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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

After much anticipation that an announcement on Cuba policy changes
would be made no later than Saturday, President Donald Trump — in the
midst of various political crises — has not decided what to do,
officials said.

The White House had considered holding an event May 20 to commemorate
the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban Republic, but Trump will
begin an international trip on Friday and the review of the policy
toward the island has not concluded, a spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald.

"The issue of Cuba is extremely complex, and the president does not want
to rush it," said the spokeswoman. "Besides, he won't be here on May 20."

The Trump administration is carrying out a review of Cuba policy that
involves several federal agencies and is being coordinated by the
National Security Council.

Rumors of an imminent announcement circulated around Capitol Hill and
even crossed the Florida Straits to the island, although Havana seems
less anxious than before, when Trump's presidential victory and strong
statements raised questions about the so-called "thaw" in diplomatic
relations initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014.

"Havana is confident that not much will happen," said a businessman
close to the Cuban government.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a drastic change
would not make much sense because the Cuban communist government would
quickly adjust to a policy of confrontation with its historical enemy,
the United States, and because the island is in the throes of a
significant transition — the expected retirement of Cuban leader Raúl
Castro, 86, in February.

"Raúl Castro has nine months left [in office] and you are going to come
out with a new policy to readjust later? What message will that send to
[Cuba's] new president?"

However, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere,
Francisco Palmieri, said last week that Trump's revised Cuba policy
would have "important differences" with the one implemented by Obama and
currently in effect.

"One of the areas that will be a high priority is to ensure that Cuba
makes further substantive progress toward greater respect for human
rights in the country," Palmieri said during a press conference in
Washington, D.C.

That kind of pressure could take the form of more public criticism, for
example in the United Nations, where U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has
already included Cuba among countries where "human rights are widely
disregarded."

But beyond public statements and gestures, "I'm not sure what else they
can do," said a former Obama administration official who was involved
with the diplomatic shift toward Cuba and asked not to be named.

Several other sources with knowledge of the revision options agreed that
changes to the presidential directive issued by Obama in October 2016 —
or its elimination — could be one of the first measures announced by Trump.

However, even the elimination of the directive would be a "largely
symbolic" move, said the former Obama official. Obama's directive, she
said, "clearly set out unambiguously what United States policy was," in
this case a policy of engagement. "To revoke it will not have concrete
consequences as would changes in regulations."

Almost all of Obama's policy is based on new regulations or changes to
existing ones through executive orders. While they could easily be
reversed by the new president, it would require a legal study that would
take more time. And a return to the pre-Obama policy would adversely
affect U.S. companies that have established businesses in Cuba.

The review already has reached the level of deputy and undersecretaries
of the various agencies involved, said another former Obama official,
who also asked not to be named, adding that "the option that is winning
for now is to seek elements within Obama's directive [to eliminate] and
impose symbolic changes."

This would allow the Trump administration, "to gain time to see what
they will do in the long run."

But even if the final recommendations from government agencies end up
being conservative and suggest that Trump should not make drastic
changes at the moment, the administration must present them in a way
that satisfies the pressure from Cuban-American Florida Republicans
Marco Rubio and Mario Díaz-Balart, who have been most visibly involved
in designing a new Cuba policy.

Just days after Trump's electoral victory last year, Díaz-Balart
predicted that a "dramatic" shift in policy toward the island would
ensue. He now says he is "more certain than ever that the president and
vice president's policy on Cuba, which has been announced on numerous
occasions ... will be enforced in a very short time."

Díaz-Balart declined to comment on a memorandum attributed to his office
in which he proposes to eliminate all the measures taken by Obama since
December 2014, in essence to reverse the "thaw." But he said that the
magnitude of the upcoming changes would be such that the "Bay of Pigs
heroes will not feel betrayed and will be very pleased that the
president has fulfilled his commitment and will not make a policy to
appease the regime."

Rubio told el Nuevo Herald in April that he was "sure that President
Trump is going to treat Cuba as the dictatorship that it is." Most
recently, he wrote on his Twitter account that he was still "confident"
that Trump would keep his promise to make changes in Cuba policy.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres in Twitter: 305-376-2169, @ngameztorres

Source: President Trump remains mum on Cuba policy changes | Miami
Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article151099482.html
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