OP-ED: CUBA / US: The Red State and The Orange Man

OP-ED: Whichever path Trump takes, Castro Cuba will resist.OP-ED: Whichever path Trump takes, Castro Cuba will resist.

As Trump stood in front of the Washington monument, declaring that “protection will lead to great prosperity and strength”, the first legal trade cargo in 55 years passed from Cuba to the U.S.A.

Marabu charcoal. Photo (c) Cuba Marabu

Marabu charcoal. Photo (c) Cuba Marabu

The deal that brought artesanal coal across the Straits of Florida represents the more fluid economic relations that grew between the Obama’s administration and Cuba. Coabana Trading will pay $420 per tonne, above the usual market price of $340 to $380 per tonne for the Marabu charcoal.

The material’s clean properties make it ideal for pizza ovens that are dotted around the island, serving as one of the most popular models of mini private business. Marabu charcoal will now find itself in the land of the thick crust. Further deals are set to follow in the trade of Cuban honey and coffee.

Cuban Pizza oven, bringing out CD sized pizzas. Photo (c) Endless Simmer 2013

Cuban Pizza oven, bringing out endless CD sized pizzas. Photo (c) Endless Simmer 2013

Trump has declared that the progress Obama made was all achieved using executive orders and has promised to reverse them, starting by closing the recently reopened embassy in Havana. But how will the trade embargo so universally accepted as a failure fit into Trump’s promise to make sure any trade deal is in the interests of the American people? It is estimated that the embargo costs the U.S economy up to $4.155 billion dollars more than it costs Cuba. It sounds like a “winning” deal struck in the boardroom of a bankrupt Trump casino.

Many Cuban-Americans support harsh economic policy towards Cuba until more western-style freedoms are seen on the island. Just as the doctor helps to cure the claustrophobic by shutting her in a rusty medicine cabinet. Thus some Cuban-Americans view Obama’s policies as aid to the Castros and not to the Cuban people, despite the vast majority of families relying on ever-growing economic freedoms and trade.

Furthermore, Trump is politically indebted to this demographic. In the final breakdown of the vote in Florida, Trump emerged with 54% of the Cuban-American vote and a stupefying third of Florida’s Latino vote in total. Thus helping to place the ‘Orange State’ into the small hands of the Orange man.

The swinging Cuban vote swung Red. Photo (c) Pew Research Centre 2016

The swinging Cuban vote swung Red. Photo (c) Pew Research Centre 2016

The fear for many is that Trump’s inexperienced and ‘hyperrealist’ approach to foreign affairs may make Cuba an easy target for foreign distraction. Consequentially giving Raúl Castro reign to preemptively enforce more authoritarian policies nationally and further hurting the Cuban economy.

Indeed, on the very same cover of Granma that announced the electoral result, Raúl declared five days of military service, a common exercise in Cuba but one that has been used historically as a signal to the US that cold war sentiments can be reawakened.

With the ball back in Trump’s park and a huge list of posts to appoint, he decided to elect Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC lobby group in Washington and one of the biggest critics of Obama’s policies of Cuban economic integration. One of the first signs of sticking to his campaign promises and, further, a sign of solidarity with the Republican Cuban-Americans and Marco Rubio who helped secure that most crucial swing state of Florida.

Yet it depends on whether President Trump is different to the Donald, that Donald who sent business representatives to Cuba in 1998 and 2000, violating the trade embargo in the name of profit.

Trump's first shot at Cuban diplomacy

Trump’s first shot at Cuban diplomacy. Photo (c) Trump Twitter 2016-7

Cuban representatives wait in anticipation for actions rather than words from ‘a gentleman who is capable of saying anything’ as leading Cuban political spokesperson on U.S relations Ricardo Alarcón echoed recently. The red state are ready for whichever tact Trump employs and as key diplomat Josefina Vidal told the Guardian this week, “Aggression, pressure, conditions, impositions do not work with Cuba.”

It would be easier for Trump to turn back the clock and spout cold war aggression and now he has a mandate to, given by right-wing Cuban Americans in Florida. It would be a turn that isolates Cubans even further from their brothers and sisters in the Orange State as they fall back under the heavy helping hand of the Castro government.

The coal is passing through however, and albeit a Russian style charity trade deal now, North American business has their route to Cuban commerce. For all Trump’s protectionist, anti-Castro talk to ally with the rightwing in Florida, his flatulent business mind supported by interest from the corporations means he may seek to make Cuba the playground it was before 1959. Whichever path he takes, Cuba will resist.