Cuban President Raúl Castro first publicly criticized President Donald Trump’s Mexican wall, along with immigration, trade, and other policies, on March 5. This comes as the Trump administration reviews the fragile relations between the U.S. and Cuba that were glued together by former President Barack Obama.
Castro made the critical remarks at a summit of leftist leaders in Venezuela that was broadcast on Cuban state-run television on Sunday evening. He called Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border “irrational,” and described his trade policies as “egotistical.”
“The new agenda of the U.S. government threatens to unleash an extreme and egotistical trade policy that will impact the competitiveness of our foreign trade; violate environmental agreements … hunt down and deport migrants,” Castro said in his speech. “You can’t contain poverty, catastrophes, and migrants with walls, but with cooperation, understanding and peace.”
Castro’s remarks could draw a sharp rebuke from Trump, who has aligned himself with Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator Rubio wants to axe Obama’s agreements with the Caribbean island.
Last November, Trump tweeted that he was prepared to “terminate” the agreements Obama reached with Castro if Cuba did not “make a better deal” for its people. But since his inauguration, Trump has yet to take any action against the agreements. The Trump administration has said that it’s in the middle of “a full review of all U.S. policies toward Cuba,” but it has not shared any more details.
In December 2014, Obama sought to reverse the economic, financial, and commercial embargo the U.S. imposed on Cuba more than five decades ago in an effort to force the Castros to move toward “democratization and [a] greater respect for human rights.”
Obama used executive orders to circumvent the embargo and ease some restrictions on business and travel. The two countries have since signed cooperation agreements and restored diplomatic ties, but only Congress, which is currently controlled by Republicans, can lift the embargo.
Travel and trade with the island have increased significantly and remained steady over the past year. Trade between Florida and Cuba reportedly totaled almost $65 million in revenue in 2016. Medical supplies, food, humanitarian donations, and agricultural products are just some of the goods that are now being shipped to Cuba. Direct flights and cruise lines are also carrying an increasing number of American tourists to Havana, Cuba’s capital city.
Sources say Cubans are pleased with the country’s fast-moving progress. New hotels and restaurants now dot the main thoroughfares in Havana, the internet is now available (albeit relatively scarcely and at a hefty cost), and Airbnb rentals are getting a steady stream of business.
While Rubio and other opponents of Obama’s Cuban policies say they won’t support Castro’s regime because it harms its citizens, some lawmakers and experts have said that isolating the island only hurts them more. In addition, now that Cubans have had a taste of what normalized relations with the U.S. feels like, it would be quite difficult to reverse the changes.