As I sit here contemplating what the hell to write about D17 this year, my screen is just blank, without words. How is it that 2 years of progress and healing has just hit a wall? For those that don’t know exactly what D17 is, in short, it stands for December 17, 2014, the day Raul Castro and Obama both personally announced to their nations (and international media) that the time for reconciliation is now, thereby creating the official thawing of this particular cold-war relation. This 3rd birthday, under President Trump, is bringing us back to icier times, however I am remaining optimistic because US travel to Cuba is STILL legal, thereby creating more space for better understanding on a people-to-people level.

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December 17th is also the day of St Lazarus, a Saint called upon for healing and miracles. If watching a US President extend an olive branch to a Castro isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is. Read The Big Day to understand the nuances, symbolism, and significance of this epic date for all Cubans. The first and second birthday of D17 saw real changes — more business trade talks and increased tourism. Collaborations also included environmental & medical advances, and a mutual effort to fight drug and terrorism together in our hemisphere.

This December 17, 2017, Trump was expected to offer words on this symbolic date, and here’s what he had to say: “Hopefully everything will normalize with Cuba, but right now, they are not doing the right thing. And when they don’t do the right thing, we’re not going to do the right thing.” I have so many thoughts about this deficient diplomacy effort, but for now, I’ll just keep it simple, and print the words that CDA recently published.

D17 and “The Right Thing”

December 17, 2014. Three years ago this week, Presidents Obama and Castro gave simultaneous addresses signaling to the world a historic shift in relations between the two countries. The announcement represented a move away from a policy that had failed for decades, yet oftentimes appeared interminable, and a step toward common-sense cooperation between two neighbors. It felt, as we wrote at the time, like “a day of miracles.”

Three years later, the euphoria has subsided. Though bilateral cooperation continues, recent U.S. policy changes and harsh rhetoric have cast a shadow over hopes of a swift end to this dangling Cold War remnant.

Speaking to reporters at the White House Sunday, President Trump acknowledged the anniversary. He said, “Hopefully everything will normalize with Cuba, but right now, they are not doing the right thing. And when they don’t do the right thing, we’re not going to do the right thing. That’s all there is to it.”

The President’s words amount to an admission of guilt – he acknowledges that his revamped U.S. policy toward Cuba isn’t “the right thing.” He also continues, as we wrote two weeks ago, to recycle words from his predecessor. Three years ago, in his speech announcing the U.S. would pursue normalized relations with Cuba, President Obama said, “We are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future – for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.”

In any context, “the right thing” can be a subject of debate and contention. We won’t argue that here. What’s more concerning is that in recent months, U.S. policy has done a number of the wrong things, including curbing the rights of Americans to travel freely, imposing restrictions that will hurt U.S. and Cuban businesses, and separating families by slashing consular services.

President Trump went on to say, “We have to be strong with Cuba. The Cuban people are incredible people. They support me very strongly. But we’ll get Cuba straightened out.” Of course, Cuba has yet to hold a straw poll on the Trump presidency. But we do know that engagement is overwhelmingly popular on the island – in a 2015 Washington Post/Univision poll, 97 percent of Cubans said that normalization is “good for Cuba,” and 96 percent of Cubans said the U.S. embargo on Cuba should be eliminated.

Attempts to dictate what the Cuban people may or may not support should not come from Washington or South Florida. Instead, we believe that by lifting its onerous restrictions, the U.S. can allow Cubans to be the determinants of their own future. This sentiment is reflected in the words of Julia de la Rosa, Niuris Higueras, Marla Recio, and Yamina Vicente, four female Cuban entrepreneurs who took to the Miami Herald last week to stress the negative impact of the President’s Cuba policy. They wrote, “Rhetoric, finger pointing, and restrictions are not the type of ‘support’ the Cuban people want and need. What we want are fully functioning embassies and the freedom of travel for Americans and Cubans alike. We can take care of the rest.”

The President’s words this week mirrored a common refrain of detractors of normalization: that the U.S. should wait for Cuba’s government to make reforms before engaging. But as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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To support the CDA (Center for Democracy for America) on their mission to help end the embargo, visit their website.

Read the official statement from Cuba, through the words of Josefina Vidal, a refreshing voice that is balanced and working towards a pragmatic solution. “In this complex situation, the Cuban government has reiterated several times its willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation on issues of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of pending bilateral issues with the US Government, without impositions or conditions”, writes Josefina. “As far as we are concerned, we will continue to work with all people of good will in the United States, aware that there is a general consensus in Cuban and American societies favoring better relations between our two countries and peoples.”

Best wishes on a productive path for both nations in 2018 and beyond.