“Fifty years is enough,” he said in early September 2016. “The concept of opening to Cuba is OK,” “I think it’s OK,” he repeated. However there was a distancing: “But we have to make a better deal.”
For starters, this is one of the problems in Donald Trump’s thinking, if it can be called that. He frequently doesn’t have clear and precise definitions. He uses and abuses the tweets, valid spaces to communicate, but which he floods with simplistic and clumsy messages that contradict any complexity of a politician. His alluded condition of an outsider consists in this, among other things. His populist style is not as spontaneous as is frequently assumed: he has people talking into his ears. And he will continue using it as he has done until now, for the wall as well as to fire a woman official and to discredit a federal judge, speaking of fraud or emphatically rejecting the polls that reveal he is the most unpopular incoming president in the modern history of the United States.
At the time it was unknown for sure what that “better deal” consisted of. Analysts and academicians asked themselves, for whom and for whom? For the U.S. business world, about which he is supposedly an expert? For the national interest of the United States? For the Cuban private workers, in expansion after the reforms of President Raúl Castro?
In any case, those statements were lined by several coordinates; one of them are the conflicts with the sectors inside the GOP, who were absolutely not enthusiastic about the idea that the New York tower man run as their nominee. And more specifically, with Mario Rubio and Jeb Bush – with whom he disagreed several times during the electoral campaign, frequently rather out of place -, who have always been opposed to anything that moves or thaws in some way the policy toward Cuba. To say it in one shot: Trump was basically in tune with the engagement.
Some say that the elections resemble night serenades. In the middle of that same September, in a rally with his followers in the Knight Civic Center, en Miami-Dade, he said he would reverse the policy toward Cuba unless its leaders allowed religious freedoms and released the political prisoners. That was the first concrete announcement: he would do away with Obama’s executive orders, seen as unilateral concessions. “The next president can reverse them, and that’s what I will do unless the Castro regime complies with our demands.” The classic asymmetry and the conditionings of a political class, of sectors within it, with too many memory problems.
In late October he met with veterans of Brigade 2506. For him, as for other members of his party, “the agreement had benefitted only one side.” He thus again underlined the idea of unilateralism, although – also like the time before – different from several rounds of negotiations that had already taken place between both countries to deal with/resolve problems of mutual interest. A list that now includes legal and illegal immigration, trafficking in persons, application and compliance of the law, seismic monitoring, protected marine areas, meteorological information, search, rescue and response to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, among others topics.
“We all understand the seriousness of these elections,” Trump said before cameras and microphones. “Many things will be decided in our country during the next four years, including the direction we will take in our policy toward Cuba…. What you are asking is correct and fair. The United States should not economically and politically prop up the Cuban regime, as President Obama has done and Hillary Clinton will continue to do in exchange for nothing.”
At the time he stated to a radio station in southern Florida: “We’re going to treat the Cuban people well, there should precisely be an agreement, but it has to work for everybody. Castro now has the better part of all the agreements; they have been able to maintain this for a long time. The United States has not acted well in this, it has rather done it in a very foolish way, they look like kids.” He even discredited the U.S. diplomats and technicians, marking the distinctive line: “We are going to have real negotiators who will speak of civil liberties and about things that have to be talked about, that is what we want.” That part was clear. But two were left rather imprecise: “treat well” and “for everybody.”
Another moment occurred with the death of Fidel Castro. “Fidel Castro is dead!” he tweeted at 5:30 am on November 26. And later he explained himself using an argument that, apparently, he had left in the tweeting at that beginning: “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.” And he mounted the horse of the tropical Gulag: “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.” And he repeated once again: “I will reverse Obama’s executive orders and the concessions to Cuba until freedoms are restored.”
Two days later, on November 28 at 6:02 am, another tweet: “If Cuba doesn’t want to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban-American people and the United States as a whole will terminate the agreement.” He doesn’t say he’s going bring it down indefinitely – although he conditions its existence. And there lies the detail. Anyone could subscribe to the idea that in a negotiation both sides always want better deals. The question, however, is that it is not explicit: the message is, at least, an amphibology. Moreover, concentrating for the time being on its field, the Cuban-American people are not monolithic, nor are the U.S. people. According to an FIU September 2016 poll, the majority of the Cuban Americans are against the embargo (63 percent), and in those aged between 18 and 59 the figure is 72 percent. And they are also in favor of economic relations with Cuba (57 percent in general and 90 percent of the new emigrants). Similarly, the national gauging has been marking for some time a growing tendency toward approval of relations and commercial ties with Cuba. One of CBS/New York Times polls, carried out during Obama’s visit, revealed that six out of every 10 Americans approved the new policy, and that 62 percent thought that commercial relations would mainly benefit the United States.
With the arrival to power of the new administration, there were no official pronouncements on the issue until last February 3. In answer to a question from a Miami NBC journalist, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, stated that they were in a process of a full review of all the Cuba policies, and that human rights would be at the center.
Which Trump? Before he sat in the Oval Office with his new golden curtains in the background, the questions were the millionaire businessman or the politician? Unpredictable, in effect, on a podium, but since his inauguration the difference between what had been painted and life is so fine that it practically doesn’t exist. The Bible says so: “for his works you will know him.” Obamacare. The wall with Mexico. The exit from the Transpacific Agreement. The review of the NAFTA. The announcement, in fact, of a possible commercial war with the southern neighbor, one of the United States’ principal trade partners. Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies based on a peculiar definition of national security. A political scientist characterized him the following way: “a derailed train that challenges our notions of government, such as we knew them until now.” Psychology professionals contribute another angle: an individual who suffers a disease called Narcissist Personality Disorder, surrounded by ideologues and raptors whose function does not consist, in rigor, in advising the President, but rather something else – even if they are plagued with internal contradictions.
With these traits, another question is necessary: Would the amount of cement poured into the relations between both governments before Barack Obama’s exit be enough?
TN: All quotes were translated from the Spanish.