Miami – As the first commercial airliner from Miami to Havana in more than half a century took flight three days after Fidel Castro’s death, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the reestablishment of relations between United States and Cuba.
On Monday, President-elect Donald Trump doubled down on his campaign promise to cut ties with the communist nation if the Cuban government doesn’t implement more reforms that will give the Cuban people more freedom.
"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban-American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate [the] deal," Trump posted on Twitter. His remarks come as opponents of the Obama administration’s dealings with Cuba are turning up the pressure in the wake of Castro’s passing on Nov. 25.
Trump also made his comments amid reports Cuban state authorities beat and arrested Anti-Castro street artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as El Sexto, hours after Castro’s death.
At a recent press conference in Miami, Cuban American Republican congressional leaders Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen urged the incoming commander-in-chief to fulfill his campaign promise to the city’s Cuban exile community. Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart also participated in the media briefing.
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“President-elect Trump has correctly stated that Obama’s overtures to the Castro regime were one-sided and only benefited the Cuban regime,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who was part of the Never Trump camp.
“I hope that the new administration, under the leadership of President Trump, seizes this moment as an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the Cuban people that it will pressure the Castro regime by rolling back these executive actions of the Obama administration.”
Mario Diaz-Balart told reporters isolating Cuba is the only way true democracy will occur. “The strategy has always been the same: to support the Cuban people and avoid financing the regime that oppresses the Cuban people,” he said.
“Unfortunately, over the last two years under President Obama, he’s done everything possible to finance the Castro family’s monopolies.”
Exit polls of the Nov. 8 presidential election show that Trump won a majority of Cuban-American voters despite losing Miami-Dade County by a wide margin to Hillary Clinton, who favored continuing on the same path as Obama.
At a rally in Little Havana over the weekend, Trump’s Cuban American supporters also urged him to stay the course. “I imagine Trump will put the squeeze on the Cuban government once he takes office,” said Orestes Andino, who served 11 years in a Cuban prison as a juvenile. “Trump has an obligation to do it because we voted for him.”
However, younger generations of Cubans who did not live through Castro’s revolution have a different attitude about dealing with Cuba. In September, a Florida International University poll found that 56 percent of local Cuban Americans “strongly” or “mostly” favor reengagement with the island and 63 percent believe the embargo should be lifted.
Supporters of Obama’s measures claim Trump will ultimately realize that going back to a hardline approach with Cuba is a bad idea. Ric Herrero, executive director of Cuba Now, a nonpartisan advocacy group that played a pivotal role in convincing the Obama administration to re-engage with Cuba, said Trump supported opening up Cuba before he made his campaign promise.
“This was his position until his campaign advisors convinced him to reverse it in order to gain support among older Cuban-American voters,” Herrero said. “Mr. Trump should trust his instincts on the embargo.”
Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.