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Trump Expected In Miami Friday - But Big Changes To Cuba Policy Aren't

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
Then presidential candidate Donald Trump in Miami last October receiving a plaque from Cuban exiles.

Updated June 10, 4 pm.

It looks as though President Trump is coming to Miami next Friday to announce his new Cuba policy. But White House officials appear to be in disagreement over whether June 16 will be the day - and sources say Miami's Cuban-American congressional delegation is split over whether the President should even travel here next week since he's unlikely to unveil any significant changes to his predecessor's normalization of relations with the communist island.

A source close to Trump's Cuba policy revision team tells WLRN that Trump's inner circle has signed off on Friday for the visit, with Trump expected to make his announcement at 5 p.m. at a still undisclosed Miami locale. But one White House source with knowledge of the discussions tells WLRN: "No confirmed date."

One consideration: On Friday Miami will be the site of a major Central American security conference hosting heads of state from that region as well as top Trump Administration officials such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Some administration officials worry the conference and Trump may disrupt each other - if not also create logistical and traffic chaos.

Either way, the announcement's timing may be less controversial in the end than its substance - especially among more conservative Cuban-Americans who voted for Trump because he pledged during his campaign last year, in Miami, to strike a "better deal" on normalization that would force Cuba to improve human rights. In particular they're hoping Trump will roll back former President Obama's normalization policies, such as the easing of restrictions on U.S. travel to and business with Cuba.

Sources tell WLRN Trump may well in fact re-tighten those guidelines - reducing the number of categories U.S. travelers to Cuba may register for from the current dozen to more like half that - and that U.S. businesses can expect to see less wiggle room for inking deals with the Cuban government, which controls just about all the island's economy. In particular, Trump is expected to make it harder for American companies to do any business with the Cuban military and its vast tourism industry holdings.

The Cuban-American congressional delegation, in fact, had been pushing the White House to nullify licenses that U.S. firms such as Starwood and Marriott have struck with Cuba since Obama announced normalization in December 2014. Sources say Trump was seriously considering that move until officials at the Treasury and State Departments stepped in and warned of the epic legal battles the White House would face if he did.

Canceling renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba would also be impractical at this point. Some sources familiar with the review process believe Cuban-American hardliners like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Miami Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart have been able to persuade Trump to cut back U.S travel to Cuba more drastically - perhaps even bringing back a limit on the number  of trips and remittances Cuban-Americans can make to the island each year. But that would almost certainly anger a large swath of the Cuban-American delegation's South Florida constituency.

As a result, Trump may be left with little more than chipping away at normalization around the edges. U.S. cruises will keep going to Cuba, for example, but perhaps with a narrower pool of U.S. passengers able to sign up. Beyond that, Trump is not expected to deliver any major rollbacks that politicos like Diaz-Balart have said they were certain the new President would trigger.

Even so, "things are still fluid," one source says, "and probably will be all this coming week."

For that reason, sources say the delegation is split over whether it's politically beneficial or painfully awkward to have Trump present in Miami if he's only going to announce modest changes. But the sources say Diaz-Balart and Rubio, both Republicans, are adamant that Trump rub elbows with the Miami Cubans who gave him a larger than expected share of their vote.

What Diaz-Balart and Rubio want most now is that Trump stand in Miami and trumpet an especially forceful condemnation of Cuba's human rights record, such as the increased short-term detentions of dissidents on the island. Whether that rhetoric will satisfy more hardline Cuban voters here is anyone's political guess.