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Will Trump Roll Back Obama’s Cuba Deal?

  • VOA News

People with images of Fidel Castro gather one day after his death in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 26, 2016. Cuba will observe nine days of mourning for the former president who ruled Cuba for half a century.

People with images of Fidel Castro gather one day after his death in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 26, 2016. Cuba will observe nine days of mourning for the former president who ruled Cuba for half a century.

When Donald Trump was asked early during his presidential run about the United States' warming of relations with Cuba, his response was largely positive.

"I think it's fine," Trump told The Daily Caller in a September 2015 interview. "We should have made a better deal, (but) the concept of opening with Cuba - 50 years is enough," he said, referencing Washington's longstanding economic and diplomatic sanctions against the socialist country.

Fast forward a year, and President-elect Trump's public stance on the issue has almost completely reversed. Now, when Trump talks about President Barack Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, it is almost entirely in negative terms.

That trend continued following the Friday death of Cuba's revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro.

In a statement, Trump slammed Castro as a "brutal dictator" who oversaw "firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty, and the denial of fundamental human rights."

WATCH: While campaigning for president, Donald Trump speaks about Cuba

Though Trump did not reveal any details about his plans for Cuba policy, he promised his administration will do "all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty."

The statement stood in stark contrast to that of President Obama, whose statement largely spoke of Castro in neutral terms and once again reasserted that Washington extends a "hand of friendship to the Cuban people."

The dueling statements raise the question: will Obama's historic reconciliation with Cuba survive a Trump presidency?

Trump's chief of staff on Sunday said the president-elect is "absolutely" willing to reverse Obama's opening to Cuba. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Reince Priebus said the future of U.S.-Cuba relations depends on whether Havana makes "movement in the right direction" on human rights.

"Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners -- these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships," said Priebus. "There's going to have to be some movement from Cuba in order to have relationship with the United States."

FILE - President Barack Obama (L)and Cuban President Raul Castro hold a joint press conference after meeting at the Revolution Palace in Havana, March 21, 2016.

FILE - President Barack Obama (L)and Cuban President Raul Castro hold a joint press conference after meeting at the Revolution Palace in Havana, March 21, 2016.

Obama had been working with Castro and others in the Cuban government for nearly two years to re-start relations between Cuba and the U.S., culminating earlier this year in the first direct flights between the two countries in 50 years and the reopening of embassies.

The relaxed regulations introduced by Obama made it easier for Americans to bring products back from Cuba, allowed more access for doctors to work with Cuban researchers on medical investigations and ended the 180-day ban on ships docking at U.S. ports after leaving Cuba.

Obama also visited Cuba earlier this year, marking the first time a U.S. president had stepped foot in Cuba since Calvin Coolidge did in 1928.

At the time of Obama’s announcement, national security adviser Susan Rice was asked whether a new administration would be able to alter the new rules, to which she said: “It would be profoundly unwise and counterproductive to turn back the clock.”

But during that September campaign stop, Trump said he would roll back Obama’s executive orders unless Cuba met his demands, which include “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.”

People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district of Miami, Fla., Nov. 26, 2016.

People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district of Miami, Fla., Nov. 26, 2016.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said it would be easy for a Trump administration to eliminate the flights to Cuba, calling them “an additional measure of normalcy in an anything-but-normal” relationship.

“Individuals associated with the president-elect, both officially and unofficially, will not be enthusiastic about the resumption of the flights; they will view each flight as a satchel of United States currency traveling on a one-way journey to Cuba with no meaningful measurable return other than to perpetuate abhorrent commercial, economic and political systems,” he said.

Although Trump's comments on Cuba may have been inconsistent during the presidential campaign, the businessman does have a long record of criticizing Castro.

In a 1999 editorial in the Miami Herald, Trump explained why he was unwilling to form partnerships that would allow him to build casino-hotels in the Cuban capital of Havana.

"If I formed a joint venture with European partners, I would make millions of dollars. But I'd rather lose those millions than lose my self-respect. I would rather take a financial hit than become a financial backer of one of the world's most-brutal dictators, a man who was once willing to aid in the destruction of my country," Trump said.

"To me the embargo question is no question at all," he continued. "Of course, we should keep the embargo in place. We should keep it until Castro is gone."

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