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President Trump speaking about Cuba in Miami on Friday. Al Drago/The New York Times

Fans of Cuban rum and cigars can rest easy. So can the Starwood chain, which has a deal to manage a historic hotel in Havana. But Americans who want to vacation in Cuba or start doing business there will find it harder as a result of President Trump’s misguided decision to slam the brakes on a two-year-old diplomatic opening with the island.

Mr. Trump told a cheering crowd in Miami on Friday that his goal is to achieve a “free Cuba.” In truth, his new policy is just the latest chapter in a spiteful political crusade to overturn crucial elements of his predecessor’s legacy while genuflecting to Cuban-Americans in Miami’s exile community who helped put him in office.

By now, Mr. Trump has perfected the art not of the deal but of dismantling what went before. “I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” he declared, an exaggeration in that he reversed only parts of it. But they were important parts, including relaxations on travel and commerce negotiated by President Barack Obama. The net result is that Cuban-American relations are likely to revert to a more adversarial Cold War footing, undermining Washington’s standing in Latin America.

Under the new policy, Americans may no longer plan their own private trips to Cuba, and those who travel with authorized education tours will be subject to new rules to ensure that they are not tourists. American companies and citizens will be barred from doing business with firms controlled by the Cuban military or its intelligence services, thus denying Americans access to critical parts of the Cuban economy, including much of the tourism sector.

Mr. Trump’s policy rests on a cynical and historically bogus foundation. The aim, he says, is to force Cuban leaders to end repression, embrace democracy and open their economy. “We will not be silent in the face of Communist oppression any longer,” he said, adding that Mr. Obama’s brief détente has only empowered the Communist government and enriched the military. But 50 years of isolationist, hard-line sanctions never produced the ouster of Cuba’s Communist regime that anti-Castro activists had hoped for.

Mr. Trump’s sudden concern for human rights is particularly hard to swallow. No recent president has been so disdainful of these rights or embraced so lovingly authoritarians who abuse their people, like Vladimir Putin of Russia and the Saudi royal family.

And while Mr. Trump says he wants to deprive the Cuban state of income from American dollars, many Cubans say the real victims will be the entrepreneurs who have benefited from the thousands of American tourists who visited Cuba over the last two years. If Mr. Trump would open his mind to facts like these, instead of succumbing to the blandishments of cheering crowds and political sycophants, he would learn that three-quarters of all American adults favor Mr. Obama’s decision to re-establish ties with Cuba.

About the best that can be said is that his reversal is not as bad as it might have been. Embassies in Washington and Havana will stay open, direct flights between the two countries will continue, and Cuban-Americans will still be able to travel freely to Cuba and send money to relatives there.

That’s little comfort, given Mr. Trump’s harsh tone. The president leaves real questions about the future of bilateral agreements on health care cooperation, joint planning to mitigate oil spills, coordination on counternarcotics efforts and intelligence-sharing — and real questions about a truly productive relationship with an old adversary that Mr. Trump seems determined to turn into a new one.

Your Editor Reminds: After 100 years, Obama is the American who went Home. And we love him for it

Found in Moscow’s Flea Markets: Car Parts, Jeans and Bargain-Hunting Cubans

They fly 13 hours seeking items to sell in a Communist island still starved of consumer goods

By Anatoly Kurmanaev and Siranush Sharoyan, The Wall Street Journal

Sometimes the wheels of history turn slowly. The hottest shopping destination for Cubans is not across the water in Miami. It’s Moscow, 6,000 miles away.

Tougher U.S. border control and rising remittance income from relatives abroad have led to a recent surge of Cuban travel to Russia, the only major country that still doesn’t ask islanders for a visa. Cuban shoppers don’t take the daily 13-hour Aeroflot flight, a legacy of the Soviet-era alliance, to see the Kremlin or the Red Square. They bring back bags of jeans, haberdashery and car parts to a Communist island starved of consumer goods.

Cafe El Paladar Cubano at the Moskva flea market in Moscow.

“The Cubans are flooding in without speaking a word of Russian just to stock up,” said Ricardo Trieto, a Russian-educated Cuban engineer who now translates for compatriot shoppers in Moscow’s flea markets. “It’s very profitable: Whatever you buy here you can sell it for more at home.”

