September 2017
Position Papers

U.S.-Cuba Relations in the Trump Era: Confronting Rollback, Salvaging Engagement, Laying the Groundwork for a Better Future

In June 16, 2017, President Donald Trump announced a partial rollback of his predecessor’s engagement policy with Cuba. U.S. travelers will find it more difficult to visit the island. Once there, opportunities for exploring commercial opportunities will be more restricted.

Beyond the impact on U.S. citizens, Cuban entrepreneurs and citizens will be hurt by renewed travel restrictions—much more so than the Cuban government. While the Trump administration framed new prohibitions on individual people-to-people travel and commercial interactions with the Cuban military as a means to support the Cuban people and private sector, these measures will have the opposite effect of their stated intent.

Nevertheless, the fact that significant elements of the prior policy remain in place offers an opportunity to salvage some benefits of engagement. As the Executive Branch prepares to issue regulations implementing the President’s National Security Memorandum on Cuba, this paper assesses the projected impact of the Trump administration’s policy and makes recommendations about how to productively tailor its impact.These include:

  • Continue core bilateral agreements pertaining to national security cooperation.
  • Appoint a career diplomatic professional as Ambassador to Cuba.
  • Continue welcoming Cuban visitors to the United States for people-to-people exchanges.
  • Define the ban on “engagement with the Cuban military” in transparent, clearly delimited terms to avoid regulatory ambiguity and needlessly petty effects.
  • Exclude common citizens from the newly expanded list of “prohibited officials of the Cuban government” barred from receiving remittances.
  • Honor and do not create obstacles for existing U.S.-Cuba commercial agreements.
  • Propose to Canada and Cuba the creation of a joint investigation into recently revealed incidents regarding U.S. and Canadian diplomats on Cuban soil.
  • Do not dedicate excess resources to Cuba sanctions enforcement.
  • Explore options to assist the Cuban people in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The Cuba Study Group believes that U.S. interests and the just aspirations of all Cubans for a more democratic, prosperous future are best served by a normalization policy of increased economic openness and creative diplomacy. In the absence of such a commitment, we call on the Trump administration to carefully write its forthcoming Cuba policy regulations in a way that minimizes unnecessary regulatory burdens and does not hurt average Cubans.


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