Why Some Fear Trump's Cuba Decision Will Backfire

June 16th 2017

Thor Benson

President Donald Trump announced Friday that the U.S. will reverse the previous presidential administration's efforts to open up relations with Cuba.

According to Axios, Trump's revised Cuba plan calls for a ban on non-educational travel to the country and an embargo on trade with governmental entities.

Trump's stated rationale for reversing the Obama-era policy is to encourage "greater political and economic freedom" in Cuba.

Many observers found Trump's reasoning lacking given, some of the president's recent gestures toward alleged human rights violators.

For example, Trump recently announced a still speculative arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which could send the notorious human rights abuser up to $110 billion arms. According to Human Rights Watch, the country continues to arbitrarily persecute peaceful dissidents and discriminate against women and religious minorities, all while pursuing a military campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians. Ironically, Trump was highly critical the previous State Department's brokering of a $112 billion arms deal in 2012 under President Barack Obama.

Others noted that Trump has been complimentary of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, despite Human Rights Watch's reports that the leader has "publicly praised the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug dealers and drug users."

Even Republicans have criticized Trump's decision to sever ties with Cuba. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said Trump was claiming to care about human rights while befriending human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) criticized Trump by tweeting he was "elected to challenge the status quo - not to be part of it."

Accusations of hypocrisy aside, others are worried Trump's plans for Cuba simply won't increase freedom as he hopes it will.

Human rights abuses of political dissidents do persist in Cuba despite liberalization of U.S. trade policy, but advocates for repressed people don't believe further isolation of the country will solve those issues.

“Increased political dialogue, travel and trade between the US and Cuba is critical to advancing human rights in both countries,” Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement on Wednesday. “If President Trump returns to the cold-war rhetoric of isolation, we will revert to a politicization of human rights on both sides, which will be detrimental to advancing independent scrutiny of Cuba’s human rights situation.”

Even Human Rights Watch, which has painstakingly documented the Cuban government's record of repression, has questioned the wisdom of Trump's move.

“The previous administration was right to reject a policy that hurt ordinary Cubans and did nothing to advance human rights,” Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement prior to Trump's announcement on Friday. “The fact that Obama’s approach hasn’t led to political reform in Cuba after just a few years isn’t reason to return to a policy that proved a costly failure over many decades.”