The viciousness with which US President Donald Trump has been seeking to undo what his predecessor Barack Obama did during his two terms is mind-boggling. After his clumsy crusade to repeal Obamacare and bring in his own version of healthcare came the inexplicable decision to pull the US out of the climate deal for which Obama had done such laudable work. Trump’s brushes with world leaders, the most recent of which was with Germany’s Angela Merkel have soured US ties and diminished its position in the comity of nations. True enough, he is not stopping at those.
It was to Obama’s credit that he brought about a near normalisation in US relations with neighbour Cuba which had been severely strained for decades. Now, Trump has thrust the US and Cuba back on a path towards open hostility with a blistering denunciation of the island’s communist government. He has clamped down on some commerce and travel. Even as Trump predicted a quick end to President Raul Castro’s regime, he challenged Cuba to negotiate better agreements for Americans, Cubans and those whose identities lie somewhere in between. Diplomatic relations, restored only two years ago, will remain intact. But, in a shift from Obama’s approach, Trump said trade and other penalties would stay in place until a long list of prerequisites was met.
The response from Cuba to Trump’s intemperate expressions has been sober and mature. The Cuban government responded by rejecting Trump’s “hostile rhetoric.” Still, Cuba said it is willing to continue “respectful dialogue” with him on topics of mutual interest. “The last two years have shown that the two countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilised way,” a statement by President Raul Castro said. Meanwhile, embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open.
US airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island 90 miles south of Florida. Remittances from people in America to Cubans won’t be cut off. But individual “people-to-people” trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the US government will police other trips to ensure travellers are pursuing a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”