The U.S. trade embargo with Cuba remains in place despite the fact that President Barack Obama loosened restrictions for Americans to travel to Cuba last year and opened a U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2015 after more than half a century of severed ties. President Donald Trump has said he would roll back Mr. Obama’s Cuban initiatives. All of this has helped revive a very Cold War-sounding trading relationship between Russia and Cuba.

Consider the need for car parts in Cuba. Given the U.S. trade embargo, most cars in Cuba are either American-made cars from the 1950s or Soviet-era jalopies. The square-shaped models of Ladas and Nivas all but disappeared from Moscow’s streets years ago.

In Cuba, they are still going strong. Well, when they don’t break down and need new parts, the shortage of which can produce some spectacular profits.

In Moscow, a 1980 Moskvich—another boxy offering from the Soviet era— might fetch around $500. In embargoed Cuba, it can go for as much as $14,000, Cuban taxi drivers say, fueling a booming cottage industry specializing in cannibalized car parts for the Caribbean island.

At the sprawling Yuznii Port used-car market in southern Moscow, traders say up to 40% of the business comes from Cuban shoppers. “We would’ve gone broke without them,” said trader Timur Muradian.

On a gray winter morning, a dozen Cubans dressed in ill-fitting beanie hats and gray puffer jackets walked around the market’s metal containers filled with rusty car parts. Several extra layers of clothing and skin darker than most locals easily gave them away to traders, who wooed them with shouts of “hola, amigo.”

“I can buy anything I want here; it’s unbelievable,” said Alejandro, who flew from Havana for the first time to buy tractor parts.

Waving hands and typing into calculators with frozen fingers, the Cubans haggled over prices in the thousands of dollars for heaps of what most locals would consider useless scrap. “They buy up everything for Russian cars and tractors by weight, without even looking at what parts and models they are for,” said Mr. Muradian. “Whatever it is, they’ll be able to sell it at a profit at home.”

A typical group of Cubans spends $3,000 to $7,000 in the market, stall owners say. These are astronomical sums for residents of an island where the average wage is $25 a month.

Back in Cuba, whole villages chip in to send an envoy on shopping trips to Moscow, often using remittances from relatives in Miami or Madrid. Residents of the Rodas village in Cuba’s central sugar belt said their cane would rot in the fields without an annual trip to Moscow to buy parts for their 1970s Soviet tractors.

Some of the workers in this cottage trading industry are part of the tens of thousands of Cubans who went to the former Soviet Union as students. They studied engineering, medicine and science and returned to develop their Communist homeland. But when the Soviet Union and its subsidies collapsed in 1991, they often found themselves working as waiters and security guards for minimum wage.

Soviet-educated Cuban engineer Raul Curo came back to live in Russia several years ago. He bought a taxi and became part of Moscow’s booming Cuban expatriate community, servicing shoppers from the island. Mr. Curo meets Cubans in the airport and drives them around the city’s flea markets, helping to translate and haggle.

“Everyone loves Cubans here. It’s been like this since Khrushchev,” Mr. Curo said, referring to the Soviet leader who risked nuclear Armageddon by striking an alliance with Cuba in the 1960s and deploying missiles there.

During the low season, translator Mr. Trieto makes money giving Spanish lessons to Azerbaijani and Armenian stall owners in the city’s flea markets. Others make ends meet giving salsa lessons in Moscow night spots such as Old Havana.

Most Cuban shoppers come to Moscow for about a week and spend whole days trawling the city’s flea markets to collect the 260 pounds worth of goods they are allowed on the plane for a fee.

They borrow boots and parkas from friends and family and sleep on double-bunks in crammed Soviet-era apartments owned by Cuban expatriates. “I’ve never been this cold in my life, but I’m getting used to it,” said shopper Abelito. He said his first purchase was the warmest jacket he could find on the entire 150 acres of the Sadovod flea market.

At the entrance of Lyublino’s budget Moskva shopping center is a Cuban canteen adorned with pictures of the island’s lush rolling hills and a photo of President Vladimir Putin with the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The Cuban cook serves up cheap homemade dishes of rice, beans and shredded pork.

