June 3, 2017 at 8:44 am PDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Trump to reportedly roll back normalization of U.S., Cuba relations

A rainbow flag hangs from the window of an apartment building on Havana’s oceanfront on May 12, 2017. Reports indicate President Trump will roll back the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba later this month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

HAVANA — President Trump will reportedly roll back the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba this month.

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News on Thursday reported Trump could once again limit travel to the Communist island and tighten trade regulations that former President Obama loosened. Sources told Mitchell it is unlikely Trump will cut diplomatic ties with Cuba or close the U.S. Embassy in Havana that reopened in August 2015.

Mitchell reported Trump would make the announcement in Miami through an executive order that notes Cuba’s human rights record. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — who endorsed Trump during the Republican National Convention — and Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — a Republican who was born in Havana and left Cuba with her family after Fidel Castro came to power in the 1959 Cuban revolution — are among the most vocal critics of the normalization of relations.

Trump last October said he would “reverse” the normalization of relations between the two countries that Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014. He later criticized Obama for signing “a very weak agreement” during an interview with a South Florida television station.

The White House earlier this year said it had begun to review the policy.

Newsweek last September reported Trump’s company violated the U.S. embargo against Cuba in 1998 when it spent $68,000 on a trip to the Communist island that focused on exploring business opportunities. An article that Bloomberg published two months earlier notes four of Trump’s associates traveled to Havana in late 2012 or early 2013 to explore “golf-related opportunities” for the Trump Corporation.

“We do not have anything to announce at this time,” a White House spokesperson told the Los Angeles Blade on Friday.

Cuban activist: Trump is ‘Hitler of the 21st century’

Cubans with whom the Blade spoke last month in Havana and other cities across the country said they support the normalization of relations with the U.S.

“We are hoping to unite and hoping to talk about these differences that have existed for all these years,” said Reynaldo, an activist who works with the National Center for Sexual Orientation, which Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues, directs, on May 13 before he and more than 2,000 others took part in a Havana march that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. “It is good for us as Cubans.”

The U.S. and Cuban flags at the Centro Comunitario de Cultura in Santo Domingo, Cuba, on May 16, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Isel Calzadilla, coordinator of Las Isabelas, a social and advocacy group for lesbian and bisexual women in the city of Santiago that works with the National Center for Sexual Education, agreed.

She told the Blade last month during an interview that she spent nearly two months in the U.S. last summer.

Calzadilla said she is unsure whether the U.S. would allow her into the country while Trump is president. She also described him as the “Hitler of the 21st century” because of his administration’s foreign and domestic policy.

Damian Pardo, a Cuban American LGBT activist who founded SAVE, a Miami-based advocacy group, told the Blade on Friday that any changes to U.S. policy towards Cuba “will be largely symbolic as an attempt to deliver on a campaign promise to the Cuban American community.”

“The reality is that most of the changes geared towards engagement are difficult to roll back and are generally supported by the Cuban American community,” said Pardo.

Mariela Castro criticizes embargo during IDAHOT speech

The Cuban government on May 20 sharply rebuked Trump’s Cuban Independence Day statement that, among other things, noted “cruel despotism” and “unjust persecution” on the island.

“The Cuban people deserve a government that peacefully upholds democratic values, economic liberties, religious freedoms and human rights,” it reads. “My administration is committed to achieving that vision.”

Nelson Gandulla, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, an independent advocacy group that is based in the city of Cienfuegos, claims authorities last month prevented him from meeting with Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer and other U.S. LGBT activists in Havana. Independent LGBT activists told the Blade the son of a Cuban Interior Ministry official received a fine of less than $2 after he assaulted seven gay men earlier this week in the city of Cárdenas.

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz — an opponent of ending the embargo who criticized Obama’s decision to normalize relations between the two countries — told participants of the World OutGames Miami Human Rights Conference in Miami Beach, Fla., on May 27 that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s assertion the U.S. may have to set aside human rights in the name of promoting U.S. interests abroad is “morally repugnant and unacceptable.” Americans with whom the Blade spoke in Cuba last month said they support the lifting of the embargo — which Cubans describe as el bloqueo — as part of the normalization of relations.

“The U.S. blockade is a tragedy,” Ruth Eisenberg of Adams Morgan told the Blade before she took part in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia march in Havana on May 13. “It has done such harm to this country and to the people of this country.”

“My impression is that whatever the relations between the countries are, the people of this country want relationships with Americans,” she added. “They want trade.”

A billboard at an intersection in Cienfuegos, Cuba, highlights opposition to the U.S. embargo. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Pardo told the Blade the embargo is not “the real issue for the Cuban American community.”

“Instead, it is making economic concessions tied to the embargo without any betterment of basic civil rights for the Cuban people,” he said. “Many in the community do not support conceding this leverage without greater cooperation from the regime to support basics freedoms, like those of speech and assembly without intimidation and incarceration.”

Mariela Castro and the National Center for Sexual Education have highlighted their opposition to the embargo in previous International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events. Mariela Castro did so again on May 13 when she spoke to her supporters who gathered at a pavilion in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood after the march.

“Down with the embargo,” she proclaimed.

Mariela Castro speaks at the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia observance in Havana on May 13, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was among those on the stage with Mariela Castro as she spoke.

Mark-Viverito acknowledged to the Blade before the march began there are “elements” who want to reverse the process of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. She added, however, there is “no turning back at this point.”

“The normalization process that President Obama started is really opening up that door in a way that you cannot close it,” Mark-Viverito told the Blade.

A spokesperson for the Cuban government in Havana did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito attends an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia march in Havana on May 13, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. Follow Michael

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