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Trump threatens to “terminate” US–Cuba diplomatic thaw

President-elect says Havana must improve conditions for Cubans and US for rapprochement to continue

Donald Trump on Monday fell back on the language he knows best – that of business and social media – to threaten Cuba. “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” he tweeted in a message, which suggests he may either put a halt to the normalization of US–Cuba relations begun under Barack Obama nearly two years ago, or cause significant damage to that process.

Trump leaves his home in Florida on Sunday.
Trump leaves his home in Florida on Sunday. REUTERS

Trump’s tweet came as tributes rolled in to Cuba on the death of Fidel Castro and as the first direct commercial flight between the US and Cuba in more than 50 years landed in Havana – another important step in the normalization of relations between the two countries and a sign of the growing investment in Cuba on the part of US airlines.

The tweet from the president-elect was also Trump’s first message directed at Cuba since a statement on Saturday in which he called Castro a “brutal dictator.”

In that statement, the president-elect promised that he and his administration would do “all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty,” although he fell short of saying he would he would “terminate” the normalization process.

But his latest message also failed to explain whether he would be prepared to put a stop to a relationship where many US business interests are in play.

Over two years of cautious rapprochement with Havana, Obama has reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba, where the US has reopened its embassy. In March Obama also became the first US president to visit the island in nearly a century. In addition, the Democrat has made travel to Cuba easier, although US citizens are still officially barred from visiting the country as tourists.

More critical are the changes in business relations. Although Obama has been unable to single-handedly lift the embargo against Cuba – only Congress has the power to do that – current trade rules have been stretched to their limits to allow individuals and companies to visit the island to follow up business opportunities.

Trump called Fidel Castro a “brutal dictator” and celebrated his death in a tweet

Most observers believe that while Trump may be able to slow down the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, and even put a stop to certain measures, it is highly unlikely that the process could be rolled back completely given the commercial interests at stake. These include airlines who plan to operate up to 110 flights a day to Cuba before the end of 2016 and agricultural firms who are pushing to be able to do more business with the island.

One of Trump’s inner circle, his advisor and ex-campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, on Sunday qualified the president-elect’s declarations on Cuba. Trump was “open to researching and, in fact, resetting relations with Cuba,” she told television broadcaster ABC. “His criticism of what has happened in the last couple of years is very simple, it’s that we got nothing in return,” said the advisor.

“By reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba, allowing commercial aircraft and the rest… we really got nothing in return,” she added.

English version by George Mills.

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