President Donald Trump gave his “warmest wishes” to Cuban Americans on the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban republic and promised to help Cubans on the island gain a government that respects democracy. His statement did not clarify his administration’s policy toward the island nation.
“The Cuban people deserve a government that peacefully upholds democratic values, economic liberties, religious freedoms, and human rights, and my administration is committed to achieving that vision,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House.
Trump promised to take a more restrictive approach with Cuba during his campaign last year. He tweeted saying he was prepared to “terminate” the policy changes made by the Obama administration if Cuba did not “make a better deal.”
Obama used executive orders to weaken the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba that was imposed by Congress in 1960. He managed to reopen embassies in Havana and Washington, make it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to the island, and ease trade and financial barriers without approval from Congress.
An announcement about the changes the Trump administration wants to make was expected to coincide with the anniversary of the island’s independence last Saturday, but it was postponed because of Trump’s overseas trip, and also because the changes have not been completed, a White House spokesperson told the press.
A State Department official confirmed that the administration would seek to put more pressure on the communist government because of its human rights record, The Miami Herald reports.
Francisco Palmieri, acting Assistant Secretary in the Bureau for the Western Hemisphere Affairs, said in a press conference in Washington, D.C. that the policy revisions made by the Trump administration would have “important differences” with the current policy.
“I suspect that there will be important differences that will emerge between how this administration plans to address the situation in Cuba,” said Palmieri, according to The Miami Herald. “One of the areas that will be a high priority is to ensure that Cuba makes further substantive progress toward greater respect for human rights in the country.”
Trump’s statement also mentioned Cuban nationalist José Martí, who supported the island’s independence as an activist.
“Today, we remember patriots like José Martí, who devoted himself to making Cuba an economically competitive and politically autonomous nation,” Trump said. “He reminds us that cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans, and that unjust persecution cannot tamper Cubans’ dreams for their children to live free from oppression.”
The president also lauded the “outstanding contributions” of several generations of Cuban Americans to the U.S.
“Cuban Americans have distinguished themselves in literature, the arts, business, sports, the courts, Congress, and within my Administration. We are especially thankful to the Cuban Americans who serve in our military and who have sacrificed in defense of our freedom.”