CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: The Bay of Pigs, Presidential Promises, and the Cuba Policy Review

One thing that makes Americans cynical about politics is that sources of mainstream opinion get euphoric when political leaders break their promises.

“Scarcely 12 weeks into his presidency,” the Los Angeles Times observes, “(President) Trump has backed off or reversed many of his most provocative campaign promises on foreign policy.”

Simply hearing President Trump say NATO is not obsolete, China is not a currency manipulator, and the Export-Import Bank is a good thing made their knees buckle. A few more weeks like this, as one Washington narrative suggests, and President Trump will have navigated all the way to the center.

We’ll see. As Brian Goldsmith wrote for The Atlantic last year, “Once in office, presidents almost always try to carry out their pre-election agendas. When they’re unable to keep those promises, it’s usually because of congressional opposition [think health care] – not because they’ve discarded campaign rhetoric to pursue other goals.” Scholars have examined the record – from Roosevelt to Reagan – and found “two-thirds of the winning candidate’s policy pledges were at least partially fulfilled after four years.”

That’s what the research says, and that is what President Trump’s chief strategist intends for him to do. As Steve Bannon told the Washington Times, “He’s laid out an agenda with those speeches, with the promises he made, and our job every day is just to execute on that … And he’s maniacally focused on that.”

Where does that leave Cuba? This question seems especially apt as we approach April 17th, the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

It was on April 17th, 1961, that “the Cuban-exile invasion force, known as Brigade 2506, landed at beaches along the Bay of Pigs and immediately came under heavy fire,” the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library explains. “Cuban planes strafed the invaders, sank two escort ships, and destroyed half of the exiles’ air support.”

From there, the plan fell apart. Over 100 of the attackers were killed, and almost 1,200 members of Brigade 2506 were captured. It took 20 months of direct diplomacy between the U.S. and Cuba’s government for the brigade prisoners to be released from captivity. Then, according to the Kennedy Library’s account, “surviving brigade members gathered for a ceremony in Miami’s Orange Bowl, where the brigade’s flag was handed over to President Kennedy. ‘I can assure you,’ the president promised, ‘that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana.’”

More than a half-century later, the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association formally endorsed Donald Trump for president, the first endorsement for president ever made by the Brigade. The Brigade veterans were embraced by the campaign and by some hardliners in the Cuban American community; they were vilified by others. But they did so out of the conviction that if Mr. Trump were to be elected president, he would honor his pledge to undo the Obama opening unless the government of Cuba agrees to his demands, as he tweeted it should. History, of course, teaches us the Cubans are not going to obey.

President Kennedy, as we noted previously, did not understand the consequences of going forward with the Bay of Pigs invasion. President Trump’s National Security Advisor, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, wrote a book, “Dereliction of Duty,” about how defense and foreign policy decisions went off the rails; it was thanks, in part, to “President Kennedy’s informal style and structure of decision making (which) did not allow for a systematic review of the planned invasion of Cuba.”

Monday is both the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs and the 88th day of President Trump’s administration. Much of Washington is eyeing the calendar and the clock as we move closer to Day 100 and, perhaps like Steve Bannon, we’re maniacally focused on whether the Cuba campaign promise to Brigade 2506 and others will be honored or become another part of the supposed move to the center.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas has submitted a defense of the existing Cuba policy to the National Security Council staff at the White House, which is coordinating President Trump’s review of Cuba policy. We plan to release what we submitted early next week. It would be a testament to Lt. General McMaster’s belief in good process for the NSC in 2017 to do better by President Trump than President Kennedy did by the process in 1961. So we hope that our views – and those expressed by others – will help to persuade the administration to stay the course.

At some point, either we or the Bay of Pigs brigade will be disappointed. Whatever happens, it will be a reminder – to paraphrase George Orwell – that some campaign promises are more equal than others. That’s especially true when it comes to President Trump and Cuba; after all, he’s made so many.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Coast Guard says migration by sea has dropped since end of “wet foot, dry foot”

Three months after President Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy, maritime interdictions in the Florida Strait have dropped precipitously. “Wet foot, dry foot” was an immigration policy providing preferential treatment only to Cuban migrants, and allowed them to become legal permanent residents if they made it to U.S. soil. According to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard has interdicted fewer than 100 migrants off the Florida coast in the last three months, the Washington Post reports. During FY2016, the Coast Guard intercepted 5,213 Cuban migrants; and, the Congressional Research Service notes, “the number of maritime interdictions in FY2016 was higher than in any other year during the FY1995-FY2016 period.”

