If President Donald Trump chooses to reverse course with Cuba and move back to the isolationist policies imposed on the island nation under former President Dwight Eisenhower, he could effectively be giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a gift on a silver platter.
Trump’s administration will conclude its review of U.S.-Cuba trade policies in the coming week. The president is expected to visit Miami as early as Friday June 16, where he will announce what is already highly speculated to be a tightening of the rules on trade and travel enacted under former President Barack Obama.
Leading up to the administration’s announcement, a bipartisan group of seven congressmen is urging the White House to seriously consider the national security threat that reneging on Obama-era Cuba policies poses.
“We are grateful that your Administration is conducting such a thorough review of the current U.S.-Cuba policy,” the members of Congress wrote in a letter Thursday released to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “However, as a matter of U.S. national security, we are deeply concerned about recent reports that your Administration is considering reversing new policies towards Cuba.”
The congressmen are concerned about Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. They warn that “if we fail to engage politically and economically, our foreign competitors and potential adversaries will rush to fill the vacuum in our own backyard.”
The members are specifically concerned about Russia and China, given that the nations are already working to improve their political and economic ties to the island some 90 miles off the coast of the U.S. The top export destination for Cuban products is China, which the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates at around $308 million a year.
Allowing China and Russia to become the dominant players in Cuba, the lawmakers warn, “could have disastrous results for the security of the United States.”
Other groups, like Engage Cuba, a national coalition of private companies, organizations and local leaders dedicated to advancing federal legislation to lift the 55-year-old Cuba embargo, also believe that reinstating the embargo has serious implications for national security going forward.
“Ties between Moscow and Havana are strengthening at an alarming rate,” President of Engage Cuba James Williams told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Putin has been working to exert influence in Cuba in order to regain its once diminished power in the region, particularly to counter what they perceive as American intrusion in Eastern Europe.”
Williams has visited the island for years now, engaging with members of its government, business community and citizens on a regular basis.
“The Cold War is long over and Cuba is no longer a threat to the United States,” Williams said. “If President Trump reverses course with Cuba, it would be a gift to Putin and the Kremlin.”
The president hinted in a 2015 interview with The Daily Caller that opening trade relations with Cuba is “fine,” but he would consider terminating deals the Obama administration struck with Cuba. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Trump Set To Roll Back Obama’s Cuba Policies)
Aside from potential threats to national security, reversing progress made with Cuba since 2014 also poses some serious economic costs to the U.S.
Rolling back regulations with Cuba could cost the U.S. 12,295 jobs over the Trump’s first term in office and businesses and taxpayers over $6 billion, a June 1 report from Engage Cuba finds. The group did not include U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba in its estimates. Including agricultural exports, the U.S. stands to lose 14,500 jobs and $8.1 billion in revenue. (RELATED: Reversing Course With Cuba Costs The US 12,295 American Jobs)
Private companies are also voicing their support for keeping up a relationship with Cuba. Airbnb released a report to both Congress and the White House describing their economic impact on the island nation and the benefits their services provide to both American travelers and Cuban residents.
In the two years since Obama lifted the Cuban embargo, Airbnb hosts in Cuba have made nearly $40 million in income, the company reports. Since April 2, 2015, there have been over 560,000 guest arrivals in Cuba. Travelers pay an average rate of $164 a night to stay and Cuban hosts brought in an average of $2,700 in income.
The International Air Transit Authority (IATA), a trade association which represents 275 airlines worldwide, is speaking out against the embargo.
“Restricting the network of aviation and access to Cuba would be bad news for aviation. Generally, we welcome the extension of access to any country by plane,” IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac told reporters.
As it stands, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and United have all requested an uptick in flight offerings to Havana, as more and more Americans desire to see a nation they have been prohibited from traveling to for over 50 years.
Airline company’s requests have yet to come to fruition because they are hesitant to make a final decision until the Trump administration releases its Cuba policy. This is unfortunate news for the airline industry, which stands to lose in excess of $700 million in annual revenues if Trump reverses course.
Others are not as certain that Obama’s policies towards Cuba were effective and some, like Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, are angry with Obama for not consulting with Cuban Americans before dropping the Cuban embargo.
When Obama announced his decision in December 2014, the senator called the president’s move “a slap in the face” and “new low.”
Rubio and other critics of Obama argue that, in lifting the embargo, we have given too much to Cuban President Raul Castro and are receiving far less in return.
“I am confident that President Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is and that our policy going forward will reflect the fact that it is not in the national interest of the United States for us to be doing business with the Cuban military,” Rubio told el Nuevo Herald.
While the specific details of Trump’s announcement in Miami are still largely unknown, his aides are conjuring up ways to make any future decisions dependent on the Cuban government improving human rights and political freedoms for its citizens.
Obama’s policies were enacted through executive orders, which means Trump does not have to go through Congress to undo many aspects of Obama’s Cuba policies.
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