Trump Bolsters Embargo Yet Leaves Current Cigar Policy Intact
President Trump announced to a raucous Cuban-American contingent in Miami on Friday that he will institute an immediate roll back of former President Obama’s open policy towards Cuba, yet Cuban cigars will remain available to those traveling abroad. Citing severe human rights violations, questions about the Cuban military’s involvement in the economic sector and other perceived abuses, President Trump called for a “cancellation” of the previous administrations “one-sided deal.” While the focus appears to be fixed primarily on countering Cuba’s continued transgressions, Trump’s proposals would bring back many of the limitations placed on American travelers before Obama’s policy change, restricting what Trump argues is a faulty system that is being taken advantage of by far too many, both on the American and Cuban sides.
Trump demonstrated concern for the lack of improvement in Cuba’s stance on human rights and political freedoms, citing several examples which have brought the ire of many humanitarian groups down on Cuba, with the Cuban-American contingent and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio leading the charge. A major factor in his proposed enforcement of the Cuban trade and travel ban, Trump also showed frustration in the relationships being developed between US companies and Cuba, namely Cuba’s Armed Forces Business Enterprise Group or Grupo Empresarial SA (GAESA), a military-run organization that has a hand in all of Cuba’s political and economic concerns.
Under the direction of Major General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Cuban President Raul Castro’s son-in-law, GAESA has grown to become an enormous oligopoly comprised of nearly 60 different companies that dominates every aspect of the Cuban economy. In recent years GAESA has courted a broad spectrum of international partners and under Obama’s re-opening of Cuba looked to garner even more holdings with American business deals, further filling Cuban coffers with American dollars. Yet Trump and many others argue not enough of the money GAESA brings in is finding its way to improving the lives of the Cuban people. To combat this military-run economic leviathan, Trump’s proposals would strip away the ability for American businesses to deal directly with the GAESA, yet would leave in place some deals already struck under Obama’s plan.
The restrictions Trump proposes are definitely a step backwards in the eyes of many, yet supporters argue that while Obama embraced the much-hated Castro-led regime, it is the Cuban people which are oppressed by that very regime who should be embraced. Even though this return to hardline posturing is seen as a way to reignite the push for a Free Cuba and has been met with chants of “Cuba Libre” “U-S-A” and “Cuba Si… Castro No,” President Trump acknowledges that he would lift the restrictions if or when Cuba showed significant improvements in human rights and other concerns. Trump even alluded to the recent announcement that Raul Castro would step down as Cuba’s leader in 2018, a move that, while seen by detractors as merely a ploy to placate the Cuban people and the US, could lead to free elections and a promising future for an independent Cuba.
How will this affect the availability of Cuban cigars? This is not readily clear for the long term, as there are a great many factors at work. Given the restrictions Trump is instituting on tourism and his desire for a tougher economic stance towards Cuba, however, there could be some variations to the Cuban cigar policy in the future if the Castro regime does not show a greater willingness to change. And considering the process of having Cuban cigars available for sale in the US will undoubtedly prove to be a long, drawn-out litigation mess in the best conditions, Trump’s announcement does seem, at least for the moment, to put the Cuban cigar issue on the back burner, leaving long-suffering Cuban cigar lovers to dangle in an all-to-familiar state of uncertainty. As with Obama’s loosening of relations, Trump’s tightening of restrictions comes without Congressional approval and so it is conceivable, although highly unlikely at this stage, that his current policy could change at moment’s notice. In the short term, however, Trump’s plan does not affect the current policy towards Cuban cigars and that in itself is a victory for Cuban cigar aficionados. And so, cigar lovers should continue to bring as many of the best Cuban cigars as they can carry into the US when traveling abroad.
While for most this is indeed good news, Trump’s announcement of a policy shift does leave room for some doubt as to the future of Cuban cigars in the US market. While googling “cigar shops near me” won’t put cigar lovers any closer to buying Cuban cigars in the US, the fact the Trump has left the Cuban cigar policy untouched could be a positive sign. And as President Trump is undoing much of Obama’s policies, it should be said that Trump does seem to want to keep diplomatic relations open, thus leaving a small glimmer of hope that perhaps Trump is only laying the groundwork for an open and free partnership with Cuba and the Cuban people.
The affect these new policies will have on the availability of Cuban cigars down the road, whether more prohibitive or more open or simply status quo, remains to be seen, but in the meantime traveling cigar lovers should breathe a sigh of relief and stock up on Cohiba, Montecristo, Partagas, Vegas Robaina or any other of their favorite Cuban cigars when abroad.
And yet cigar connoisseurs are, as always, left to ponder what the coming days will bring, but in the meantime Cuban cigars are there for the taking. So as Kind Edward VII is said to have proclaimed upon his ascension to the English throne after the passing of the notoriously anti-smoking matriarch Queen Victoria… “Gentlemen, you may smoke.”
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