Trump eyes Cuban-American votes, slaps Cuba with stringent new restrictions on hotels, cigars and rum

American travelers will not be allowed to bring home cigars or rum from the island nation and neither can they stay in government-owned hotels there


                            Trump eyes Cuban-American votes, slaps Cuba with stringent new restrictions on hotels, cigars and rum
(Getty Images)

For President Donald Trump, Florida has emerged as a major challenge ahead of the November 3 election. As Democratic Mike Bloomberg has decided to spend a whopping $100M in the Sunshine State alone to help the cause of the party’s presidential candidate Joe Biden, the incumbent is feeling the heat even more. Trump has come up with a number of measures to counter the Democrats' move to woo the Hispanic vote bloc and the latest is to take more stringent actions against Cuba to cripple it financially.

On September 23, Trump announced that here on, American travelers will not be allowed to bring home cigars or rum from the island nation and neither can they stay in government-owned hotels there. The action not only nullified the previous Barack Obama administration’s initiative to reach out to the communist nation that has remained under an American blockade for several decades, but is also seen as one to woo the Cuban-Americans who form a key pillar of the GOP-leaning voting bloc in the state of Florida which has 29 electoral votes. Trump's announcement came at a ceremony at the White House where he honored 23 veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasions in Cuba in 1961. 

Cuba slams US blockade in times of pandemic

Cuba has of late slammed the US saying its economic blockade has adversely affected its bilateral trade relations with old ally Russia. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first leader the country had outside the Castro family that ruled for several decades, on September 22 blasted the US’s economic blockade in times of the pandemic during a video address to the UN General Assembly. 

The mercurial Trump, however, is little moved by the criticisms coming from Havana. In his speech on September 23, he said the new treasury department sanctions on Cuba will ensure that American dollars do not help the cause of the government of Cuba. The GOP leader has been taking various steps during his first presidential term to reinstate the economic blockade and undo the policy of restoring diplomatic relations with the island that had seen a massive missile crisis in the early 1960s that almost led the world to the brink of another major war between the US and erstwhile Soviet Union. 
 
"These actions will ensure that US dollars do not fund the Cuban regime and go directly to the Cuban people," the president said during the East Room ceremony honoring the veterans of the 1961 mission. "We will not lift sanctions until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized and free elections are scheduled."

Former president Barack Obama and former vice president and Democratic candidate for 2020 presidential elections Joe Biden (Getty Images)

He also slammed the policy undertaken by Obama vis-a-vis the Castro brothers — Fidel and Raul — as "weak, pathetic, one-sided" and linked it to Biden, who was Obama’s No.2 at the White House for eight years. "I canceled the Obama-Biden sellout to the Castro regime," Trump said.

Trump also said that America’s sanctions will remain in place till Cuba releases all its prisoners and protects rights to free assembly and expression besides legalizing all political parties and holding free elections. "Today we reaffirm our ironclad solidarity with the Cuban people and our eternal conviction that freedom will prevail over the sinister forces of communism and evil in many different forms. Today we declare America’s unwavering commitment to a free Cuba," Trump added.

Associated Press cited Lawrence Ward, a partner in Dorsey & Whitney — an international law firm — saying that the president’s latest action on Cuba will make it almost impossible for Americans to visit the island nation since nearly all its hotels are owned by the government in Havana. People from the US travel to Cuba to meet family or for humanitarian causes or other reasons that are clearly outlined by Washington. 

"Certainly these new sanctions will have some minor impact on the Cuban government and Cuba’s economy but there’s a fair argument that the actions are more symbolic and political given that the United States stands nearly alone in its sanctions as to Cuba," Ward told AP in an email.

US historian Arthur Schlesinger, right, a special adviser to former president John F Kennedy during the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, is welcomed by Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Fernandez March 21, 2001, at the Wayay airport in Havana, Cuba (Getty Images)

Democrats accuse Trump of using foreign policy for political benefit

The Democrats slammed Trump’s latest Cuba measures saying the latter was trying to influence the foreign policy for his own political benefits. "This is a desperate and hypocritical attempt by Trump to pander to Cuban-American voters in Florida," AP quoted Democratic Party spokesperson Enrique Gutierrez as saying. He said that Cuba has already closed its borders to Americans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuban-Americans have traditionally been supporters of the GOP and their importance has grown ahead of this year’s high-profile presidential battle. The Cuban-Americans have a collective dislike for former president John F Kennedy, a Democrat, over his failed mission to topple the Fidel Castro regime in 1961. 

Trump recognized the Bay of Pigs mission veterans at the White House in November last year but Wednesday’s ceremony happened at a time when the president is also considering picking Barbara Lagoa, a US appeals court judge of Cuban descent, as his nominee to the Supreme Court to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recently died in Washington DC. 

Florida has a huge concentration of Hispanic voters and according to an estimate by Pew Research Center, nearly a third of them have roots in Cuba. Between October 2016 and September 2018, almost 50,000 Cubans became naturalized American citizens, according to recent data from the homeland security department, the AP report added.

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