Trump demands ‘better deal’ from Cuba, threatens Obama’s thaw

© Desmond Boylan
US President-elect Donald Trump is demanding a “better deal” from Cuba and threatening to scrap the thaw in US-Cuban relations. Some Republicans are urging him to reconsider, while US airlines prepare to resume commercial flights to Cuba after 54 years.

Trump’s comments came as Cuba mourned the death of its former longtime president, Fidel Castro, leader of the 1958 revolution that deposed the US-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista. Washington’s attempts to overthrow Castro led to the imposition of a total embargo on Cuba and a tense confrontation with the Soviet Union in 1962 that almost went nuclear. Castro died on Friday at the age of 90.

READ MORE: Hasta siempre, Fidel: World reacts to Castro’s death

President Barack Obama announced a policy shift in December 2014, arguing that the embargo had not accomplished its desired goal. As a result, a number of trade restrictions were lifted by executive order, while the US and Cuba renewed diplomatic relations. Obama himself visited Cuba in March 2016.

On Monday, however, Trump took to Twitter and proclaimed that “if Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate [the] deal.”

One of the Republican candidate’s promises during the electoral campaign was to renegotiate Obama’s “deal” with Cuba to include demands such as “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.” Obama’s actions gave Cuba all the benefits of restoring relations with the US, while Washington received nothing in return, Trump has argued.

The Cuban government, led by Castro’s brother Raul since 2008, will now have to “meet our demands,” Trump’s incoming chief of staff Reince Preibus told Fox News on Sunday.

“President-elect Trump has been pretty clear,” Priebus said during an interview. “We’ve got to have a better deal.”

One prominent Cuban exile, however, thinks the president-elect should not scrap the deal.

"He's getting a lot of pressure to just write everything off, and there are a lot of businesses, a lot of farm states, a lot of governors, a lot of mayors who are counting on agricultural sales to Cuba," former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told CNBC on Monday.

Gutierrez, who was born in Cuba, served under President George W. Bush and currently co-chairs the Albright Stonebridge Group, a strategic consulting outfit founded by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Trump should take the opportunity to put the deal on the table and discuss all options, rather than simply roll back Obama’s reforms, Gutierrez argued.

“I think it would be a tremendous legacy for… President-elect Trump to be the businessperson who can spread the word of how noble free enterprise is. This is a perfect opportunity to do it in Cuba, and I do believe that he is just hearing one side of the story," he said.

Several US airlines have already taken advantage of the thaw to set up commercial flights to the island. American Airlines flew the first flight from Miami to Havana on Monday, while JetBlue will start daily service from Orlando on Tuesday and Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported. Spirit, Frontier, Delta and Southwest are set to follow suit.

Trump’s transition team announced Monday afternoon it would be adding Robert Blau to the State Department “landing team.” Blau is a former diplomat who spent two years as political counselor at the US Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana, before becoming deputy director of Cuban Affairs at the State Department.