The shopping center offers a translation service and Cuban immigrants work in the center’s cheap jewelry stalls. An Azerbaijani stall owner haggled in broken Spanish with a group of Cubans over a stack of jeans on a recent visit.

“They basically live in the bazaar,” said taxi driver Mr. Curo of his compatriot shoppers. “They came, they bought up, and they left. In a couple of months, they are back.”

—Dmitry Filonov contributed to this article.

Write to Anatoly Kurmanaev at

Your Editor Marvels: Quien lo iba a decir???

By Patricia Mazzei,

President Donald Trump will travel to Miami next Friday to announce his administration’s changes to U.S.-Cuba policy, a source with knowledge of the president’s plans told the Miami Herald.

The location for the event is still in the works. But scheduling the trip indicates the Cuba policy, which has been undergoing drafts for several weeks, will be imminently finalized. And deciding to unveil the policy in Miami suggests it will please the hardline Cuban exiles whose support Trump considered significant to winning Florida, and the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to attend. He will already be in town for a Central America conference to be held next Thursday and Friday at Florida International University and U.S. Southern Command. Three Cabinet secretaries — Rex Tillerson of State, John Kelly of Homeland Security and Steven Mnuchin of Treasury — will take part in the conference, but Tillerson plans to depart Thursday, and it’s not clear if Kelly and Mnuchin will take part in the Cuba policy event.

Several local venues have symbolism for Cuban Americans, including the Bay of Pigs Museum in Little Havana and the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami.

A mid-June Trump visit has been rumored since Memorial Day, when word of the Cuba policy rewrite began trickling from alarmed backers of former President Barack Obama’s reengagement approach toward the communist island. Trump is preparing to tighten at least some of Obama’s changes, including restricting business with the Cuban military and U.S. travel that resembles tourism.

Those type of revisions have been endorsed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the only two local GOP members of Congress who backed Trump and as a result have pressured his administration on the issue. Rubio in particular has been working closely with the White House and National Security Council on the upcoming changes.

“I am absolutely confident that the president is going to deliver on his word, on his commitments,” Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald in a recent interview. “He was very clear that he thought that President Obama in essence got nothing in exchange for the concessions he gave to the Castro regime.”

Members of Congress who favor closer U.S.-Cuba ties have urged Trump to maintain Obama’s approach. On Thursday, seven Republican lawmakers from outside Florida whose districts see agricultural, industrial or commercial opportunities in Cuba wrote Trump to argue that keeping a foothold Cuba is important for U.S. national security. Three GOP senators with similar views made a similar plea to Tillerson and National Security Adviser Henry McMaster.

Two weeks before Election Day, Trump received an endorsement from the Brigade 2506 veterans at the Bay of Pigs Museum, a show of support that came after Trump had pledged at a local rally to “reverse” Obama’s Cuba policy. As president, Trump has privately brought up the Bay of Pigs Museum event to Florida Republicans as a key moment for his campaign, though his critics have disputed that the Cuban-American vote won Trump the presidency.

Your Editor Takes Sides: Contact and dialogue fosters understanding 

By Alan Gomez , USA TODAY

President Trump likely will fulfill a campaign promise this month by curbing some of the ties with Cuba that former president Barack Obama adopted when he made his historic overture to the communist island.

Trump threatened during campaign stops in the Cuban-American enclave of Miami to cut ties with Cuba. After winning the election, he tweeted that he might “terminate” Obama’s renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which ended more than 50 years of estrangement that began during the Cold War.

Cuban experts say Trump has backed off that stance, noting he has been preoccupied with other issues, plus a broad collection of American businesses have benefited from the opening.

“All the initial signs were that he was going to reverse everything,” said Frank Mora, a former Defense Department official under Obama and now director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University in Miami. “But (Trump) doesn’t really care about Cuba. There’s going to be much more symbolism in the kinds of changes they will announce than anything substantive.”

A report released last week by Engage Cuba, a Washington-based group, estimated that American companies would lose $6.6 billion and more than 12,000 U.S. jobs over Trump’s first term if he reversed course.

