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Trump team doesn’t seem to oppose Obama’s shift in immigration policy for Cubans

Trump team doesn’t seem to oppose Obama’s shift in immigration policy
for Cubans
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

The Obama administration has worked until its final days to try to
ensure the continuity of its Cuba policy, but Ben Rhodes, one of the
chief architects of the rapprochement with the island, says he’s still
not sure what approach Donald Trump will take after he’s sworn in as the
nation’s 45th president on Friday.

The administration has briefed the incoming Trump team on the goals of
its Cuba policy and tried to make the argument that engagement with Cuba
is in the best interest of the Cuban people as well as the United
States. In the final news conference of his administration Wednesday,
Obama reiterated his rationale for the “monumental shift” in U.S. Cuba
policy that began on Dec. 17, 2014.

The Trump team also was notified in advance of last week’s decision to
end the wet foot, dry foot policy and deport Cubans who enter the United
States without a visa, said Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser,
during a briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center this week.

“They did not express any opposition to that change,” Rhodes said,
adding that his hope was that the U.S. government, Central American
governments and the Cuban government would work together to see if they
could provide some type of humanitarian assistance to Cubans already in
the migratory pipeline when the policy changed abruptly.

This week, Cubans en route to the United States before the policy shift
was announced began gathering near the Mexican border with the United
States, hoping that the Trump administration might grant them an amnesty.

In its final days in office, the Obama administration tied up loose ends
and tried to solidify the new relationship with Cuba by finishing up
negotiations and signing new cooperation agreements with Havana. In the
18 months since the two countries resumed diplomatic relations, 21 such
agreements have been signed on topics ranging from counter-narcotics
cooperation and environmental and marine protection to resumption of
direct mail service and civil aviation.

But despite meetings with the Trump team, Rhodes said: “I can’t say for
certain what the incoming team’s approach is going to be. There’s been a
diversity of views expressed by both the president-elect and members his
team.”

Trump was initially supportive of the rapprochement but said he would
get a better deal. Then he said he would terminate the new relationship
if Cuba was unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, Cuban
Americans and the U.S. as a whole. Trump’s nominee for secretary of
state, Rex Tillerson, said during his Senate confirmation hearing that
all of Obama’s executive orders on Cuba would be among those the Trump
administration planned to review.

“They can choose to emphasize different things than we did, but my hope
and expectation is that it’s sufficiently in America’s interest that
they continue, at least, important elements of what we’re doing and
recognize the cost of seeking to turn back other elements,” said Rhodes,
who spent a few days in Havana during Obama’s last week in office.

In making the case to the Trump administration for keeping Obama’s Cuba
policy intact, Rhodes said the Obama administration stressed “that their
focus on economic and commercial opportunities for the United States in
our foreign policy should correspond with what we’re trying to do in
opening up more space for American businesses and American travel to Cuba.”

The potential benefits of such policies, he said, “are consistent with
their expressed view of the foreign policy priority of promoting
American jobs and American businesses.”

Rhodes said the Obama administration also made the point that “Cuba
policy cannot be seen in isolation from our policy in Latin America, in
that we have removed a very significant irritant between the United
States and the countries of our hemisphere. If we were to roll back the
Cuba policy, I think that would have repercussions not just in Cuba, but
it would significantly set back our position and our ability to
cooperate with countries across the hemisphere.”

In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, groups for and against
rapprochement have been trying to put a bug in Trump’s ear.

The latest groups trying to sway Trump are a nationwide agriculture
coalition and a coalition of groups that favor engagement with Cuba.

In late December, a letter signed by five former ambassadors with
experience in the Americas criticized what they called “President
Obama’s ill-conceived and unlawful executive orders” allowing more
commercial ties with Cuba and asked for a “course correction” on U.S.
relations with Cuba during Trump’s first 100 days.

Obama’s economic opening to Cuba, the group wrote, “has had the effect
of giving a new economic leases on life to the regime, emboldening it to
curtail, not expand, private economic activity on the island while
increasing its repression of the dissident movement.”

Rhodes said the administration shared “concerns about the human rights
situation in Cuba. Our belief continues to be that we’re better
positioned to address those with an embassy, with relationships with the
Cuban government.”

Obama said at his news conference that despite disagreements with Cuba
over political repression, treatment of dissenters and freedom of the
press and freedom of religion, “our best shot” is “having the Cuban
people interacting with Americans and seeing the incredible success of
Cuban Americans,” and “engaging in commerce and business and trade.”

This week, the Miami-based Cuba Study Group in collaboration with 13
other groups, including the National Foreign Trade Council, the
Washington Office on Latin America, Engage Cuba, The U.S. Cuba Business
Council and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, sent a memo to
Trump making a case for engagement.

After a review of current policy, the memo said, “We are confident that
a close evaluation will confirm that constructive engagement — including
the reduction of travel and commercial barriers — is the best strategy
for supporting the Cuban people and boosting U.S. jobs and exports.”

A coalition of more than 100 agriculture, trade and commerce businesses
and associations also urged Trump to keep Obama policies in place and
build on the U.S. trade relationship with Cuba.

“As a broad cross-section of rural America, we urge you not to take
steps to reverse progress made in normalizing relations with Cuba, and
also solicit your support for the agricultural business sector to expand
trade with Cuba to help American farmers and our associated industries,”
said the letter whose signatories included USA Rice, the American Farm
Bureau Federation and Hormel Foods Corp.

The letter to Trump said that net U.S. farm income is down 46 percent
from three years ago and that the “importance of trade to America’s
farmers and ranchers cannot be overstated.” They asked Trump for help in
seeking the removal of financing restrictions and other barriers to
trade with Cuba, which imports nearly 80 percent of its food.

The Cuban market’s “proximity to U.S. ports allows for considerably
lower shipping costs and shorter delivery times than our foreign
competitors,” the letter stated. “The logistical advantages alone should
make Cuba a common-sense partner for two-way commerce.”

Meanwhile, in Cuba’s Pinar del Río province, Santa Blanco Echevarria and
her family work a small tobacco plot and sell their production to the
state. She, too, hopes the rapprochement will continue under Trump.

“I’m very happy to have relations with the United States,” said Blanco,
72. “When President Obama came here he was very well-received by the
Cuban people.

“I would like Donald Trump to continue relations with Cuba and extend
them even more,” she said. “I hope our two presidents get along.”

Source: Obama pushes to keep Cuba policy intact until final days in
office | Miami Herald –
www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article127508344.html

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