We are on the eve of an important and necessary event- The Conference on Prosperity and Security promises an important engagement with Central America.
Regional presidents, U.S. Cabinet members, the vice president and top Mexican officials will meet in Miami this week to take on some of the most vexing problems plaguing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the battered countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle.
Drug trafficking, gang violence and other criminality have taken their toll, resulting in 50,000 murders over the past three years in the Northern Triangle, and that insecurity — combined with widespread corruption and lack of economic opportunities and development — has contributed to a massive outflow of the countries’ residents. Most of them have ended up in the United States.
The Conference on Prosperity and Security, set for Thursday and Friday, is being convened by both the United States and Mexico, a country crisscrossed by drug trafficking, organized crime and people smuggling routes. (Fixing Central America is the focus of high-level Miami summit).
Even conservatives and exponents of the new "America First" initiative view this effort as important (See, e.g., here). Yet on the eve of an important Central American Summit, it appears that the 45th President intends to make public an announcement that has been rumored to be focused on undoing the opening up policies of the 44th President.
If President Donald Trump outlines his new Cuba policy in Miami on Friday, it could upstage a Central American conference that is bringing regional presidents and Mexican and U.S. Cabinet members to town this week.
Among steps Trump is reportedly considering are limiting travel by Americans to the island and restricting American companies’ ability to do business with entities controlled by the Cuban military. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the only two local Republican members of Congress who backed Trump, have been pushing the president to roll back the opening by then-President Barack Obama. (Trump’s announcement on Cuba could clash with Central American summit).
To the extent that is is the result of measured considerations of state and ultimately for the benefit of the people of the United States undertaken without undo harm to the people of Cuba, one can understand (if not agree) with the specific measures undertaken. It would be a great pity, and a derogation of the obligation that our officials owe this Republic, if instead the policy change would be based on a a need to "repay" political favors or to satisfy the sad vision of a part of the Cuban immigrant community that is, in its own way as stuck on December 31, 1958, as the Cuban regime may be stuck on January 1, 1959 (e.g., here). Indeed, members of the President's party also share a concern about reversing course on Cuba without good reason (e.g., here). And it is not clear how the shift in Cuba policy will impact our relations with other Latin American states--nor the extent to which this was considered. One worries because, at least with respect to multilateral relations, the President has adopted a piecemeal approach that might increase the likelihood of failing to anticipate consequences of policies adopted in one state on others int he region--much less on internal constituencies (e.g., here and here).
There are substantial implications should the 45th President indulge the impulse to undo policy (if only to distance himself from his predecessor--a no-principles basis for policy, to be sure, but one not uncommon even for beloved former Presidents of this Republic). One of the most important and immediate may be on the production of knowledge and academic exchange. It is with that in mind that a group of scholars have written the President urging him to reconsider any possible consideration of the sport of policy roll back that might undo the opening up to Cuba in effect since 2015. The letter, Scholars and Educators for Open Travel to Cuba: A Letter to President Donald Trump, follows. The letter has been republished by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Dear President Trump:
We write to you, as American scholars and educators, to express our concern about a possible reversal of our nation’s improving relations with Cuba, specifically in the area of travel, due to political pressure from elected officials in Florida and New Jersey. Since you ran for office on an America First platform, we wish to share with you that we vigorously oppose such a reversal as it is not in the best interests of the United States.
We represent all segments of the political spectrum from Left to Right. We also represent all disciplinary fields, from education to journalism to law to history to biology. For the most part, we have been conducting scholarly and critical research, publishing, and producing audiovisual works about Cuba for many years.
We urge you to consider the following:
1. It is perfectly legal for American citizens to travel to North Korea, which routinely threatens to destroy us, without any U.S. government restrictions. Is it not an anti-American policy to restrict freedom of movement and therefore inhibit travel to Cuba, even as we permit it to a sworn enemy of the U.S.? As U.S. citizens, we deeply resent a situation in which our own Constitutional rights to travel and conduct business are being inhibited by ideologues in Congress.
2. The Cuban president, Mr. Raúl Castro, has already announced his impending retirement in 2018. Further pressure from the United States might make it more difficult for him to do so. Cuban nationalism is stronger than other ideological allegiances. Rapprochement and people-to-people travel have already made a dent in mutually antagonistic nationalism by bringing people together. Changing course will negatively affect this process.
3. Change in Cuba comes from within. According to the latest statistics, Cuba already has more than a half million people who are self-employed, and that number is growing. The U.S. should continue to share business knowledge and encourage investment in those independent enterprises.
4. A reversal of U.S.-Cuba policy will have hemispheric consequences. It will alienate the U.S. from friendly Latin American nations that favor engagement with Cuba as a means to gradual change. It will also harm U.S. and non-U.S. businesses that are taking advantage of the current opening, leading to loss of revenue and jobs.
We respectfully urge you to continue on a path that expands transnational education, business, travel, scientific and humanistic research, and people-to-people exchange with Cuba. It is not just about the freedom of the Cuban people. It is about ours.
Cuba Counterpoints (LA/FL)
List of signatories