NEW YORK – President-elect Donald Trump’s priorities in his policy toward Cuba will be the release of political prisoners, the return of fugitives from U.S. justice and political and religious freedom for the island’s people, a transition team spokesman said on Monday.
“To be clear, the president-elect wants to see freedom in Cuba for the Cubans, and a good deal for Americans where we aren’t played for fools,” Trump’s communications director, Jason Miller, said in a telephone conference call with reporters.
Trump is “aware of the nuances and complexities” in Cuba, but he will address the situation on the island once he takes office, Miller said.
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s death at age 90 last Friday has not changed the billionaire New York real estate developer’s stance on policy toward Havana, Miller said.
“This has been an important issue, and it will continue to be one,” Miller said. “Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”
The White House, for its part, weighed in on Trump’s comments, warning that disengagement with Cuba would be difficult and carry a high cost at this point.
“It’s just not as simple as one tweet would make it seem,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “There are significant diplomatic, economic (and) cultural costs that will have to be accounted for if this policy is rolled back.”
The White House spokesman said it would not be an easy matter to scrap the normalization process that President Barack Obama started nearly two years ago.
“That would be a difficult thing to unwind,” Earnest said. “Unwinding that ship is not as easy as just the stroke of a pen.”
Earnest said reversing course on relations with Havana would have an economic impact on Cubans.
“There will be an economic impact in the U.S. and Cuba of unwinding that policy,” the White House spokesman said. “To cancel all of that would deal a significant economic blow to the Cuban citizens.”
Expanded air links and visits by Americans, many of whom stay in private homes, have benefited Cuba’s people, Earnest said.
“There are up to 110 daily flights that are scheduled to take off from the U.S. and land in Cuba on a daily basis in the coming months,” increasing the number of American visitors, the White House spokesman said. “That’s money that benefits the Cuban people.”
Trump said in a Twitter post Monday that he would scrap the “deal” the Obama administration made with Cuba unless Havana improves the terms of the agreement.
“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump said.
Trump was the only Republican candidate to support an opening with Cuba during the primaries, but he changed his position heading into the general elections in search of Cuban-American votes in Florida.
Trump promised Cuban exiles in Miami that he would reverse the process of normalizing relations if elected.
Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that they planned to normalize relations after a rupture of more than five decades.
Trump made his views on Fidel Castro clear after the former Cuban president’s death on Friday night at age 90.
Trump’s first reaction was a brief tweet Saturday morning that simply read “Fidel Castro is dead!”
Later, the president-elect released a longer statement, saying that he hoped the death of the “brutal dictator” would usher in a new era of prosperity and freedom for the Caribbean island.
Trumped described Castro as a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.”
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” the real-estate mogul said.
“While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve,” Trump said.