.
The Trump administration said it is near completing a review of Cuba
policy and that an announcement will likely be made in the "coming
weeks," but emphasized that a decision has not yet been finalized.

"As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal. It
does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba," a spokesperson for
the White House said in a statement.

"We are in the final stages of our Cuba policy review. However, a final
decision on a path forward has not yet been made. We anticipate an
announcement in the coming weeks, but do not have a date for any
specific announcements."

Since Obama opened diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba in 2014, the
U.S. has carried out a string of regulatory changes aimed at bringing
the two countries closer together.

Embassies in Havana and Washington reopened, and the U.S. removed Cuba
from a list of state sponsors of terror while resuming commercial air
service with the island for the first time in more than 50 years.

U.S. tourism to the island is still banned, and the trade embargo has
not been lifted, but the U.S. has also removed or lessened most
licensing requirements for permitted travel to Cuba, authorized U.S.
individuals and businesses to have bank accounts on the island and
allowed Cuban textiles, coffee and pharmaceuticals to be imported to the
U.S.

But Trump has threatened to reverse Obama's opening with Cuba if the
communist government doesn't adopt changes.

A source in touch with the administration on the issue described an
internal struggle in the Trump administration between "policy and
politics" when it comes to Cuba normalization.

During an interagency deputies meeting involving all the relevant
departments, some agency officials expressed support for keeping the
current policies intact, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Another source said Trump's economic team is likely aware of the
potential growth and business opportunities associated with Cuba and
pointed out that some Trump officials have close ties to major U.S.
business CEOs. The president's national security advisers, meanwhile,
may be warning Trump about the danger of driving Cuba back into the arms
of Russia.

But there are other competing voices in the administration that want to
take a harder line with Cuba. Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive
director of Cuba Democracy Advocates and an outspoken Cuban government
critic, advised the Trump administration when he was on the transition team.

Adding another wrinkle to Trump's Cuba decision is an apparent
behind-the-scenes effort from members of Congress to pressure the White
House into rolling back Obama's Cuba policies in exchange for their
support in other areas.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — two
lawmakers staunchly opposed to normalizing Cuba relations — have sought
assurances from the administration on Cuba, according to two sources
familiar with the matter.

Diaz-Balart's office said he never received any written promises from
Trump on Cuba but added that the lawmaker has raised the issue directly
with the White House.

"It is my duty to advocate for the issues that are important to my
constituents, and I will not apologize for using every available avenue
to effectively resolve them," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "I am
grateful that, unlike the previous administration, senior members of the
current administration are responsive and willing to work with Members
of Congress."

"I will never waste an opportunity to fight for the interests of our
community and our country," he added.

Diaz-Balart was on the fence about supporting the House's healthcare
legislation but ultimately voted for it last month after an intense
lobbying effort from the White House.

One change that Trump seems likely to make is restricting the financial
transactions that benefit Cuban military entities, according to two
sources and the nonpartisan U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council

Rubio has been vocal on that issue in particular, having introduced
legislation in the past that would prohibit U.S. financial transactions
with Cuban military and security services.

An opponent of the Cuban trade embargo says Trump might reverse Obama's
policy that made it easier to travel to Cuba for 12 permitted reasons
under a general license.

The new policy could also include tougher language on human rights and
stepped up enforcement to ensure U.S. visitors to Cuba are traveling
there legally, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

But while questions remain about Trump's Cuba policy, lawmakers in favor
of engaging with the island are already going on offense.

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reintroduced a bill
last week that would allow Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism purposes.

The legislation has a total of 55 co-sponsors, including 10 Republicans.
When the bill was introduced in the last session of Congress, it had
eight original co-sponsors.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, hopes the swell of support
ramps up pressure on the administration to reconsider cutting commercial
and diplomatic ties to the island nation.

"This could not be sending a stronger signal that a bipartisan majority
in the U.S. Senate not only doesn't want Trump to roll back [Obama's
Cuba policies], but to even go further and fully lift travel
restrictions," Williams said in a telephone interview last week.

"As the Trump administration continues to think about what it's going to
do, it would be pretty shocking they would thwart 55 bipartisan senators."

Source: Trump weighs shift on Cuba | TheHill -
http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/335714-trump-weighs-shift-on-cuba
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