Cuba hopes Biden will reverse Trump’s policy against the island

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The Caribbean country hopes that the democrat can eliminate the 132 measures and sanctions imposed by the Republican during his term

Despite the pandemic, this weekend there were celebrations and parties in Havana. Since it became known on Saturday that Joe Biden had won the election, many started the toasts with beer and rum, and it was not for fun. For Cuba, perhaps more than for any other country in the world, the outcome of the elections in the United States was crucial. Getting rid of Donald Trump was a national priority. The damage inflicted on the fragile Cuban economy by the pressure policy of the last US president, translated into 132 measures and sanctions in recent years, has been considerable. A second Trump term in the current circumstances, with the country in the red, tourism at zero due to the Covid-19 epidemic and a complex economic reform underway, looked devastating. The victory of Biden, who promised to return to Obama’s policy of rapprochement during the campaign, gives oxygen. It’s a relief. But the key is how big that relief will be.

The first official reaction, from Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, was cautious: “In their presidential elections, the people of the United States have chosen a new course. We believe in the possibility of a constructive bilateral relationship that is respectful of differences ”. In the street there was more expressiveness. A mixture of satisfaction, expectation and collective sigh. “Oh little virgin, thank goodness!” Said a lady who lived through the agonizing electoral count. He said that his son lives in Miami and that he has not been able to go see him for three years, after Trump deactivated the US consulate in Havana due to a dark episode of alleged “sonic attacks” against US diplomats. It is estimated that, like her, between 60,000 and 80,000 Cubans traveled to the United States each year to visit or with an emigrant visa.

Apart from the dramatic and tremendous immigration issue, Trump has been a machine to destroy what Obama built: he ended direct flights, with cruises, restricted remittances, activated the Helms-Burton law to discourage foreign investment, according to the travel by citizens of the United States, a country that with Obama became the second largest source of tourism to the island, after Canada. The Americans spent a good part of their money in the businesses of the self-employed, artisans, owners of hostels, restaurants, classic car taxi drivers, part of an emerging private sector – one in four Cubans no longer works for the State – that on Saturday He breathed in relief.

Only restoring what Trump undid would be something important for Cuba, fresh air at critical moments. Reopening the consulate, restoring flights and travel for US citizens and so on up to 132 measures, are things that the new president can do with some speed, what is not so clear is that he will return in the short term to the point where Obama left things. Will Biden get involved in the Cuban issue as personally as Obama did? In two years of relations, it signed 22 cooperation agreements with the island, today frozen (but in force).

“The priority that Cuba will have for Biden will depend on many things, but I imagine that undoing the many misgivings that Trump has left him is going to take up a lot of time,” says Rafael Hernández, academic and expert on Cuba-United States relations. According to this analyst, in the short term it is most likely that Biden’s team will begin to dismantle the scaffolding of Trump sanctions. In the medium term, it would be good news for Cuba if Washington reactivated the working groups in the 22 existing areas of cooperation (security, immigration, fight against drug trafficking, environmental cooperation, among others), although no further progress was made. “Already achieving those two things would be great news,” says Hernández.

The key, Hernández and former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray think, is whether Biden will assume and apply at some point the Presidential Policy Directive for US-Cuba Normalization, a document that Obama signed on October 14, 2016 (three weeks before Trump won the elections to Hillary Clinton) and that was never implemented. This directive, drawn up with Biden as vice president, contains all the instructions and long-term strategies on what to do with Cuba, and proposes a policy of active engagement with the island, promotion of trade and investment, exchanges of all kinds, support for inclusion of Cuba in international organizations, in addition to committing to fight in Congress for the lifting of the embargo. All without conditions or give and take, but for pure US strategic interest and as the best way to help reform and political changes on the island.

“Our policy is designed to support the ability of Cubans to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, with the expectation that increased trade will offer a broader segment of the Cuban population the information and resources necessary to achieve a future prosperous and sustainable ”, defends the directive. “In pursuit of these goals, we are not trying to impose regime change in Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values ​​that we support around the world while respecting at the same time that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own decisions about their future ”, it reads.

Alzugaray says that the change of tenant in the White House occurs at a very interesting moment in Cuba, with five months to go before the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, the last of Raúl Castro. Before that date, the first effects of a long-awaited reform must be seen, which should give a strong boost to private initiative, promote SMEs, the autonomy of state companies, give greater power to local governments and undertake an important monetary unification. . Changes that, if made – and given the magnitude of the crisis, seem urgent – can substantially change the rules of the economic game. Just the liberalization that Obama recommended in his historic trip to Cuba in 2016.

“Another factor to consider is that Biden is only going to be there for four years, and what he is going to do he has to do during this term,” says economist Juan Triana. “We will see what he is willing to do, but regardless, the important thing is what we do,” he says. If Cuba does not make the reforms it needs, bad, it doesn’t matter Biden and everything else. If you do them successfully, the ball will start rolling. Will this be the US president who will lift the embargo? It seems very difficult. How far will Cuba go with its reform? Will former President Obama travel to Cuba on a goodwill trip? Much remains to be done.

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