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Cuba Policy Exposes Tensions To Come In Trump Presidency

Cuba Policy Exposes Tensions To Come In Trump Presidency
Ben Bain and Christine Jenkins

The death of Cuba's Fidel Castro offers an early glimpse at how U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will need to balance his pro-growth economic plans and allegiance to business with the hard-line campaign pledges that helped him win the election.

Trump has promised to reverse the improved U.S. relations with Cuba forged by President Barack Obama over the past two years unless the Caribbean nation met his demands for more political and religious freedoms.

Reince Priebus, Trump's incoming chief of staff, reiterated that message on Sunday in an interview on Fox News. Priebus said the U.S. needed "a better deal" from Havana. But to backtrack now on Obama's detente may put Trump, the billionaire businessman, at odds with U.S. companies hoping for a foothold there.

As a candidate Trump simultaneously cast himself as a someone who could create jobs by ushering in a new golden age for U.S. companies, and as a champion for a wide range of groups who felt shorted by the Obama administration's foreign and domestic policies.

Trump now has to walk a line between business executives who see opportunity 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the U.S., and exiled anti-Castro Cubans, who have voted reliably Republican for years. Many Cuban-Americans continued that support for Trump, helping to push him to a win in Florida, a key battleground state.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, said on NBC's "Meet the Press' on Sunday that Fidel Castro's death changes nothing for a country still run by his younger brother. Raul Castro is "not a reformer thinking for the best interest of Cuba long-term," said Rubio, who recently called for "rolling back President Obama's one-sided concessions to the Castro regime." For Trump, "one test is which voice he listens to," said Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group. "He is and he made his reputation as a business guy," said Thale, who most recently visited Cuba in September.

Obama in October lifted restrictions on importing Cuban cigars to the U.S. for personal use, part of the sixth round of eased sanctions since December 2014. U.S. cruise ships can now dock in Cuba, and U.S. airlines can fly to the island. In October, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called a round of loosening sanctions "a welcomed step forward in the pursuit of greater opportunity for the U.S. private sector to collaborate with Cuba." Many Americans are keen to visit Cuba and spend money there.

U.S. officials in July made preliminary awards of 20 daily trips to Havana as part of normalizing air links with Cuba for the first time in half a century. U.S. airlines though have requested licenses for nearly 60 daily flights, according to Department of Transportation.

The Farm Bureau, an agricultural lobbying group, said in September that restrictions on sales to Cuba are "placing U.S. farmers and ranchers at a serious disadvantage in this nearby market."

Havana hotels — Photo: Barbara Walsh

"Mr. Trump was brought into Washington on the backs of rural white America and the ex-urban community, which is dominated by agriculture," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based lobbying group pushing to end the embargo. "It seems counterproductive that the first thing he would do would be to slap farmers in the face and close a potential market to them."

Cuba's population of about 11.4 million is similar to that of the U.S. state of Ohio. Among its major imports are wheat, corn and soymeal as well as raw sugar and energy products.

Cuba's potential hasn't been lost on Trump the businessman. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in July that executives from his company have traveled there in the past to scout golf-course development opportunities. Asked on CNN in March if he'd be interested in opening a hotel there, Trump said yes: "I would, I would -- at the right time, when we're allowed to do it. Right now, we're not."

Trump took a much different tone on Saturday when he tore into the newly-deceased Castro. "Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights," Trump said in a statement.

Still, Trump didn't repeat a vow made during the campaign to reverse Obama's normalization process, saying that his administration will "do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty." That left a degree of uncertainty about the incoming commander in chief's likely moves.

"He's going to be very sensitive not to do what the foreign policy experts say, but to how it plays with his constituencies down in Florida," Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in an interview. Business groups "need to get their views heard immediately."

In a blog post Saturday on the post-Castro era Piccone said, "A better approach for the incoming Trump administration would be to maintain President Obama's policy of constructive engagement and work with the post-Castro leadership to protect U.S. national interests in a more stable, independent, and open Cuba."

--With assistance from Stephen Wicary and Steven T. Dennis

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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