U.S.-Cuba Relations During Trump’s Administration

May 8, 2018

Years of uneasiness and distrust define the relationship between the United States and Cuba, a trend which continues today. While some strides have been made to improve their interconnection, there is still a Cold War sentiment that plagues discussions, not to mention many are still in support of Castro. During former President Obama’s administration extreme efforts were made to change with Cuba but are now being changed by President Trump’s office. While some fractions of Obama’s policy still remain, the language used by Trump is disconcerting and does not instill a positive future. Trump has put back travel bans to Cuba, along with restricting trade, and insisted that American interests come first.

To understand Trump’s plan for Cuba, it is important to have an understanding of what the Obama administration tried to accomplish. This included the re-opening of the Embassy of the United States in Havana and the Cuban Embassy re-opening in Washington, D.C. on July 20th, 2015 (National Archives). This allowed diplomats to have access to Cuba and the U.S. for both countries and better engage with Cuban citizens and U.S. interests in Cuba. Talks between Obama and Castro led to an agreement on the Bilateral Commission as well as the first Law Enforcement Dialogue between the two. Months of deliberation led to the signing of agreements to cooperate with each other and to try and combat several international struggles such as terrorism and protecting the environment. Perhaps one of the biggest changes was allowing direct flights from the U.S. to Cuba in the fall of 2016. This meant that people could travel to Cuba without authorization from the government. The lift of the travel ban meant  U.S. citizens could spend an unlimited amount of money there and bring up back a limited amount of Cuban goods. Trump has not made drastic changes or moves to eradicate Obama’s policies, but has certainly criticized his delegations.

Trump has made it perfectly clear that Cuba should not be given privileges and that Obama “empowered the communist government in Cuba and enriched the country’s repressive military” (Davis). Trump commented that “we will not be silent in the face of Communist oppression any longer,” believing that the most effective way of doing so is to cancel and undo everything the Obama administration put forth, or at least claiming to do so. Despite America’s extreme history with trying to remove communism, Trump continues to insist that nothing can be done until Castro’s regime and communism are removed. Those who plan to go to Cuba have a hard time returning to the U.S. because they are required to keep extensive logs of their every move in Cuba (Zanona). Besides the concern for tourists, U.S. citizens (or those living in America) who have family members back in Cuba will have a difficult time contacting them.

Part of reversing Obama’s office includes regulating where travelers can stay and how they can spend their money when in the country. To visit Cuba, it must be approved by the government and then closely monitored, indicating that visitors cannot stay at hotels that are controlled by the Cuban government. This makes visiting almost impossible considering large segments of the economy are government owned. By not allowing visitors to buy and stay at these businesses means that the U.S. will essentially completely cut off the revenue from U.S. tourists, hurting the Cuban economy. Those who are in the U.S. cannot conduct trade with businesses in Cuba that are controlled by the government as well. While Cuba’s economy will be significantly hurt, the U.S. will not decline quite like Cuba, but will still deal with setbacks.

Trump stated that U.S. sanctions would not be removed until Cuba frees all political prisoners and holds free and fair elections, along with other rights-related conditions (Felter). Trump believes that pulling the U.S. from Cuba will force the island to become democratic when in reality the isolation may cause Cuba to align with Russia or China. Benjamin J. Rhodes, formal deputy security adviser for President Obama, has commented that “Mr. Trump’s moves would undermine his stated objectives, pushing the Cubans into the arms of the Chinese and Russians, who have no restriction on their dealings there, and emboldening hard-liners in the country who are opposed to moving toward democracy” (Davis). Despite the idea that the U.S. has an obligation to make Cuba democratic, Raul Castro began to liberalize part of the economy in 2009 (Felter). Some of the reforms “included decentralizing the agricultural sector, relaxing restriction on small businesses, liberalizing real estate markets, making it easier for Cubans to obtain permission to travel abroad, and expanding access to consumer goods.” Perhaps this change came from U.S. influence, but it is still important to note that it was not the U.S. that initiated these reforms. A lot of this change comes from the reduced tension between the U.S. and Cuba during the Obama administration, and there will likely be a change due to Trump’s approach.

There is much debate on what the future will look like between the U.S. and Cuba. While Trump has not completely gutted the previous office’s actions, he has adamantly spoken about Cuba changing their government before the U.S. gets involved. The likelihood of Cuba and the U.S. having a significantly different relationship during Trump’s administration is possible, although many obstacles lay ahead of President Trump’s propositions.

Written by Sophie McCabe. Sophie is a political science major and is interested in joining the Peace Corps after graduation.


  1. National Archives and Records Administration. (J). "Charting a New Course on Cuba".
  2. Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. (16 June 2017). "Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-Era Engagement With Cuba". New York Times.
  3. Claire Felter, Danielle Renwick. (19. Jan. 2018). "U.S.-Cuban Relations". Council on Foreign Relations. .
  4. Zanona, Melanie. (9 Nov. 2017). "How Trump is Reshaping US Policy on Cuba". TheHill.

About Author(s)

US Latin American Relations
This course focuses on the history, politics, and legitimacy of US policy towards Latin America. The course is taught by Professor Scott Morgenstern. The contributing articles are written by students who took the course in Spring '18.