Donald Trump has introduced new restrictions on travel to Cuba and on US companies trading with Cuban businesses owned by the state’s military and intelligence services (which includes most of the tourist sector). Trump has revised, but not as he originally threatened reversed Obama’s policy on Cuba.
At the end of 2014 Obama reopened diplomatic relations with the island’s government, a one-party dictatorship overseen by Raul Castro. This began a period of “normalisation”, largely ending the economic blockade. Although a ban on US tourism remained in place, US tourists were able to get around restrictions. Trump says he will maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Obama’s policy was not welcomed by right-wing dissidents inside Cuba or right-wingers within the Cuban exile community. On the other hand Trump’s policy will not be welcomed by US business.
Before Trump most US politicians accepted Obama’s policy of doing business with Cuba, with mild pressure for political change. Trump has turned to Marco Rubio, one of his opponents in last year’s contest, become the Republican Presidential nominee to help him get through the policy shift. Raul Castro has promised to step down from the Cuban Presidency by February 2018, although there is no visible strong contender for a successor.
This political uncertainty, together with an economic recession in Cuba, may trigger a crisis. It won’t be as big as that after the collapse of the USSR in 1989-90. Then Cuba lost three quarters of its imports and exports. However this recession is being worsened by the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and the loss of subsided oil imports. Further instability may be caused by increasing inequalities on the island.
Army-owned shops in Havana sell luxury items which cost a year’s or even a lifetime’s wages for most Cubans. There is also continuing political repression of the opposition. That opposition is not just made up of right-wing groups, but also includes leftists. Socialists support the right of all Cubans to win political freedom. The chances of that will not be improved by Trump’s hardline stance.