June 21, 2017 at 9:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Trump’s Cuba directive is an unfortunate step backwards

A transgender woman takes part in a march in Havana on May 13, 2017, that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. President Trump this month reinstated travel and trade restrictions with Cuba. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Santo Domingo is a town that is roughly 45 minutes west of Santa Clara, which is Cuba’s fifth largest city.

The Centro Comunitario de Cultura, an LGBT community center, is located in the backyard of Victor Manuel Dueñas, an activist who is among those behind a campaign that urges Cuban lawmakers to discuss whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Dueñas, his partner and several other independent Cuban advocates last month met with Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer and other U.S. activists in Havana. A homemade centerpiece with the Cuban and U.S. flags was on a table in Dueñas’ backyard on May 16 when I attended his group’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia commemoration.

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)

President Trump reinstated travel and trade restrictions with Cuba a month later.

The Miami Herald last month reported more than 600,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2016, even though U.S. citizens cannot legally travel to the Communist island for tourism-related purposes. The directive that Trump announced in Miami on June 16 prevents U.S. citizens from spending money at hotels, restaurants and other entities the Cuban military owns.

The new policy requires Americans who travel to Cuba — which is less than 100 miles south of the Florida Keys — to “keep full and accurate records of all transactions related to authorized travel” for at least five years. It also allows the Treasury Department to audit them.

Trump’s directive — which chips away at the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba that then-President Obama announced in 2014 — does not close the U.S. Embassy in Havana and allows American airlines and cruise ship companies to continue serving the Communist island. American citizens are still allowed to bring Cuban rum and cigars back to the U.S.

This new policy is nothing short of insanity.

Trump in no position to lecture Cuba on human rights

Trump framed his directive — which he announced surrounded by Cuban exiles who voted for him — against the backdrop of Cuba’s human rights record.

Independent LGBT rights advocates note the crackdown against them has increased since the U.S. normalized relations with Cuba. They also insist the Cuban government has grown more paranoid since 2014.

Security agents arrested Maykel González, an independent journalist and activist, last October and detained him for three days while reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in the city of Baracoa. Authorities last month prevented Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights President Nelson Gandulla, who is a vocal critic of Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, from traveling to Havana in order to meet with Beyer and her U.S. counterparts. The Cuban government likely placed me under surveillance because I spoke with Gandulla and interviewed him at his home in the city of Cienfuegos on May 16.

Nelson Gandulla, Cuba, Cuban Federation fro LGBTI Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights President Nelson Gandulla speaks exclusively to the Washington Blade at his home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 16, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The current Cuban government is certainly in no position to lecture the U.S. — or any other country for that matter — about human rights. The current U.S. government is certainly in no position to lecture Cuba — or any other country for that matter — about human rights.

Trump last month traveled to Saudi Arabia, which, among other things, imposes the death penalty upon those who are found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual relations, and signed an agreement that includes a $110 billion defense deal. He has also praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs that has left thousands of people dead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin — who Trump has repeatedly applauded in spite of the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere with last year’s presidential election — has continued to target critics of his country’s government, independent journalists and LGBT rights advocates, among others. Trump has yet to publicly criticize the crackdown against gay men in Chechnya.

Media reports that emerged last fall indicate Trump’s company and four of his associates violated the U.S. embargo against Cuba in 1998 and in late 2012 or early 2013.

Hatred of Cuban government should not define U.S. policy

One can feel sympathy towards Cuban Americans and their families who felt they had no choice but to flee their homeland after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. One can also feel sympathy towards exiles in Miami who are victims of human rights abuses the Castros perpetuated against them. Hatred and resentment of their homeland’s government — which one can categorize as the manifestation of a bitter family feud that has gone on for nearly six decades — has no place in U.S. foreign policy and should not be used as justification to explicitly prohibit Americans from traveling to the island.

The Cuban people deserve much better from their own government and from the U.S. Trump’s directive not only harms them, but bolsters the very government that it publicly seeks to punish. This insane new policy is an unfortunate step backwards.

Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, takes part in a march in Havana on May 13, 2017, that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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