Michael Camilleri: “A significant deterioration in bilateral relations has occurred and appears likely to last for the duration of the Trump Administration”

Foto: Getty Images/Jae Reedle

We still do not know who is responsible for the very disturbing attacks against U.S. diplomats serving in Cuba.  However, it seems almost certain their objective was to drive a wedge between the United States and Cuba. In this, they are succeeding.  Beginning in December 2014, the governments of President Obama and President Castro took historic steps to chart a new course in relations between their countries.  That significant but fragile rapprochement is now in serious jeopardy. While the Trump Administration has not alleged the Cuban government is responsible for the attacks, it has understandably demanded an explanation for the unprecedented attacks that occurred on Cuban soil.  President Castro took a positive step by allowing the FBI to visit the island to investigate, but Cuba must ultimately take responsibility for finding out what happened and holding the responsible parties to account in a transparent fashion.  The Trump Administration, while careful not to jump to conclusions, has nonetheless jumped into precipitous action—drawing down staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, expelling Cuban diplomats from Washington, and advising U.S. citizens against traveling to Cuba. While security for diplomats must be a paramount concern for the White House, these actions are likely to damage U.S. interests while doing nothing to solve the mystery of the sonic attacks.  Notably, the association of U.S. diplomats opposed the staff withdrawals. A better first step would have been to aggressively test the Cuban government’s resolve to cooperate in investigating the attacks, and to evaluate further action based on a more complete set of facts.

Much of the focus of the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba during the Obama Administration was on government-to-government ties, including high-level meetings, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, deepening cooperation in areas of mutual interest such as law enforcement and environmental protection, and frank dialogue even on contentious issues such as human rights. Perhaps just as important, however, was the significant expansion in ties between non-state actors, whether scientists, students, or ordinary citizens who benefited from more flexible travel regulations in both the United States and Cuba. These ties are now set to suffer. The Trump Administration’s repeal of individual people-to-people visits as a permissible category of purposeful travel and its issuance of a broad travel warning will limit the number of U.S. visitors who can share their experiences and perspectives with the Cuban people.  The decision to radically downsize the U.S. Embassy in Havana will make it far more difficult for Cubans to visit the United States.  Under the new status quo, both Cubans and Americans lose.

Political will to salvage an improved relationship with Cuba is virtually nonexistent in the Trump Administration.  While President Trump’s rollback of Obama-era policies toward Cuba was more strident in rhetoric than it was in practice, there is little impetus in the White House to do anything affirmative to rescue the bilateral relationship from its current downward spiral.  Judging by some of the steps taken by President Castro in response to the attacks on U.S. diplomats, there may be greater political will on the Cuban side to prevent such a downward spiral. Short of solving the mystery and punishing those responsible, however, whatever political will exists in Cuba is unlikely to make an impression on the Trump Administration.  President Obama and President Castro succeeded in shifting the bilateral relationship in fundamental ways, most importantly by changing the way the United States and Cuba had looked at each other for over half a century.  In the long run, this offers reason to hope that the current impasse can be overcome.  However, a significant deterioration in bilateral relations has occurred and appears likely to last for the duration of the Trump Administration.

The Cuban transition in 2018 was always going to be carefully scripted and managed, with the Cuban people denied the opportunity to choose their next leader in a democratic fashion, irrespective of U.S. policy. An important objective of the Obama Administration, in which I served, was to help Cubans shape their own futures over the longer term by expanding their economic opportunities, their access to technology and information, and their relationships with citizens of the United States.  But ultimately it is the Cuban government itself that will determine whether Cubans’ hopes and ambitions are met, so we also used every opportunity to urge the Castro government to respect its citizens’ universal human rights and expand their political and economic freedom. The current deterioration in diplomatic relations is likely to strengthen those in both the United States and Cuba who favor the familiar comfort of a static Cold War antagonism over the rising expectations generated by a new U.S.-Cuba dynamic.


La “guerra de los decibeles”: hablan los expertos

William M. LeoGrande: “La verdadera motivación de estas duras sanciones es la oposición del gobierno Trump a la política del presidente Barack Obama de normalizar las relaciones con Cuba”

William M. LeoGrande: “The real motivation for such harsh sanctions is the Trump administration’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s policy of normalizing relations with Cuba”

Domingo Amuchástegui: “Lo que buscan es el colapso económico, político y social en Cuba”

Carlos Alzugaray: “La Administración Trump estaba buscando la excusa para tomar medidas agresivas que redujeran a cero los intercambios diplomáticos”.

Richard Feinberg y Harold Trinkunas: “La hostilidad hacia Cuba perjudica a los intereses de Estados Unidos”

Michael J. Bustamante: “Me cuesta trabajo entender la expulsión de los diplomáticos cubanos”

Geoff Thale: “El tamaño del recorte del personal diplomático se parece mucho a una medida de castigo, no a una de seguridad”

Geoff Thale: “The size of the personnel cut looks a lot like a punitive measure, not a safety one”

Michael Camilleri: “Ha ocurrido un deterioro significativo en las relaciones bilaterales y parece probable que permanezca durante toda la Administración Trump”

Sarah Stephens: “Los de línea dura en Estados Unidos tendrán un problema entre manos si tratan de arrastrar las relaciones bilaterales hacia la Guerra Fría”.

Sarah Stephens: “I think the hardliners in the U.S. will have a fight on their hands if they try to drag U.S.-Cuba relations back into the era of the Cold War”.

Paul W. Hare: “Rusia, China, Irán y otros estarán consolidando sus relaciones con Cuba, mientras Estados Unidos vuelve a su papel de adversario”

Paul W. Hare: “Russia, China, Iran and others will be eagerly consolidating their relations as the US returns to its role of adversary”

Randy Pestana: “El presidente Trump sintió la necesidad de traer a los republicanos cubanos de “línea dura” a su lado”

Randy Pestana: “President Trump felt it necessary to bring in the hardline Cuba republicans to his side”

Arturo López-Levy: “Raúl Castro caminó “la milla extra” para no ser responsable por dinámicas de ruptura”

Emily Mendrala: “La forma en que se llevaron a cabo las expulsiones de los diplomáticos cubanos sugiere la presencia de influencia política por parte de los que se oponen a un mayor compromiso entre personas y empresas de Estados Unidos y Cuba”.

Emily Mendrala: “The manner in which the expulsions were carried out suggests political influence from those who oppose increased engagement between U.S. and Cuban people and businesses”.

Ted Henken: “Me parece muy precipitada y agresiva la medida de obligar a la Embajada de Cuba en Washington a reducir sustancialmente su presencia diplomática en Estados Unidos”.

Sobre los autores
Michael Camilleri 2 Artículos escritos
Michael Camilleri es el director del Programa Peter D. Bell de Estado de Derecho en el Diálogo Interamericano. Camilleri, un abogado internacional y ex-diplomático, trabajó en la Administración de Obama de 2012 a 2017 como miembro del personal de...
Luis Carlos Battista 36 Artículos escritos
La Habana (1988). Licenciado en Derecho por la Universidad de La Habana y en Relaciones Internacionales por Florida International University (FIU). Ha publicado sobre las relaciones exteriores de Cuba y Estados Unidos en espacios como OnCuba Magazine...

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