An opportunity for Donald Trump in Cuba
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Two years ago today, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba would begin normalizing relations after nearly six decades of hostility. 

As someone who fled Castro’s Cuba at a young age, and as a Republican who served in the administration of President George W. Bush, I was skeptical of this diplomatic opening. But I decided that it was worth giving the Administration’s new approach a chance to work. 

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I am glad that I did. Over the past two years we have seen increased cooperation and business opportunities for both the U.S. and Cuba.

Consider the following indicators of progress:

Business – Ten airlines, four cruise lines, and four telecommunications companies are among the U.S. businesses that have struck deals with Cuba. Airbnb has cited Cuba as one of its fastest growing markets; earlier this week Google announced an internet agreement; and a number of U.S. companies are currently negotiating additional deals.

National Security – Joint counter-narcotics efforts are helping keep our borders safe through cross-border information-sharing, and the U.S. and Cuban governments are continuing to have dialogue on law enforcement issues including counter terrorism, cyber security, and secure travel and trade.

Health – The U.S. and Cuba are working together to fight infectious diseases like dengue fever and Zika. Roswell Park Cancer Institute is preparing to launch clinical trials of a potentially life-saving cancer vaccine developed in Cuba. 

Environment – Our governments signed an environment cooperation agreement that will help protect U.S. and Cuban coasts and marine life, reduce disaster risks, and address marine pollution.

Family – New programs such as CubaOne are offering young Cuban Americans the opportunity to travel to the island to learn about their heritage. U.S. travel to Cuba has increased by 80 percent in the last two years in spite of being the only country in the world where an American citizen is not allowed by the U.S. government to travel as a tourist.

Cuban Entrepreneurship – After nearly six decades of the U.S. trying – and failing - to change Cuba, Cuba is now beginning to change on its own. A quarter of the Cuban workforce has entered the private sector, relying primarily on remittances for working capital. We should continue to support Cubans’ right to earn a living. Lifting the cap on remittances and reducing travel restrictions has directly benefited these Cuban entrepreneurs– the very individuals that the main critics of Obama’s policy claim they want to help. 

Given all of this progress over the past two years, the new administration should seriously weigh the consequences of reversing the new Cuba policies.  A reversal would harm American companies. It would disconnect families, make the region less safe, and halt collaborative research and university exchanges.

As we have seen in other parts of the world, worsening economic and political instability could draw more people from Cuba to make the same long journey my parents did, out of fear of a return to a Cold War-style relationship between the two countries.

Just last week, the EU and Cuba signed an agreement to normalize ties. As Cuba continues to sign deals with Russia, China and Europe, American companies will be locked out. A report by the USITC earlier this year found that if U.S. restrictions on Cuba were lifted, U.S. exports could increase to $2.2 billion, up from $180 million last year.

I believe that as the Trump administration evaluates its priorities, they will see the economic and national security gains to be made from increased trade and engagement with Cuba, and the dangers of not engaging.  

My hope is that momentum for deeper engagement will continue.  As for the next step, the U.S. and Cuban governments have begun the complex process of resolving the decades-long claims issue. This has long been one of the thorniest of issues in our bilateral relationship, pitting Cubans against each other and justifying the continuation of the embargo. 

If we can resolve this significant obstacle, it will allow us to focus on areas where both countries can benefit while truly addressing issues where we disagree. 

The incoming administration has a historic opportunity to help the Cuban and American people. I believe President-elect Trump, the first U.S. president in decades who will serve when a Castro isn’t President of Cuba, will accept the challenge.

Carlos M. Gutierrez is Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group. He served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 2005–2009.


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