Former diplomats urge Trump to undo ‘unlawful’ Obama Cuba policy

Candidate Donald Trump visits the Bay of Pigs museum in Miami in October.
Candidate Donald Trump visits the Bay of Pigs museum in Miami in October.

Five former U.S. diplomats with extensive experience in Latin America sent President-elect Donald Trump a letter this week urging him to rescind the executive actions signed by President Barack Obama relaxing sanctions against Cuba and to stop cooperating with Cuban state security.

In the letter, the diplomats — including Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason, who once headed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana — ask Trump, in his first 100 days in office, to undo Obama’s “ill-conceived and unlawful executive orders lifting restrictions on doing business with the Castro regime.”

Furthermore, they write, Trump should withdraw, “as soon as possible after being sworn in,” Obama’s order to share intelligence with Cuban officials — a directive criticized by Republican members of Congress and which Cason called “ludicrous” in a Tuesday interview with the Miami Herald.

“We want him to take a fresh look” at Cuba policy, Cason said of Trump. “We gave away too much. Go back, rethink it — not break the entire relations, but certainly don’t give anything [more].”

Trump has pledged to “terminate” the U.S.-Cuba thaw pursued for two years by Obama unless Raúl Castro’s government makes unspecified concessions. Advocates of more Obama-style engagement have said they’re concerned about how Trump might handle Cuba, especially if he feels beholden to exiles who helped win him Florida.

In addition to Cason, the letter was signed by Everett Briggs, former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, Honduras and Panama; Elliott Abrams, former assistant secretary of state; Jose Sorzano, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Otto Reich, a former assistant secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.

The letter criticizes the Obama administration for abstaining last year from voting against a U.N. resolution condemning the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

“It’s scandalous,” Sorzano told el Nuevo Herald. “The administration abandoned its constitutional responsibility to defend the law.”

Reich told el Nuevo Herald that Trump shouldn’t immediately reverse the Obama administration’s work, but rather reexamine all of the outgoing president’s policies.

“Consider keeping what helps the Cuban people directly, but not what sends money to Cuba’s Communist Party, GAESA (the holding company controlled by the Cuban military) or the armed forces,” he said. Among the policies that should be eliminated, he said, was a regulatory move that allowed employees of Cuba’s interior ministry and members of the country’s Communist Party to receive cash remittances from the U.S.

The letter, organized by the hardline Center for a Free Cuba, is intended to “remind the president-elect of the promises he made to Cuban Americans, with the hope that he avoids what happened with Obama, who promised to focus on Cuba’s freedom and later changed his mind,” Frank Calzón, the center’s director, told el Nuevo Herald. Calzón is a former executive director of the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation.

He said the letter was sent to Trump through “several” emissaries, including members of Congress, although he wouldn’t name them. Trump’s transition team hasn’t named a Cuba point person.

Among the requests made in the letter, which was dated Dec. 22 but not sent until this week, is that Trump change the person in charge of the U.S. embassy in Havana. Obama nominated the man running the diplomatic mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, to be ambassador, but the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to hold a hearing.

“A diplomat who is more in tune with the new administration’s world view — ready to take on the outstanding issues between the two countries mentioned above and others that will likely arise as a result of this toughening of U.S.-Cuba policy — should be sent to lead the American Embassy in Havana as the Chargé d’Affaires,” the former diplomats wrote. “There is no need to name an ambassador pending resolution of several key matters pertaining to embassy operations.”

They specifically criticized allowing the Cuban government to pick and pay the embassy’s local hires.

“The U.S. should insist on strict reciprocity in how its embassy in Havana and Cuba’s in Washington are run, based on international standards and practices,” the letter says.

Cason, a Republican who said he didn’t vote for Trump, said he was disappointed neither Trump nor rival Hillary Clinton emphasized adopting policies as president “that would be beneficial to the Cuban people.”

“We still have to wait and see whether principle trumps profit,” Cason said. “So many of the companies are talking about what’s profitable to them. That’s why we hope that there can be a discussion. … Let’s hope that he’s open-minded.”

An earlier version of this story misstated Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason’s position.