The administration of United States President Donald Trump intensified its crackdown on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela on Wednesday, rolling back Obama administration policy and announcing new restrictions and sanctions against the three countries, whose leaders were dubbed the “three stooges of socialism” by US National Security Advisor John Bolton.
“The troika of tyranny – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – is beginning to crumble,” Bolton said in a hard-hitting speech near Miami, Florida on the 58th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, in which the US attempted to overthrow the government of Cuba.
Bolton announced a new cap on the amount of money that families in the US can send their relatives in Cuba.
The administration of Barack Obama had lifted limits on remittances, but the new limit will be $1,000 per person per quarter, Bolton said. Remittances to Cuba from the US amounted to $3bn in 2016, according to the US State Department.
Bolton said the US would also further restrict “non-family” travel by Americans to Cuba, though he offered no details. He cited military-owned Cuban airline Aerogaviota among the five names being added to the US sanctions blacklist.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Wednesday that no one could take the island away from Cubans.
“No one will rip the (fatherland) away from us, neither by seductions nor by force,” Diaz-Canel tweeted. “We Cubans do not surrender.”
Bolton also announced that the US was sanctioning the Central Bank of Venezuela, which the Trump administration says has been instrumental in propping up the embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The US backs opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president earlier this year, calling Maduro’s presidency illegitimate. Maduro, backed by Cuba, Turkey, Russia and China, accuses Guaido and the US of staging a coup.
Bolton also announced sanctions against financial services provider Bancorp, which he claimed is a “slush fund” for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua,” Bolton said in South Florida, which is home to thousands of exiles and immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Bolton said Obama administration policies gave the Cuban government “political cover to expand its malign influence” across the region, including in Venezuela. Cuba has trained Venezuelan security forces to repress civilians and support Maduro, Bolton said.
“Havana continues to prop up Maduro and help him sustain the brutal suffering of the Venezuelan people,” Bolton said. “As President Trump has said, Maduro is quite simply a ‘Cuban puppet.'”
Bolton’s pledge to “never, ever abandon” the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in their fight for freedom also might ring hollow in light of the historical events he sought to highlight at the event, which was hosted by the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.
Many Cuban Americans to this day resent the late President John F Kennedy for not deploying American troops at a critical moment in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Meanwhile, with the high stakes of the Cold War a fading memory, some critics of US policy towards Venezuela worry that the Trump administration’s stance – that all options to remove Maduro, including a military one, are on the table – is an empty threat that will only serve to ignite the streets and fuel geopolitical tensions with Russia, compounding the misery of Venezuelan citizens.
“Honouring one of US’s greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests US policy [toward] Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, a think-tank headquartered in Brussels.
Bolton spoke just hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new policy that allows lawsuits against foreign firms that operate on properties Cuba seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution. The US has enforced a trade blockade against Cuba since the early 1960s.
The move, announced in Washington, DC and strongly opposed by the European Union, comes at a moment of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela and a string of bad years in other key economic sectors.
Pompeo said he won’t renew a bar on litigation that has been in place for two decades, meaning that lawsuits can be filed starting on May 2, when the current suspension expires. The decision could cost dozens of Canadian and European companies tens of billions of dollars in compensation and interest.