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Trump moves to restore failed US policy on Cuba

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-06-19 09:19

US President Donald Trump on Friday tightened up restrictions on US citizens traveling to Cuba, backtracking some of the progress made by his predecessor Barack Obama.

However, the US embassy in Havana will remain open and commercial flights from the US started last year will continue.

"Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba," Trump said to a group of mostly Cuban Americans in Miami.

"Easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime," Trump said.

The move has been seen as an effort by Trump to keep his campaign promise last fall to the Cuban Americans in south Florida, who have long held an anti-Cuban government attitude. Most US presidential candidates dared not to challenge the group for fear of losing critical votes in the swing state of Florida.

Trump moves to restore failed US policy on Cuba

The US policy on Cuba has been a failure, as admitted even by Obama himself after he decided to normalize US diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015.

Using his administrative power to push for more engagement between the two countries, Obama was still unable to lift the decades long embargo on Cuba due to opposition from the Republican-controlled Congress.

The embargo, which Cubans call a blockade, has been condemned by the international community every year for causing suffering among Cuban people, especially women and children.

For the first time last October, the US and Israel abstained at the United Nations General Assembly vote calling for lifting of the embargo. A total of 191 countries voted in favor.

While Obama's much-delayed rapprochement with Cuba was applauded by the global community and indeed many people in the US, the rollback by Trump reflects his bid to restore a failed US policy, a Cold War legacy.

People in the US have expressed support for the recent thaw in US-Cuba relations, according to a Pew Center survey last December. A total of 75 percent approve the 2015 decision to re-establish US relations with Cuba, while 73 percent favor ending the long-standing US trade embargo against Cuba, the survey revealed.

This shows that the move taken by Trump is simply against the will of most people in the US.

To many, it is also laughable when Trump talks about human rights conditions in Cuba as a major reason for his decision.

"We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled," Trump said on Friday.

It was probably the first time for Trump to pose himself as a human rights champion. But he was soon challenged. "What about Saudi Arabia?" read a headline in the Los Angeles Times, referring to Trump's trip to the Middle East nation in May during his first foreign trip.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Trump has plenty of human rights issues to address at home. The group's latest report points out that many US laws and practices, particularly in the areas of criminal and juvenile justice, immigration and national security, violate internationally recognized human rights.

Some 2.3 million people are behind bars in the US, the largest reported incarcerated population in the world. Every day, about 50,000 children in the US are held in correctional facilities, one of the highest rates of juvenile detention in the world, according to the report.

The US' Guantanamo detention center, ironically on Cuban soil, still serves as a reminder of people imprisoned without due process.

During my three trips to the island nation, I have witnessed positive signs of economic reforms, with growing private businesses, opening of special economic zones and a flourishing tourist trade.

There is no doubt that if the US wants to influence Cuba, the best policy is to engage more with Cuba, not disengage.

In 2016, an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Americans visited Cuba, a hefty jump from previous years. However, Trump's tightening of travel restrictions is likely to halt that growth.

It is also wrong for some to criticize Trump's rollback as an opportunity for China and Russia to increase influence in Cuba. No. China has long supported improved relations between US and Cuba. China has been a strong voice calling for lifting the inhumane US embargo.

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