From Washington Post:
As sanctions bite in Cuba, the U.S. — once a driver of hope — is now a source of pain
HAVANA — Just like that, the cruise ships are gone, along with thousands of cash-toting Americans who oohed and aahed — and shopped — amid the crumbling grandeur of Old Havana.
For Cubans, it’s a bitter reversal of fortune. President Barack Obama’s opening of relations here, leading to his historic visit three years ago, inspired hopes of an economic boom, bringing American investment and visitors back to this communist island largely shut off from the United States for more than a half-century. A new crop of restaurateurs, IT entrepreneurs, artists and fashion designers, reveling in a fresh sense of optimism, began building businesses to tap into the seemingly lucrative detente.
But as a deepening frost settles in between the Trump administration and Havana, Cuba is instead confronting its worst economic setback in years.
Lines have snaked for hours in front of markets selling rationed meat. The lawn of the Nicaraguan Embassy — a launch point for migrants seeking to enter the United States via Mexico — is overflowing with visa applicants.
The near collapse of Cuba’s most important patron, oil-rich Venezuela, and the Cuban government’s own failure to enact reforms more rapidly, have damaged the fragile economy, analysts say. But especially in recent weeks, nothing has stung more than stiffening U.S. sanctions.
* * *
The Trump administration is tightening sanctions only a year after Raúl Castro stepped down, leaving someone outside the family dynasty in charge of the island for the first time in nearly 60 years.
Administration officials say President Miguel Díaz-Canel is navigating a still delicate transition, and mounting pressure has led him to dial back support for Venezuela’s Maduro in his standoff with the U.S.-backed opposition leader, Juan Guaidó.
Analysts and some Cuban insiders say the brain trust in Havana has done itself a disservice by seeking to portray Díaz-Canel as a caretaker of continuity rather than a figure for change. Though Cuba has taken important steps toward modernization under Díaz-Canel — improving access to the Internet via smartphones and allowing private WiFi more broadly — it has moved far more slowly on the economic front and remains years behind the free-market reforms made by communist governments in China and Vietnam, for example.
Carlos Alzugaray is a former senior Cuban diplomat.
“This government has a problem,” he said. “And the first problem is the way they have framed themselves, by continually calling themselves ‘continuity’ — which might be pleasing ideologically for some but gives the bureaucracy the perfect excuse to change nothing.”
Trump administration officials accuse Cuba of maintaining “thousands” of military and intelligence personnel in Venezuela. Havana denies the claim.
Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba’s director of U.S. affairs, said Havana supports “any process that avoids military action and that implies a negotiation that solves the Venezuelan problem.”
Asked whether that might mean accepting the U.S. insistence that Maduro leaves power, he said that depended on the Venezuelan leader.
“To start with, you have to ask if Maduro is willing to abandon power, because Maduro has significant support from the population,” he said. “No one knows exactly how much support, but it’s significant. It’s probably higher than some presidents of many Latin American countries have at this moment. It’s probably bigger than the support President Trump has.”
The stupidity from the White House is absolutely stunning. Does SFB REALLY think that Cuba has more sway over what happens in Venezuela than the US has?
And I REALLY wanted to visit Cuba. Oh, well.