OTTAWA—On June 4, the Trump administration made the surprise announcement that it was imposing a new set of travel restrictions on Americans wishing to visit Cuba. Effective almost immediately, group educational and cultural trips are no longer permitted, and perhaps most significantly, cruise ships, private yachts, and fishing vessels are no longer allowed to visit Cuban ports.
Following Fidel Castro’s revolution spanning from 1953 to 1959, the U.S. had imposed a total travel ban and a crippling trade embargo on Cuba. President Barack Obama relaxed those restrictions in 2016 when his administration opened the door for American tourists to visit the island. Since that juncture, the initial trickle of U.S. visitors has grown into a veritable flood. In the first four months of 2019, more than 250,000 Americans travelled to Cuba, and that figure does not include that of Cuban-Americans visiting family.
Last week’s announcement will have the intended consequence of financially punishing the Cuban tourist industry.
The reason for re-imposing the ban was explained to the media by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. “Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes,” Mnuchin said in a statement.
To be blunt, the only thing that outweighs the absurdity of Mnuchin’s statement is the hypocrisy.
How exactly is the dirt-poor island nation of Cuba “propping up” America’s oil, gas, and gold-rich adversary in Venezuela?
If Cuba is a communist foothold where is the other foot?
Are we to expect bankrupt, embargoed North Korea to form an alliance with bankrupt, embargoed Cuba en route to a communist wave engulfing the planet?
As for the allegation of suppressing democratic processes, I’m guessing that Mnuchin is referring to the recent political upheaval in Venezuela. For their part, Cuba continues to recognize Nicolas Maduro as the ruling president of Venezuela. For the record, Maduro was elected in what has been called a flawed election in 2018. The major “flaw” in the exercise of democratic process was that the opposition boycotted the polls.
Since Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, was elected president in 1998, Venezuela has propped up the Castro regime in Cuba with the provision of heavily discounted oil and gas. So, it is no mystery why Cuba would support the status quo in Venezuela.
On the flipside of that, we have the Canadian-led Lima Group of 14 continental American countries, which has simply selected Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. There was no democratic process, as the charismatic, U.S.-educated Guaidó was simply chosen by a committee of 14 foreign countries, whose selection process was in turn ratified by the U.S.
As events have since unfolded, Guaidó remains an unwelcome choice even to the sanction-suffering Venezuelan people. Guaidó’s farcical attempt to overthrow Maduro by affecting a military coup on April 30 failed embarrassingly and could hardly be labelled as anything close to a democratic process.
Getting back to Cuba, if the Trump administration wants Americans out of there they should start by closing down their naval base and detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.
The very existence of this U.S. military base on occupied foreign soil sorely undermines America’s denunciation of Russia doing the same thing in the Crimea. For the record, the U.S. took possession of this 116-square kilometre site in 1898 after capturing the island from the Spanish.
The U.S. set up a rental agreement with Cuban authorities to pay $2,000 in gold coins per year for the use of the land. In 1934, they raised that rent price to $4,085 and dropped the proviso that it is paid in gold. A simple cheque will do.
When Castro seized power in 1959, he demanded that the Americans vacate Cuban soil.
Instead the U.S. have continued to convince themselves that this is not an illegal occupation because every year they dutifully send a cheque for the $4,085 made payable to the “Treasurer General of the Republic.”
The cheques go un-cashed as that bureaucratic position was eliminated when Castro took power.
Nevertheless, if we are to believe Mnuchin, Cuba is the meddler in our Western Hemisphere.
Scott Taylor is the editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.
The Hill Times
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