JetBlue to open Havana office

JetBlue plans to open a commercial office in Havana to handle its operations and sales on the island, the company’s CEO, Robin Hayes, announced April 10 during a visit to Cuba, reports EFE. JetBlue, which last August became the first U.S. airline to operate regularly scheduled commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba, flies to Havana, Santa Clara, Camagüey, and Holguín from several U.S. cities. Competitors Delta and American Airlines opened Havana offices late last year and earlier this year, respectively. As we have previously reported, U.S. travel to Cuba is on the rise: 74 percent more U.S. travelers visited Cuba in 2016 than in 2015, and January 2017 saw a 125 percent uptick over the same period last year.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

UN special rapporteur on human trafficking concludes Cuba visit

As we reported last week, Dr. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, conducted a five-day visit to Cuba, which began on Monday, at the invitation of Cuba’s government, to examine human trafficking and prevention efforts on the island. “Combating human trafficking was one of the dialogues begun between the United States and Cuba under the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Havana,” as the Miami Herald noted last week.

Cuban state media reported that Dr. Giammarinaro met with Esteban Lazo, President of Cuba’s National Assembly, and other representatives from the Assembly, as well as with representatives from Cuba’s Ministry of Justice, with whom she discussed Cuba’s new “zero tolerance” approach to preventing human trafficking. Cuba’s government submitted the policy to Dr. Giammarinaro prior to her visit. María Esther Reus, Cuba’s Minister of Justice, said in a press conference that Cuba has formed an interagency commission to implement and track the progress of its anti–human-trafficking policy, which will also cooperate with community leaders, reports CubaDebate. Since arriving in Cuba, Dr. Giammarinaro has also met with representatives from Cuba’s Commission on Youth, Childhood, and Women’s Equal Rights.

As Dr. Giammarinaro’s visit concluded on Friday, she held a press conference in Havana. According to one account offered by WPLG Local 10 News, a Miami-based broadcast station, Dr. Giammarinaro said that Cuba’s legal framework for preventing and prosecuting human trafficking leaves room for improvement, including the need for a legal definition of human trafficking. Her findings and recommendations will be featured in an official report to the UN Human Rights Council next year.

ALBA Political Council meets in Havana, reiterates support for Venezuela government

Representatives from ALBA, including Cuba’s President Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, held their 15th Political Council in Havana April 10-11, reports Reuters. The 11-member Council ratified a declaration on regional unity and sovereignty adopted during its Caracas summit last month, according to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ALBA stands for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas–Peoples’ Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP). Council members also issued a statement expressing solidarity with Venezuela and condemning Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), for “interventionist, illegal and pro-imperialist behavior” following his calls for Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS and for general elections in the country.

Recommended Reading

Congressman reflects on recent Cuba trip, Rep. Roger Marshall, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal

After visiting Cuba on a delegation organized by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, U.S. Representative Roger Marshall (KS-1) writes that “While much about our past relations with Cuba can be debated, one thing this trip cemented for me is how dramatically our current policy of isolation has failed. Cuba has moved on, as has the reset of the world.” Rep. Marshall published his column after traveling to the island with Reps. Tom Emmer (MN-6), James Comer (KY-1), Jack Bergman (MI-1), and Jason Lewis (MN-2). Rep. Marshall, who is a member of the bipartisan Cuba Working Group in the House of Representatives, argues that “though lifting the embargo is the ultimate issue, a good first step would be to allow American banks and financial institutions to provide financing” for sales of agricultural goods to Cuba. “In a time of record low commodity prices,” he writes, “we cannot be arbitrarily choosing markets in which not to sell. We are only holding ourselves back.”

In Cuba, young people are weighing professional dreams against the allure of the new economy, Deepa Fernandes, PRI’s The World

Deepa Fernandes spoke with young people in Cuba who are struggling to find employment in a profession they studied in college and which pays enough for them to live on their own and support themselves. Jobs in Cuba’s private sector, such as in restaurants and taxi services, often pay far more than state-sector jobs in science and medicine, for example. Dariel Ramírez, who recently earned a degree in zoology and veterinary medicine, says, “In my mom’s time, well she studied and graduated and got a job and with her salary – which wasn’t super high – she had enough to live, to go out when she wanted, to eat out, to buy clothes. … It’s not like that today, times have changed.”