For President Donald Trump to get re-elected for a second term in 2020 he will need to secure enough votes in the key swing state of Florida.
Last time around it was a narrow victory, as Trump won Florida’s 29 electoral votes by garnering only 112 911 votes more than Hillary Clinton.
Usually, support for the Democrats among Florida’s Hispanic voters has been enough to enable them to carry Florida, but Trump’s support among working-class voters tipped the outcome in his favour. Often the results in Florida are a close call. In 2012 President Barak Obama won in Florida by just 0.9 percentage points.
It seems Trump’s strategy to secure the Cuban vote in Florida at the next election is to completely reverse the positive “re-opening” with Cuba that Obama initiated. The White House is now doing everything in its power to appease the anti-Cuban lobby in Florida and unravel the initiatives and executive orders of Obama relating to rapprochement with Cuba.
This week the US government made it tougher for Americans to visit Cuba and do business there. The restrictions, which took effect on Thursday, include a ban on Americans doing business with 180 Cuban government entities, holding companies and tourism companies. The list includes 83 state-owned hotels, including Ernest Hemingway’s favourite haunt, the Hotel Ambos Mundos, and the city’s new luxury shopping mall.
It also includes a development zone at Cuba’s Mariel port, which Cuba hopes to develop into a major Caribbean industrial and shipping hub with tax and customs breaks.
The National Foreign Trade Council, a business lobby group in Washington, has called the Mariel restriction “counter-productive” because it would hurt a Cuban government initiative that could potentially benefit Cuban workers.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American, said the list failed to go far enough because it omitted companies like Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan, that have ties to the Cuban government. Republicans like Rubio and the director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, would like to see the US take an even harsher stance on Cuba, and they are now largely determining Cuban policy.
While US travellers will still be able to make authorised trips to Cuba with a US-based organisation, and accompanied by a US representative, it will be harder for them to travel individually.
The main element of Obama’s détente with Cuba, however, was the restoration of diplomatic ties and the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington. Trump and his administration are doing their best to undermine even those diplomatic relations. Hence the allegations levied at Cuba a week ago, that it failed to protect US diplomatic staff at the embassy in Havana from mysterious “sonic attacks”.
Laying such a claim gave the US administration the excuse it needed to withdraw more than half of its embassy staff. The move has decimated the section of the embassy dealing with trade and economic relations, and the political and consular sections have also been badly affected. A total of 15 staff, or 60% of the staff complement, have been withdrawn.
But the most bizarre element of the story is that the US media hardly questioned the veracity of the allegation, emanating from the White House, of the sonic attacks.
Scientists have come out saying that no country has the capability of producing sonic attacks whereby only some individuals are affected while others in the vicinity are not.
While the supposed victims complained of dizziness, headaches and loss of orientation, Cuban officials have not been allowed to interview the victims or their doctors, or visit the sites where these incidents supposedly happened. None of the victims have even made a statement regarding this case.
There are thus no identifiable victims, US and Cuban investigations have produced no evidence of a weapon, and no purported motive on the part of a perpetrator.
It all seems to have been a pretext created so that the White House could take action and undermine diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. This feeds into the type of outcome that the Cuban lobby in Florida is looking for, and it will no doubt reward Trump for his efforts at the next election.
What this means for Cuba is that it will hurt its private sector at a time when the economy is already struggling.
The measures will also hurt the Cuban people, as government revenue funds Cuba’s free education and health care systems.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor.