President Donald Trump aims to amend and harden Barack Obama’s policy regarding Cuba. Obama, who did right in some social aspects of his domestic policy, erred totally in his strategy toward Cuba. Therefore, it seems to me reasonable to change it. Not everything Trump does is wrong. Sometimes, between midnight tweets, he’s right.
If there is something that any chief of state must do very clearly, it’s to identify the friends and foes of the nation he must protect. Trump knows, or intuits, that the Castro brothers have been trying to harm his country by any means for several decades now. In 1957, Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Celia Sánchez, then his lover and confidante, explaining that the struggle against Batista (the letter was signed on the Sierra Maestra) was only the prologue to the epic battle that he would wage against Washington for the rest of his life.
Fidel Castro, a dyed-in-the-wool communist, fulfilled that promise, later reiterated dozens of times orally and by the nature of his actions. That is why, when Fidel died, Donald Trump, who had been elected president a few weeks earlier but had not yet assumed his post, described him as “a brutal dictator” and stated that “though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”
Consequently, Trump, a few months after beginning his term, has again taken up the objective of changing the Cuban regime, irresponsibly cancelled by Barack Obama in April 2015, as announced by the former president during the Panama Summit, although, contradictorily, Obama had the courtesy to meet with Cuban dissidents who had traveled from the island, a symbolic gesture that deserves thanks.
Why has Trump reprised the strategy of “containing” Cuba, as Cold War jargon put it? Because Trump and his advisers, guided by the experience of Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, real experts in the topic, believe that Raúl Castro has not renounced confrontation, which recommends that he be deprived of funds.
Very much in consonance with the imprint left by Fidel to his brother and his regime, the Cuban revolution continues to be an enemy of the ideals and interests of the United States, as if the USSR continued to exist and Marxism had not been totally discredited more than a quarter of a century ago. To Cuba, the Cold War did not end. To them, “the struggle continues.”
That is shown by the Cuban alliance with North Korea, which includes clandestine supplies of war material prohibited by the United Nations, even as Raúl negotiated a “thaw” with Washington. It is evident in Cuba’s backing for Syria, Iran, Belarus, Putin’s Russia and for any dictator or “strongman” who confronts the Western democracies. Proof of this is its permanent hostility toward the State of Israel but, above all, it is most clear in Raúl Castro’s behavior in the case of Venezuela.
If Obama thought that the Cuban dictatorship, in exchange for good relations, would help the United States to moderate the behavior of Chávez’s and Maduro’s Venezuela, he was flat wrong. Raúl Castro’s Cuba is busy pouring gasoline into the fire that devours that country, so as not to lose the subsidies generated by its huge South American colony.
The Cuban top brass provide the essential backing for the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, a character formed in the Ñico López School for Cadres of the Cuban Communist Party. They furnish intelligence and training to their Venezuelan colleagues so they may cruelly repress the democrats in the opposition. Cuba’s very skillful political operators, formed in the tradition of the KGB and the Stasi, advise the Chavists and give form and sense to the alliance of the five pathologically “anti-yanqui” South American countries: Cuba itself, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
President Trump is right when he affirms that Barack Obama (despite his beautiful speech in Havana defending democracy) should not have bet all the American chips without asking Raúl Castro to make fundamental concessions for the benefit of the Cuban people and its right to freedom and democracy. That’s what Trump is now trying to correct.
*Journalist and writer. His latest book is the novel A Time for Scoundrels.