Cuban ambassador optimistic of U.S.-Cuban relations in first trip to Louisville in more than 50 years

05/04/2017 07:46 PM

Cuban Ambassador to the United States José Cabañas expressed his hope that the developing relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will continue under President Donald Trump’s administration during an historic visit to Louisville Thursday.

Cabañas, the first Cuban ambassador to the U.S. in more than 50 years, made his first appearance in Louisville since taking the post in 2015, months after former President Barack Obama took steps to renew diplomatic relations with the communist Caribbean country.

Although a trade embargo remains in place, U.S. companies and groups have explored potential business relationships with Cuba since 2014. Cabañas said that 380 commercial delegations have visited the country since 2015, with numbers climbing each year.

He said 2017 “will probably be the best year of the last three.”

“This is happening coming from scratch,” he said during a World Affairs Council luncheon at the University of Louisville. “In 2014 we welcomed just a few business delegations from the United States, and suddenly the number increased dramatically.”

How Trump plans to handle Cuban relations remains unclear. The administration is currently reviewing U.S. policy toward the country.

His office hasn’t formally announced any changes in the current relationship since taking office, although U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican of Cuban descent who has criticized the record of the Castro regime, has said he’s spoken with Trump on the subject.

Rubio told el Nuevo Herald in April that he’s “confident that President Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is and that our policy going forward will reflect the fact that it is not in the national interest of the United States for us to be doing business with the Cuban military.”

Cabañas says he’s optimistic that diplomacy between the U.S. and Cuba will only grow under Trump.

“We are ready and open to work with the Trump administration, and we believe that we can build a future of cooperation with the United States in many subjects, although we recognize that there are many areas in which we will not agree,” he said.

Asked by an audience member whether he expects a shift once Raul Castro’s presidency ends in February 2018, Cabañas said he didn’t foresee any major changes domestically in Cuba once a new president takes office. The Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, have led Cuba since overthrowing the government in 1959.

If the latest round of diplomacy doesn’t gain traction — Cabañas said the current U.S. embargo cost Cuba $4.6 billion in potential trade last year — he predicted that it would be another 50 to 60 years before a renewed effort emerges.

“This is an opportunity,” Cabañas said. “If we fail now, it will probably take another 50 or 60 years. Probably my grandson will come to tell your family how we went through, but I don’t think that not your society, not our society’s prepared to wait another 50 or 60 more years.”

Cabañas will attend his first Kentucky Derby on Saturday, predicting that it would not be his last.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.