Cubans, not state, hurt by Trump's rollback of detente

After President Trump decided to roll back parts of former President Obama's Cuba policy, some Cubans and American tourists in the Caribbean island spoke out against the president's decision.
A sign in Miami, Florida, referencing US President Donald Trump's rollback of his predecessor Barack Obama's deal re-opening trade ties with Havana. The deal had its fair share of supporters and critics.
A sign in Miami, Florida, referencing US President Donald Trump's rollback of his predecessor Barack Obama's deal re-opening trade ties with Havana. The deal had its fair share of supporters and critics.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ordinary people fear further isolation just as private enterprise and economy are picking up

HAVANA • Cubans said they were crestfallen to be returning to an era of frostier ties with the US amid news that President Donald Trump had rolled back parts of a historic detente with Cuba.

Mr Trump on Friday announced a plan to tighten rules on Americans travelling to communist-run Cuba and significantly restrict US firms from doing business with Cuban enterprises controlled by the military.

"It hurts to be going backwards. To roll back the engagement will only manage to isolate us from the world," said Havana resident Marta Deus. She recently set up an accountancy firm and courier service to cater to a private sector that has flourished since a landmark agreement 21/2 years ago between then US President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro to normalise relations between the former Cold War foes.

"We need clients, business, we need the economy to move and by isolating Cuba, they will only manage to hurt many Cuban families and force companies to close," she said.

The 2014 deal sparked widespread euphoria in Cuba and raised hopes for an improvement in its ailing economy. An increased arrival of US tourists thanks to eased curbs fuelled a boom in tourism, especially in Havana, creating demand for more lodgings, restaurants, taxis and tour guides in the fledgling private sector.

But critics say the opening failed to improve rights on the island.

Mr Trump will justify his partial reversal of Mr Obama's measures to a large extent on those grounds, said White House officials, and some Cuban dissidents back his tougher stance, saying repression has worsened since the detente.

The Cuban authorities have stepped up their detentions of activists, often confiscating their phones and laptops, but they have also been coming down heavily on self-employed Cubans who appear to be empowering themselves.

"When the Obama administration stopped condemning human rights violations in Cuba, the regime here said, 'look we can do this and nothing happens, so we can continue repressing more forcefully'," said Mr Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the largest dissident group.

Mr Ferrer said there are 53 activists from his group in prison because of their political views. Other dissidents agree that repression has worsened but say rolling back the detente, which will hurt ordinary Cubans, is not the solution.

"It will probably not have any benefit in terms of human rights," said Mr Eliecer Avila, the leader of the opposition youth group Somos Mas.

The Cuban government has withstood the US trade embargo for more than a half century and will not make any political concessions to the United States due to economic pressure, said Mr Carlos Alzugaray, a retired Cuban diplomat.

"I am concerned it will affect the private sector quite a bit and much more than the Cuban government," he added.

This new setback to the Cuban economy will come at a time when it is already wrestling with falling oil shipments from crisis-stricken ally Venezuela and a decline in exports.

"This is another blow for Cubans and it will hurt our pockets obviously," said Ms Martha Garcia, 51. "With the United States, there is no tranquillity."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Cubans, not state, hurt by Trump's rollback of detente'. Print Edition | Subscribe