JOE Biden’s victory will be cautiously welcomed by Cuba after Donald Trump’s tumultuous tenure, a former CIA analyst has said.
Trump notoriously attempted – and succeeded – to win states like Florida by appealing to exiles and Latino opponents of the socialist Cuban government.
He reversed the thawing of relations that tentatively started under Barack Obama, assailing the former President’s policy as a “weak, pathetic, one-sided deal”.
“I cancelled the Obama-Biden sellout to the Castro regime,” Trump said.
Biden will aim to reverse restrictions on travel, investment and remittances for the island nation that are perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans, sources told Al Jazeera.
While Trump assumed Cubans were “headed off a cliff”, former White House National Security Council expert on Latin America Fulton Armstrong told Redaction Politics, Biden realises that normalising relations with Havana is in the American interest.
He said: “President Biden would restart the process of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations because it’s in the U.S. interest to do so.
“Cuba is not a threat to the United States, despite what some in Miami might say, and stronger government-to-government and people-to-people relations will promote peaceful, evolutionary change on the island. The Trump Administration and its allies have based policy on the assumption that Cubans are stupid — headed off a cliff — and that U.S. pressure will achieve some sort of regime-change scenario that policies over the past 60 years have not.
“The Biden Administration will push for certain universal values, such as human rights, that will cause the Cuban government to chafe, but the new team knows that Cuba is already seeking change and that its value system, while different, will increasingly reflect the aspirations of the Cuban people.
“The stability and improved economic and political systems resulting from that is in the U.S. interest — not to mention removing a thorny policy from the side of hemispheric relations writ large. It’s also in the U.S. interest to show the Cuban people that we care about them.”
Obama shook up international relations in December 2014 when he announced Havana and Washington would resume diplomatic relations.
The US embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington, which both closed in 1961, were reopened, while travel restrictions were also eased.
The normalisation lasted less than three years, however, as Trump announced the re-hardening of Washington’s Cuba policy in June 2017.
This was “motivated by a meanness and ambition that President Biden does not share” and is unlikely to continue, Mr Armstrong said.
“The Cuban people probably will appreciate that the chokehold on relations with their families in the US — such as the obstacles the Trump Administration put on family visits and family remittances — will loosen,” he said.
“The government probably will applaud restoration of time-tested cooperation, such as on immigration matters, but its optimism and its willingness to lean forward will, reasonably, be predicated on the Biden Administration’s ability to undo the Trump damage.”
Trump did not, to the public’s knowledge, attempt in Cuba anything close to the intervention that has been seen in Venezuela and Bolivia in recent years.
However, there were still some flashpoints with Havana outside of the election.
A series of mystery illnesses suffered by US diplomats starting in 2016-17 were blamed on Cuban “sonic attacks” by some US officials, including the President.
Trump said: “It’s a very unusual attack, as you know. But I do believe Cuba is responsible.”
Mr Armstrong said Biden’s response to such claims – earlier this month a US government report they were caused by microwave energy – would be an important symbolic step in normalising relations.
“One early test will be whether Biden restores Embassy staff in both countries — which Trump essentially shut down in the wake of the massively exaggerated claims about so-called ‘sonic attacks.’
“If Biden shows seriousness on that and other issues, the Cubans will reciprocate.”
Fulton Armstrong is a former CIA analyst and White House National Security Council expert on Latin America. He has served at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and is currently a senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.