Cuba Experts Agree Trump Likely to Undo Obama's Rapprochement

From left: panelists Jaime Suchlicki, Otto Reich, Pedro Roig, and Jose Azel at Casa Bacardi. 

By Barbara Gutierrez

From left: panelists Jaime Suchlicki, Otto Reich, Pedro Roig, and Jose Azel at Casa Bacardi. 

Cuba Experts Agree Trump Likely to Undo Obama's Rapprochement

By Barbara Gutierrez
The panel of experts met at Casa Bacardi before a large audience of academics and community members.

Speculating on future relations with Cuba, experts who gathered at the University of Miami Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) agreed that President-elect Donald Trump's administration is likely to reverse the diplomatic détente the Obama administration established in July 2015, after almost 50 years of estrangement.

“I think there is a very good chance that Mr. Trump will fulfill his promise to reverse the deal or deals,” said Otto Reich, president of Otto Reich Associates, who held three diplomatic appointments during the Reagan years, including special advisor to the secretary of state. “There are a number of executive actions that can be reversed very simply by an executive action. This is one of the big flaws in the Obama foreign policy.” 

Reich took part in the December 1 panel discussion titled “The Trump Administration and Cuba: What to Expect,” which also included Joe Azel, ICCAS senior research associate, Pedro Roig, senior research associate, and ICCAS Director Jaime Suchlicki, whose opening remarks elicited loud applause.

“By the way, Fidel Castro has died,” Suchlicki told the audience of about 50 academics and community members.

In his remarks, Reich went on to say that “the business community is living in a state of wishful thinking” about Cuba, given Trump’s repeated assertions that he will undo all the concessions the Obama government granted the island. “The entire Obama policy on Cuba is a house of cards,” Reich said.

Another indication that Trump will reverse Obama’s Cuba policies is his appointment of several conservative voices on the issue of Cuba to his transition team, Reich said. They include Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of a pro-embargo non-profit in Washington, D.C., and Yleen Poblete, former chief of staff for U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. 

For his part, Roig foresees a “diplomatic confrontation” ahead. The Cuban leadership was surprised by the results of the U.S. presidential election and did not have time to plan ahead how to position themselves. “They are now scrambling to formulate a policy,” said Roig.

He believes that Trump already sent a “symbolic message” to the Castro regime that he will change U.S./Cuba policy when he visited the Brigade 2506 headquarters in Little Havana during his campaign. Cuban leaders view brigade members, who took part in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, as enemies.

Roig also believes that Trump may try to renegotiate conditions with Cuba—such as demanding the release of political prisoners and greater individual freedoms for the Cuban people—in exchange for maintaining the U.S. concessions granted Cuba last year.

Changing the subject a bit, Azel also believes Fidel Castro’s death gives the Trump administration a new opportunity. Now that Fidel Castro, who was a “mentor and a de facto leader for the Latin America left,” is gone, the U.S. can take Cuba out of the picture in redesigning its policy toward Latin America, he said.