Jim Lewis: What’s next? Cuba?
I believe President Trump will soon normalize relations with Cuba. While watching Trump’s historic meeting with North Korea’s Kim, I mentioned this theory to friends as a joke. I now realize that a deal is probably in the works.
One of Trump’s major goals has been to eliminate the legacy of President Obama. Trump has tried to reverse all of Obama’s executive actions, regardless of merit. It would be the ultimate insult to Obama if Trump ended the embargo while claiming, “Obama screwed-up normalization, so I negotiated it successfully!”
Trump is unpredictable; he likes to appear erratic to keep his adversaries confused. Trump has been interested in Cuba for decades. In 1998 he sent representatives there to explore business opportunities. They even prepared sketches of what Trump Tower Havana would look like. This research could have been considered illegal by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Trump may decide he should finally promote a cause that is clearly supported by most Americans — an end to the embargo. This is also advocated by a majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami. Many of them invested with relatives in Cuban real estate and businesses following Obama’s 2014 opening. This was followed by a sharp decrease in values after Trump’s speech last year, which discouraged — but did not prohibit — Americans from traveling to Cuba. This action artificially produced bargain prices for properties and business that will eventually be worth many times today’s values. This sounds like a chapter out of Trump’s best seller: “The Art of the Deal.”
While Trump has purposely alienated our best allies such as Canada and the UK, he has been cozying up to powerful dictators who are considered to be our competitors and potential enemies. Think about a scale of 1 to 10, where “10” is the most evil tyrant imaginable. China’s Xi could be rated “6,” Russia’s Putin could be an “8,” and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un would clearly be a “10.” The former chief diplomat (“ambassador”) to Cuba during the Carter and Reagan administrations, Wayne Smith, rated Fidel Castro as a “3” on the scale of dictatorial tyrants. Fidel’s brother Raul, who assumed power in 2006, was less repressive, so let’s assign him a “2.”
Today, the Castros are gone, much to the delight of radical Cuban exiles in Miami. Cuba now has a younger and more pragmatic President. Miguel Diaz-Canel appears to be intelligent enough to realize that if he praises Trump and offers him oceanfront property to develop, the embargo could end soon (with congressional approval). Remember that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach is only an hour from Havana by air and less than a day’s cruise by yacht. A meeting somewhere in the Caribbean would be logistically much easier than Trump’s 16-hour flight to Singapore to meet Rocket Man. Can you imagine the publicity and video footage that could be produced if Trump eventually visits Diaz-Canel at Revolutionary Square and announces and end to the embargo?
A good time to go would be in October, just before the November U.S. elections. In addition, the Russian Embassy in Miramar would be a terrific, highly-secured site to meet up again with Trump’s BFF Vladimir Putin.
Trump should visualize Cuba as a potential American ally. Most Cubans are America-focused, and have relatives in nearby south Florida. They closely follow our movies, music, and sports teams. Unlike so many dead-beat countries around the globe who primarily want U.S. dollars handed to their dictator-leaders, Cuba simply wants American investors and cash-paying tourists. Cubans would also greatly appreciate it if the United States government would finally abandon the idea of regaining control of their beautiful Caribbean island.
My theory may seem far-fetched at a time when travel to Cuba is officially discouraged by our government. Various current articles about Cuba in newspapers and magazines discuss declining American interest and half-filled flights. In the last 12 months, Spirit, Frontier, and Alaska Airlines have cancelled all services to Cuba. The future of airline service appears gloomy and hopeless. But consider this: United, JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines are quietly adding flights to their Havana schedules beginning this fall — 30 more flights a week.
Why would CEOs of these companies even consider such a move? Probably because they’ve read “The Art of the Deal” and because they’ve been given leaked insider information.¡Viva Cuba Libre!
Jim Lewis lives in Grass Valley.
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