President Trump’s recent decision to roll back some of Barack Obama’s initiatives to normalize U.S.- Cuba relations was not a surprise. He had promised it as a reward to a vocal group of Floridians in return for their support during the 2016 election. Mr. Trump has pleased a part of his base in Florida. But what are the ramifications for the relationship between the United States and Cuba?
First, the United States will continue to be isolated from the rest of the world community which is seeking better relations with Cuba. Every year beginning in 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has voted to lift the embargo against Cuba. Last year, 191 countries voted to lift the embargo. The United States and Israel were the only two abstentions — even though a New York Times poll in March 2016 found that most U.S. citizens support an end to the embargo. Future votes will continue to show the separation between the United States and the rest of the world concerning this matter. Cuba will continue to work with its neighbors. Even the right-wing Brazilian government is supporting a plan to allow approximately 8,000 Cuban physicians to work among the poorest areas of the country. Multiple avenues of interchange between Cuba and the US will remain closed — to the detriment of both countries.
Second, the renewed affirmation of the Cold War policy against Cuba will hurt the United States more than Cuba. Changes in Cuba’s laws are encouraging partnership with the rest of the world, and more and more countries are investing in Cuba’s future. The Cuban economy continues to grow, with the tourism section increasing by 15 percent over the past year. Business relationships have been established with Japan and countries in the Middle East. American farmers and businesses are missing out on these opportunities.
Third, next year Raul Castro will retire as leader of the country, and the only family member who will maintain a public role will be his daughter, Mariela Castro, a psychologist and sexologist who has for years advocated for greater rights for the LGBTQ community in Cuba. Women are now taking a more active role in the Cuban parliament and are serving in various levels of the country’s leadership. These and other changes are leading to a more participatory government and to more individual freedoms. Continuing to normalize relations with the United States could aid those changes. Recidivist actions, such as the ones recently announced by President Trump, will hinder this process rather than facilitate it.
Fourth, the prophetic role of religious partnerships — such as the one between the Alliance of Baptists of North America and the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba — will continue their fight for normalized relations. Their past work together has made meaningful contributions to the defeat of prejudices and hostility. The recent actions of the Trump administration won’t deter these relationships, nor will they reduce their cooperative work.
The embargo policy, which has been in place since 1962, has failed to achieve its goal. It’s time to try something different. As a Baptist pastor and seminary professor who has lived and worked in Cuba for more than 70 years, I see first-hand the changes that I have mentioned above. Things are changing, but not because of anti-Cuba rhetoric and actions in the U.S. They are changing because Cubans, like the rest of the world, want a better future for themselves and for their families. The people of the United States could be a positive part of these changes, if only their leaders would permit it.