Vermont Business Magazine Below is the reaction of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to President Trump’s decision to tighten restrictions on travel and trade between Americans and Cuba. Leahy, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, for two decades has led in pressing for reform of the failed five-decades-old U.S. policy on Cuba. Leahy and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are the lead sponsors of legislation to restore Americans’ freedom to travel to Cuba. Leahy’s statement follows:
"This is a hollow retreat from normalization that takes a swipe at Americans’ freedom to travel, at our national interest, and at the people of Cuba who yearn to reconnect with us – all just to score a political favor with a small and dwindling faction here at home.
“This White House, by reaffirming the embargo, has re-declared war on the Cuban people. The overwhelming majority of Cubans oppose the embargo, want closer relations with Americans, and will see this as an attack against them and their country. Like the ideologues in the White House, it is the hardliners in the Cuban Government who will welcome this rollback to a Cold War policy.
“It should be obvious to everyone that this is a political favor from President Trump to a few influential Members of Congress who have never set foot in Cuba and who represent a tiny minority of the American people. Even a majority of Cuban Americans oppose this return to a failed policy of punitive sanctions.
“The White House claims its change in policy seeks to promote human rights, but that should fool no one. President Trump has boasted of his admiration for the leaders of repressive and corrupt governments of countries that are ranked far less free than Cuba. Fifty years of unilateral sanctions did nothing for human rights and democracy in Cuba, except to provide the Castro government with an excuse to persecute their opponents as alleged agents of the United States. Those who believe that punishing the Cuban people will prompt a government overthrow are deceiving themselves, and others.
“President Trump has said that Obama got a ‘bad deal’ on Cuba, but the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary, which every federal agency has recognized, but the current White House chooses to ignore. No one who understands Cuba thought that by reopening our Embassy, and relaxing restrictions on travel and trade, the Castro government would stop arresting its opponents. But Cuba is in the early stages of an economic and political transition, and one in five Cubans now is employed in the emerging private sector. President Trump’s decision will hurt these hardworking Cubans, as well as Americans and U.S. companies, far more than the Cuban government.
“The United States and Cuba are now cooperating on a wide range of security and commercial issues that serve our national interests. It is the worst possible time to create another excuse for the Cuban government to blame its repressive policies on the United States, and to create an opening for President Putin, who is looking to regain a Russian foothold there.
“It is true that the decrepit Cuban military derives some income from hotels and other business enterprises. So do the militaries of many countries, including China and Russia, as well as Egypt, Pakistan and other U.S. allies. But countless average Cubans work in these enterprises and benefit from the Americans who travel and invest there.
“A growing bipartisan majority in the Senate supports eliminating all restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba – none of which apply to Americans visiting any other country. Today the President has needlessly provoked a confrontation with Congress on behalf of a shrinking minority who – for reasons that have nothing to do with our national interests – favor turning the clock back to the failed policy of the past.”