What does Donald Trump see when he looks out toward Cuba? Havana, after all, is just a few hundred miles south of the U.S. President’s own coastal getaway at Mar a Lago, Florida. In Trump’s eyes, is the island nation still fundamentally a Communist enemy, even though the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago? Or perhaps, he sees a potential business opportunity down the road for his hotel and resort empire? After all, critics of his first foreign trip to the Middle East are digging up a new series of potential conflicts of interest between the billionaire president and his foreign policy.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump had characterized Barack Obama's rapprochement with Cuba a "bad deal" he would "terminate." At Friday's announcement at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami (named after one of the leaders of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion), the U.S. President, reportedly pushed by past and potentially future Republican rival, Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, undid a part of predecessor's legacy.
Although Trump's shift stops short of a complete reversal of the Obama rapprochement, it is nonetheless a return in Washington to the old hard line on Cuba. The new restrictions are expected to make the fledgling U.S. tourism and business with Cuba more difficult and expensive, a move that would hit Cuban citizens the hardest. Some have been quick to note that although the new measures are substantial, the U.S.' backpedaling will likely increase the island's reliance on Russia, especially at a time when its main ally, Venezuela, seems to be collapsing into civil war.
For the Cuban Communist Party's official newspaper Granma, the "measures and the symbolism of the location signal that the White House is prepared to return to the Cold War."
There is indeed an unmistakable feeling that this move is bumping up against the flow of history, especially as Cuba is currently preparing for Raúl Castro's retirement next year. But according to Spain's El País daily, Trump's shift might actually benefit the Cuban establishment. Quoting Cuban historian Rafael Rojas, the Madrid-based daily writes that the "thaw's liberalizing tingling provoked a counter-reform inside the regime, in that conservative Communists reinforced their positions."
The chances are slim-to-nada that such a subtle analysis played any role in Trump’s own calculations. Foreign policy in Washington increasingly looks like either a juicy opportunity for chest-beating and criticism of earlier presidents, or a sly effort to spread the Trump brand. As for his own historical legacy, Trump will be hoping that any connections with the Bay of Pigs will be limited to the name of today's venue.