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
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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