President Donald Trump came to Miami one year ago, on June 16, 2017, to announce he was rolling back some of the Obama-era changes in America’s Cuban policy. In doing so, Trump went after the communist dictatorship on the island.
While working to isolate Cuba, this week, President Trump met with a different communist despot – Kim Jong Un of North Korea. After their summit, the president called this dictator “talented."
This week’s The Florida Roundup considers two dictators one year apart. Host Tom Hudson sits with David Adams, senior editor for Univision, Tim Padgett, WLRN’s Americas correspondent, and Fabiola Santiago, a columnist for The Miami Herald.
WLRN: Is this inconsistency or is it flexibility?
TIM PADGETT: It's neither. It's hypocrisy. Particularly in Latin America, if you're trying to win over Latin Americans, you can't keep following this policy. This inconsistent, as you said, hypocritical policy, that says engaging Asian communism – whether it's China, Vietnam, North Korea – is somehow good. Yet engaging Cuban communism is somehow evil.
When you send that kind of hypocritical message to Latin Americans, they see it not only as you pushing around a small communist island in the region. They see it as an indicator of how you treat the entire region – which is why it's always been so hard for the United States to get Latin American governments on board when we're trying to pursue diplomatic initiatives, like right now targeted economic sanctions against Venezuela.
Fabiola, do you see it the same way? Do the actions and the words from the president in regards to North Korea damage somehow American efforts in Venezuela, for instance?
FABIOLA SANTIAGO: Yes, I think it's extreme hypocrisy to treat both dictators differently. But U.S.-Cuba policy is driven by South Florida politics. And with North Korea, there was no thought given to the victims of the regime. That's because you don't have North Koreans voting in U.S. elections. That's where the difference lies.
One other difference David is the nuclear threat. Isn't it? We can't discount that.
DAVID ADAMS: That's certainly true. Obviously, part of the strategy of Kim Jong Un was to reach this point with nuclear weapons at his disposal. It does make him a much more serious threat, and there is a case for saying, well, better to have Donald Trump as his friend than his enemy. When President Trump referred to democracy in our hemisphere, he considers our hemisphere differently from North Korea. And as Fabiola said, there's the issue of who votes here. But there's the issue of a scary threat that's much further away.
F.S.: Right. But is he sending that message then to Latin America that they need to militarize? That they need to acquire weapons of mass destruction to be taken seriously by the United States government?
D.A.: There's certainly that. The other thing that one should perhaps remember is that while it may be hypocritical, it's not entirely inconsistent. After all, the United States has had a very different policy toward communist China for decades than it has had with communist Cuba.
That's certainly driven by the economic power that China represents.
T.P.: But what you're saying to Latin Americans is, though, we're not confronting China because we know we can't. But we're pushing around Cuba because we know we can.
The Trump supporters now are saying look what's happened today on this Friday with the Trump administration announcing tariffs to $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. China responded in kind to him. So there is significant pushback with this Trump administration in regards to trade activities in China.
T.P.: With regards to trade. But whenever you see a blatant human rights abuse in China, you really don't see the likes of Marco Rubio or Mario Diaz-Balart coming out and saying, "Hey, we we should be you know establishing an economic embargo against Beijing." It doesn't happen. But whenever you see some dissidents jailed in Cuba, hysterics break out. Again, that inconsistency that hypocrisy really rankles the rest of Latin America.
This post was updated after the June 15, 2018 episode of The Florida Roundup.