Donald Trump has made clear that there’s little room in his “America First” foreign policy for pressure on authoritarian foreign governments—whether Russia, Saudi Arabia, or China—to improve their human rights record.
The one exception is Cuba where, on Friday, he reimposed failed Cold War sanctions, ostensibly to pressure Cuba to improve human rights.
Trump’s Cuba move had been opposed by the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, Treasury, Agriculture and Homeland Security; by the generally Republican-leaning Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers; and by Human Rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, all of whom believe that Americas 57-year old policy of isolating Cuba has been a failure and is bad for Americans and Cubans.
As former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote, Trump’s new hard line Cuba policies, “will hurt ordinary Cubans, harm the image of the United States, and make it harder for Americans to do business and travel somewhere they want to go.”
A CORRUPT DEAL BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUBIO?
Trump sided with Rubio, who was standing directly behind Trump as he announced his new Cuba policy.
Rubio, in turn, defended Trump against Comey in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings.
Rubio seemed more interested in getting Comey to publicly admit that President Trump ‘was not personally under investigation’ than in obtaining any new evidence for the Senate investigation. It was as if Rubio…was acting as Trump’s defense attorney instead of as a member of a bipartisan committee investigating crucial national security issues.
Hmm... it’s fair to ask if there was an implicit or explicit deal here? Trump reinstates sanctions on Cuba; Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee― which is actively investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and now possible obstruction of justice—goes easy on Trump and hard on Comey and uses his position on the Intelligence Committee to defend Trump.
Indeed, it’s fair to ask if such a possible deal between Trump and Rubio itself constituted Obstruction of Justice.
Special Prosecutor Mueller and Congressional Committees should require Rubio, Rubio staff members, and others with knowledge of the dealings between Trump and Rubio on Cuba policy to answer whether Trump directly or indirectly asked for Rubio’s loyalty in the Russia investigation, or at least for Rubio to go easy, and whether Rubio directly or indirectly promised any loyalty in exchange for Trump accepting Rubio’s Cuba policy.
THE RUSSIA CONNECTION
Adding to the suspicions, Trump’s policy of isolating Cuba from America helps Russia.
The loss of revenues from American tourists and business will likely lead Cuba to turn back to Russia as an economic, and even military, patron. Russian has recently forgiven billions of dollars of debt owed by Cuba and become a major supplier of oil to Cuba, replacing Venezuala which has its own economic crisis. There is talk of Russia reopening military bases in Cuba, which could put Russian signal intelligence 90 miles from US shores.
As Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote in an op-ed piece last week,
One obvious way to mitigate Russian influence in our hemisphere is through enhanced engagement with Cuba…As two retired US military generals wrote in an op-ed in Politico last month, cooperation with Cuba has been a game changer for regional security. Since the thaw in US-Cuba relations, our two governments have signed nine formal bilateral agreements on issues related to matters of national security, including human trafficking, counter-narcotics, and cybersecurity. Why cast aside this opportunity to coordinate on cross border and maritime law enforcement…and instead cede the playing field to Putin?
Hmm, again... Trump’s new policy of isolating Cuba helps Russia and Putin. More grounds for questions from Mueller and Congressional Committees.
TRUMP LINING HIS OWN POCKETS?
Finally, Trump Cuba policies may gain him personal economic advantage over The Trump Organization’s competitors in the hotel industry. Starwood Hotels, which was recently acquired by Marriot, has negotiated deals to manage several hotels in Cuba, some of which are partly owned by Gaviota, a tourism company owned by the Cuban military, which, in socialist Cuba, is widely involved in the Cuban economy.
Other major American hotel chains hope to use the Starwood deal as a template for their own expansion into Cuba.
These efforts by the American hotel industry to invest in Cuba will likely be slowed or halted by Trump’s new Cuba sanctions.
But Trump himself told CNN last year that he would like to open a hotel in Cuba “at the right time.”
And The Trump Organization has been exploring investing in Cuba hotels as early as 1998, sometimes in violation of US law.
According to Newsweek,
A company controlled by Donald Trump…secretly conducted business in Communist Cuba during Fidel Castro’s presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal, according to interviews with former Trump executives, internal company records and court filings. Documents show that the Trump company spend a minimum of $68,000 for its 1968 foray into Cuba at a time when corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval.
In 2012 and 2013, Trump Organization officials again travelled to Cuba—also possibly in violation of US law ― to explore opportunities to open golf courses, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The Trump official included Trump Organization executive V.P. Larry Glick, environmental consultant for golf Edward Russo, chief legal officer Jason Greenblatt, and Trump golf executive Rob Lieberman. Russo referred questions about the trips to Eric Trump who responded, “[M]any major competitors have sought opportunities in Cuba… [I]t is important for us to understand the dynamics of the markets that our competitors are exploring.”
Hmm, hmm, hmm a third time... Trump’s new Cuba sanctions will harm his business competitors like Marriott/Starwood and potentially give the Trump Organization time to catch up before his competitors get too far ahead in establishing American-managed hotels in Cuba.
Along with gaining little Marco’s help in the Russia and conflict of interest investigations, and aiding Russian interests in Cuba, are Trump’s new hard-line Cuba policies designed to help his own personal business interests?
There’s plenty here for Special Counsel Mueller and Congressional Committees to investigate in connection with Trump’s decision to reimpose Cold War Sanctions on Cuba—potential Obstruction of Justice, foreign policy moves that help Russia, and possible conflicts of interest with Trump’s businesses.
Things could start to get even more interesting.