Closing U.S. embassy in Havana “would make Trump happy”

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In December, I traveled to Havana for a seminar called “Cuba-USA Relations: The Challenge of Coexistence Based on Mutual Interests.”
The keynote speaker was Benjamin Chavis. He gave me permission to publish his remarks and I quoted him here.
Chavis later spoke to reporters, joining Carlos Fernández de Cossío, director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. The Cuban diplomat said the U.S. clearly intended to “continue to apply coercive economic measures” against the wishes of most Americans. And he said his government expected – and is ready for – additional sanctions.
After the press conference, Fernández de Cossío and other participants went continued the seminar, held at the Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raúl Roa García or ISRI.
The three-day event was held according to the Chatham House Rule, which states:
“Participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
Under that rule, I can’t say anything more about who said what at the seminar. But I am allowed to share comments without revealing anyone’s identity. See sampling of remarks below:

  • The White House has not had such a “bellicose attitude” toward Cuba since Theodore Roosevelt.
  • “Trump doesn’t have a strategic vision.” But some of his staffers do have foreign policy expertise.
  • A survey showed that 41% of Trump’s supporters favored bombing Agrabah, a fictional city from the 1992 Disney movie “Aladdin.”

  • U.S. officials believe that if they do enough damage to Cuba’s economy, then Cubans will overthrow the socialist government. The strategy increases the suffering of ordinary Cubans but has not caused regime change.
  • Improving relations with Cuba has no upside for Trump. The only bad outcome for Trump would be if there is a negotiated settlement in Venezuela.
  • Opposing communism is Trump’s best political option. The more Trump can generate hostility toward Cuba in Florida, the better. A “calm, measured response” would not help Trump politically.
  • Three-quarters of U.S. citizens support an end to the embargo. The percentage rises to 85 percent among Democrats.
  • “Reality does not seem to determine what Trump believes.”
  • As a president candidate, Mitt Romney had about 200 Latinos on an advisory board. Trump has about 20.
  • U.S. voters don’t really care about foreign policy. Some are interested in “inter-mestic” issues. These are international issues with a domestic concern.
  • “We call them low-information voters.”
  • “Yes, there has been a struggle within the Republican Party and Trump won. His opponents have mostly been destroyed or purchased.”
  • The U.S. electoral system gives “disproportionate representation to rural areas.” One person in Wyoming has four times the voting power as someone in New York, and 66 times the voting power as someone in California.
  • There are rumors that the U.S. government might close the American embassy in Havana and return to re-establish the Interests Section. But there is no U.S.-Cuba agreement to do that and so if the U.S. embassy is closed, the diplomatic arrangement between the two countries would return to how it was before 1977.

  • The U.S. and Cuba have signed 23 memorandums of understanding, or MOUs. Only seven have been fully implemented. Even so, the signing of the MOUs pushed each side to become more empathetic and to see the consequences of its behavior.
  • Trump sees Sen. Marco Rubio as a spokesperson for conservative Cubans. The president’s instructions to staff are: “Make Rubio happy.”
  • Trump has contempt for “professional policymakers.” He replaced them with yesmen.
  • “I don’t see any evidence that Donald Trump cares about Cuba as a foreign policy issue. I think we can expect additional sanctions. This is more about Florida than Cuba.”
  • The Trump administration hopes to provoke Cuba. Closing the U.S. embassy in Havana “would make Trump happy.”
  • “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cuba put on the terrorist list.”
  • “Cuba has reason to be suspicious of U.S. motives.”
  • If a Democrat wins the White House, it’s “quite likely” that Trump’s Cuba policies will be reversed.
  • The Cuban economy is experiencing “non-normal conditions.”
  • The Cuban government has faced additional restrictions on fuel since April. That has hurt the economy and ordinary Cubans, although the government has tried to minimize the impact on people.
  • Cuban officials have had difficulty finding fuel even when they have money to pay for it.

  • Some people say Cuba’s only alternative is to return to a second special period. “I guarantee that’s not how it is.”
  • Three short-term goals are to: make investments more productive, invest more in infrastructure, diversify beyond tourism.
  • Foreign investment is needed “and we’re doing to incentivize it.”
  • 2020 will be “a year of important transformations.”
  • If not for six decades of U.S. sanctions, Cuba’s growth rates would be similar to the rest of the Caribbean region.
  • American policy toward Cuba won’t change without U.S. presidential leadership. Legislative action is also needed.
  • U.S.-Cuba relations won’t be normalized unless Trump is defeated in the 2020 election.
  • Crooks may try to take advantage of poor U.S.-Cuba relations. “Criminals don’t understand politics.”
  • U.S.-Cuba cooperation on law enforcement matters is “productive.” However, there are times when Cuban authorities make requests of their American counterparts and “the only answer is that the message was received.”
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