Trump Threatens to Rescind Obama’s Cuba Engagement—and Activists Fight Back

At mid-day on May 29, the conservative media website The Daily Caller posted an “exclusive” story titled “Trump Set To Roll Back Obama’s Cuba Policies.” The article stated that the president was planning a June trip to Miami, where he would reimpose restrictions on the right of US citizens to travel to Cuba, as well as curtail business opportunities that Obama had authorized through executive decree. The Daily Caller credited Trump’s decision “to the behind-the-scenes efforts of Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart”—the trio of hard-line Cuban-American legislators who have pressed the president to rescind Obama’s history-changing policy of engagement toward Cuba.


The article immediately ricocheted around the Internet, was forwarded by CNN and picked up by a number of media outlets. Within 24 hours, other journalists began consulting their sources inside the Trump administration and publishing more comprehensive stories. On May 31, The Hill posted a detailed article on the internal debate within the foreign-policy bureaucracy on how much to alter a policy that has yielded clear benefits for US economic and security interests in the Caribbean and a new era of collaboration between Washington and Havana on key issues of mutual importance such as counternarcotics, counterterrorism, and migration. The New York Times followed up with a front-page report that “a split has emerged over rolling back a policy that many senior officials privately agree has been an improvement on the Cold War dynamic that shaped relations with Cuba in the past.”

The information in the original Daily Caller story did not leak from inside the Trump administration. Rather, the story was sourced to “an anti-embargo group.” An astute advocate of engagement, it appears, decided to sound a political fire alarm on Trump’s pending plans for Cuba, rather than sit by as a clique of right-wing Cuban-American legislators influenced the new administration to torch a successful policy.

Indeed, with the spate of news reports, the Cuba advocacy community—now made up of travel agencies, airline corporations, tech companies, agricultural interests and a growing number of politicians and political activists, among others—is mobilizing to defend recently expanded US-Cuba relations. “Cuba policy should not be determined by several hard-line Cuban-American legislators from South Florida,” points out Mavis Anderson, head of the Washington-based Latin America Working Group (LAWG), which is generating grassroots support to sustain engagement with Cuba. “Especially when the great majority of US citizens approve the changes President Obama made to Cuba policy, and want it to go further.”

LAWG was one of the first advocacy groups to push back against the Trump administration’s plans to roll back Cuba policy. “Its Now or Never: Stop Trump from reversing travel to Cuba!” reads a LAWG posting on May 30. The posting included an image to share on social media that states in bold letters i support engagement with cuba, and it calls for ending the travel ban and the embargo. In less than two days, it had been viewed over 37,500 times on Facebook, and had some 300 shares.

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