“They’re not helping us. They’re killing us,” says a young Cuban small business owner worried about fewer U.S. tourists following Trump policy changes. Carmen Sesín and Orlando Matos (NBC News) report:
[. . .] As tensions between the U.S. and Cuba have risen recently, caught in the middle are Cubans and Cuban-Americans on both sides of the Florida straits, whose lives have once again been disrupted over politics. Three years after the two countries awed the world announcing they would reestablish diplomatic ties, leaving behind more than half a century of hostility, it appears the fragile détente is slowly dissipating.
Under former president Barack Obama, the two countries opened embassies, expanded travel options, restored commercial flights and negotiated agreements on the environment, law enforcement, the postal service, and communications. Obama was the first U.S. president in over five decades to visit Cuba, and ordinary Cubans welcomed his speech as hopeful of a more conciliatory time between the two Cold War enemies.
But things have changed. The Trump administration has taken a harder line toward Cuba and reversed some of Obama’s historic policy changes. Add to that the evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel as a response to suspected attacks that have baffled intelligence experts. This has left many Cubans worried about the future of relations between the two countries and its impact on their daily lives.
[. . .] The evacuation was due to what the U.S. described as a series of health attacks against American officials and their relatives, between the Fall of 2016 and August 2017. A total of 24 people had fallen ill with symptoms including hearing, vision, balance, and memory damage. The Associated Press reported recently that doctors treating the embassy personnel have found abnormalities in their brains.
Although the U.S. has never accused the Cuban government of perpetrating the attacks, officials have said Cuba has not met its obligation to protect diplomats on its territory. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested recently that Cuba could have stopped the “targeted attacks.” He said they have a small island and a sophisticated security apparatus. “You probably know who is doing it. You can stop it. It’s as simple as that,” said Tillerson. Cuba’s communist-led government maintains tight control over many aspects of life on the island. Their government has vehemently denied being involved and has claimed the U.S. has been “deliberately lying” about the attacks.
[. . .] Cubans seeking immigrant visas must now travel to the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia for their interviews. “A lot of Cubans simply cannot afford that,” said Miami immigration attorney Angel Leal, who is handling Castellano’s case.
[. . .] Amid the attacks, the U.S. expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington, saying it was intended to force Cuba to place its embassy on the same emergency status that the U.S. is operating under in Havana. Cuban officials have told their U.S. counterparts during recent talks earlier this week that suspending visa processing was “seriously hampering” family relations.
[. . .] The aim of Trump’s policy, officials say, is to prevent Cuba’s government from benefiting from American tourism. The ban includes 180 Cuban government entities, including 83 state-owned hotels. But critics say these changes are actually counterproductive for the small business owners in the island who were seeing gains from closer U.S.-Cuba relations.