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Cuba

Trump's support of Cuban Americans pushes Havana into Moscow’s arms

The US embassy in Havana.
The US embassy in Havana. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Russia and Cuba are moving closer diplomatically as the relationship between Havana and the United States becomes increasingly problematic. Washington is unhappy about the situation, but may have itself to blame.

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This week's visit to Havana by Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, gave a moral boost to Cuba, once again hit by US sanctions under the Trump administration after the relatively relaxed conditions imposed by the Obama presidency.

Relations between Havana and Moscow hit a peak in 2014, when Russia wrote off the $32 billion debt Cuba had accumulated during the Soviet era.

The US foreign policy making establishment would have preferred to have done exactly what Obama did: move towards dropping the embargo entirely. But Trump's calculation is that he has a better chance of winning Florida by taking a hard line on Cuba.

“This facilitated the agreements that are coming into being today,” says Stephen Wilkinson, Chairman of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba.

According to the Russian Tass News Agency, Lavrov said that “Russia will continue to develop military, technical and economic cooperation with Cuba.”

According to Wilkinson, ‘return of investment’ agreements were signed during the visit, “obliging the Cubans to buy equipment in a project where the Russians are developing the Cuban railway system,” in exchange for Moscow clearing the debt.

Cold war

In an episode reminiscent of the cold war, a flotilla including Russia's most modern warship, the Admiral Gorshkov, and its escorts arrived in Havana’s port for a two-day courtesy visit, triggering alarm in Washington.

Russia’s increased involvement in Cuba may disturb the US, but Washington has itself to blame, according to Wilkinson. “They increase pressure on Cuba, so Havana will inevitably look to those who will help it out: Russia and China.”

Those who drive US Cuba policy are not run-of-the-mill diplomats.

“The foreign policy making establishment would have preferred to have done exactly what Obama did,” says Wilkinson, “move towards dropping the embargo entirely.

“Even Henry Kissinger, a long time ago, was a proponent of dropping the Cuban embargo."

Cliques of Cuban Americans

“The Cuba embargo doesn’t make any sense at all as a policy."

According to Wilkinson, Washington’s stubborn Cuba blockade is “driven by cliques of Cuban Americans,” the offspring of the original migrants who left Cuba in 1959-1961.

“This was the haute bourgeoisie which had particular interest in property there: landowners who possessed mines, hotels and real estate, which were then nationalised by the Cuban Revolutionary Government.

“And they have never ceased to campaign to get that property back," he says.

The reason Trump supports the extreme right-wing Cuban Americans is simple: it’s politics. Businessmen sensing opportunities in Cuba lobby Washington to lift the embargo, but their voice is too weak to overpower the Cuban-American lobby which is supported by Florida senator Marco Rubio and, ultimately, by National Security Advisor John Bolton.

“The Trump administration is not mindful to listen to the diplomats or the business lobby. So his calculation is that he has a better chance of winning Florida – a crucial state in US Presidential elections - by taking a hard line on Cuba,” says Wilkinson.

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