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Disagreement is brewing among members of the FIU community over the effectiveness of President Donald Trump’s recently announced U.S.-Cuban policy and its effect on the island’s economy.
“I am canceling the last [President Barack Obama’s] administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said during his speech in Little Havana on Friday, June 16.
The Obama administration, Trump said, “made a deal with a government that spread violence and instability in the region and nothing they got, think about it, they fought for everything and we just didn’t fight hard enough, but now, those days are over.”
Despite Trump’s rhetoric, however, Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of Latin American history in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs and member of the Cuban Research Institute, does not think Trump’s policy is all that different from Obama’s.
“President Trump characterizes this policy as a complete departure from the policy that had been promoted by the administration preceding him,” Bustamante said. “[However] when you look at the details, there is a great deal of the Obama administration approach to Cuba that remains intact.”
Cuban-Americans will continue having the freedom to travel and sent remnants to Cuba in an unlimited fashion and there exists the possibility that the U.S.-Cuban embassies in Havana and Washington, respectively, are going to uphold previous diplomatic channels open under the new policy, according to Bustamante.
The wet-foot, dry-foot policy, Bustamante said, will also remain eliminated under Trump’s new policy.
But the new policy will make it more difficult for individual American citizens, excluding Cuban-Americans, to visit the island, according to Bustamante. Unlike the Obama administration, which made it possible for them to go on people-to-people exchanges.
“It’s [people-to-people exchange] basically self-certifying which is an oddity policy, you checked a box and you went,” said Bustamante.
Non-Cuban-Americans will be mandated to participate in an official tour group if they want to go on a people-to-people exchange. Previously, the people-to-people exchange option allowed Americans to form their own tour group, a cause for abuse that transpired as it was considered tourism in disguise, according to CNN.
But despite the travel limits, Jose Ossorio, a senior majoring in history and a Cuban-American, agrees with Trump’s decision to cut financial investments in the island because the money benefits the Castro regime and the Cuban military complex more than the majority of the Cuban population.
“My family fled in 1959, the ones who weren’t shot or thrown into prison,” Osorio said. “My dad was 12 years old when they left. There was no wet-foot, dry-foot back then so my abuelo and my dad along with his two sisters and younger brother ended up relocating to Venezuela in the late 1960s.”
The Cuban military, Ossorio said, has not only infiltrated “filth” within its own border with regards to Castro’s regime, but the island has also affected Venezuela in negative ways.
“The Cuban military has been propping up the communist dictatorship in Venezuela which has been directly responsible for the murder of not only Cuban nationals but Venezuelan nationals in the last 50 years as well as the last eight years with the turmoil in Venezuela,” Ossorio said. “I strongly agree with the Trump administration’s hard stance on Cuba. The money is not benefiting the Cuban people or the Venezuelan people. In fact, it does the exact opposite. It’s essentially blood money.”
Just like Ossorio, Melissa Gonzalez, a junior majoring in psychology and a Cuban-American, also supports Trump’s policy because of its anti-Cuban military stance.
“I left Cuba when I was 4 years old precisely because of the conditions in which the island currently still finds itself in and that’s extremely unsettling because no one strives, only those that are wealthy and powerful,” Gonzalez said. “Why should we, as Americans, contribute to their economy whenever we travel to the island if a large portion of it is going directly to the Cuban military and not to business owners who are gaining nothing from their own profits?”
Bustamante, however, feels the policy is a mistake and even though he understands the concerns over the restricted American travel the new policy implements, he doesn’t think that’s what people should be worrying about.
“Why are we obsessed with Americans traveling to Cuba if they can travel anywhere else in the world?” Bustamante said. “Anyways, they’ve never been allowed to travel as tourists to Cuba, so that’s not a major issue.”
Instead, Bustamante wants U.S. citizens to understand the effect the new policy will have on the island and how the policy will do the exact opposite of what Trump promises the policy will do for the island’s citizens.
“The new policy will hurt average Cubans, particularly average Cubans who are working in the new but much expanded small business sector of the economy,” Bustamante said. “For those folks, the arrival of Americans in recent years has been a huge boom. Now, with the projection of a decrease in Americans visiting the island in the next few years, folks that work in private restaurants, stay in private room stays, etc. they are the ones who are going to be hurt.”
Trump does not genuinely care about the best interests of the Cuban people, according to Bustamante, as the island falls short in a list of priorities because the island isn’t a warfare zone and is small in size.
Instead, Bustamante believes Trump proposed the policy with hopes of furthering domestic policies in regards to healthcare, for example, but Osorio thinks Trump’s new policy will force a solution to appear for both Cuba and Venezuela.
“The Venezuelan government is being propped up and is selling oil and gold to Cuba for military support in their country,” Osorio said. “Hence why you see violence against protesters increasing over the last few years. Needless to say, cutting off the money to the Cuban military will force a solution to come ahead whether it’s military or not for both countries.”
Despite Bustamante’s reservation with the new policy, Gonzalez and Osorio remain hopeful that Trump’s policy will do more good than harm.
“Although some people may disagree and say this new policy will hurt people, I just don’t see how it could,” she said. “The island is not faring well and the only way we can stop it from getting worse is if the United States stepped out of the way and let the island deal with its own issues in it’s own way. It’s hurtful because I left family, but sometimes it’s the only best thing you can do when times get really bad.”