Opponents of Obama’s policy say it has done nothing to change Cuba’s communist system and repression. The Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said the government has detained more than 400 political prisoners each month this year, a drop from 2016 but a constant reminder of Cubans’ limited rights.

Trump is expected to announce the changes some time in June, possibly during a visit to Miami. Here are some key aspects of Obama’s opening with Cuba that could be at risk:


Even hard-line opponents of renewed ties don’t expect Trump to shut down diplomatic relations and close the recently reopened embassies in Washington and Havana.

The opening has allowed greater dialogue between the two governments, which have held dozens of high-level meetings that led to limited postal service, more intelligence sharing and government cooperation on drug interdiction, emergency response and environmental challenges.

Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba and one of the loudest critics of Obama’s opening, acknowledged he doesn’t want to see the embassies shuttered again. “You can never go back,” he said.


One of the most tangible changes under Obama was re-establishing direct commercial flights between the Cold War foes. Now, Americans traveling to Cuba under one of 12 categories approved by the U.S. government can hop online and book a flight.

The demand has not been as high as expected, prompting several airlines to scale back their flights and three — Spirit Airlines, Frontier and Silver Airways — to cancel all their Cuba flights. Pedro Freyre, an attorney with the Akerman law firm who brokered multiple deals between U.S. companies and Cuba, said Trump is unlikely to further punish U.S.-based airlines by canceling their limited runs.

“The invisible hand of the market is already working its magic,” Freyre said.

Cruise operators continue pushing ahead. Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises have announced more than 200 sailings to the island in the next three years, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Few expect those to be limited, since passengers mostly spend their nights on the American cruise ships and aren’t handing money to Cuban-owned hotels.


One likely area for change is the ability of U.S.-owned companies to manage hotel properties in Cuba.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts signed a deal with the Cuban government to operate — but not own — three landmark hotels in Havana. That arrangement angered Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and other Cuban-Americans because the deal made Starwood partners with the Cuban military, the largest hotel operator on the island.

“If the Americans want to deal with hotels in Cuba, the administration ought to find a way in which those hotels function as foreign hotels, as they do in other countries,” Calzon said. “The idea is not to finance the Cuban military.”

Airbnb could survive. The San Francisco-based company was one of the first to take advantage of the diplomatic opening with Cuba and now helps more than 8,000 Cubans rent their homes to tourists. Those visits mostly benefit Cuban homeowners, meaning Trump could allow that relationship to continue.


One of the most popular changes under Obama was the free flow of Cuba’s legendary rum and cigars.

His administration allowed Americans to return from Cuba with up to $100 worth of the items. That was later expanded so people traveling anywhere in the world can come back to the U.S. with as many bottles and boxes they wanted, as long as the items were for personal use.

Those changes are in jeopardy because the island’s rum and cigar companies are state owned, meaning most profits go to the Cuban government. Even supporters of more trade and travel with Cuba believe allowing rum and cigars will be shut down.

“That one is likely to be reversed,” Freyre said. “If I were to be in favor of any changes, which I’m not, I would be in favor of that one. It’s just so frivolous.”


Because of the economic embargo the U.S. maintains on Cuba, tourism remains off limits. Securing a visa was one of the hardest aspects of traveling to Cuba before Obama renewed diplomatic ties, because Americans had to get approval through the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which was often handled by travel agencies. Travelers also had to show their visit complied with one of 12 allowable reasons, such as religious, educational or humanitarian trips.

The Obama administration made that process far simpler, allowing travelers to purchase their visas at airline counters and simply attest that they were going to Cuba for legal reasons. Calzon believes too many people take advantage of that process and visit Cuba simply as tourists.


Obama allowed Cuban-Americans to send unlimited amounts of money to relatives on the island. Trump could reimpose limits on those money transfers because the Cuban government takes a cut of each money transfer as a steady stream of income.

It’s unclear whether Trump will limit those remittances, but Freyre said that decision should not be political, but a humanitarian one.

“Even staunch defenders of the embargo say, ‘Don’t mess with the families,'” Freyre said. “If you now come out and say you can no longer send money to your grandmother, that’s just mean-spirited.”

Your Editor Suggests:  Let the Cubans in Cuba protest, It´s their right and obligation. That was Obama’s message.