Reversing Obama's Cuba Policy Won't Help Cubans

This article first appeared on the Cato Institute site.

According to media reports, President Trump is expected to announce on Friday that his administration will revert some of President Obama's policies toward Cuba. In particular, it looks like Trump will impose new restrictions on travel, as well as limits on U.S. companies doing business in the island.

The alleged justification for the new policy is that it will pressure the Cuban dictatorship to give concessions on human rights and political liberalization. That seems odd given that the Trump administration is not particularly fond of pursuing that agenda in its foreign policy: there was no mention of human rights and political freedom during his visit to Saudi Arabia, for example.

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Is there a clamor for a tougher approach on Cuba? According to surveys by Pew Research Center —the most recent one from December 2016—an increasing majority of Americans (73 percent) favors ending the trade embargo against Cuba. Trump's new policy would not reflect the views of nearly three-quarters of U.S. citizens.

What about Cuban-Americans? A 2016 poll by Florida International University among Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County found that 63 percent opposed the continuation of the embargo and 57 percent supported expanding economic relations between U.S. companies and the island. Imposing new restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba is something that a majority of Cuban-Americans would frown upon.

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That still leaves Cubans in Cuba, who are supposedly the ultimate beneficiaries of the changes Washington wants to bring about in the island. According to an April 2015 Washington Post poll, 96 percent of Cubans support lifting the trade embargo. The same number said that more tourism from the United States would benefit the local economy.

Survey after survey shows that a majority of Americans, Cuban-Americans, and Cubans in the island favor greater economic ties between the United States and Cuba.

If Cubans and Americans don't want new barriers erected between their countries, who is President Trump trying to help?

Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro at an exposition game between the Cuban national baseball team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the Estado Latinoamericano March 22, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. This is the first time a sitting US president has visited Cuba in 88 years. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Juan Carlos Hidalgo is a policy analyst on Latin America at Cato's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.