In Op-Ed for U.S. News & World Report, Anya Landau French Discusses the Need to Re-engage with Cuba

U.S. News & World Report has published “The Havana Turning Point,” an op-ed by Akin Gump senior policy advisor Anya Landau French calling for continuing engagement by the United States with Cuba in light of important developments there this spring.

With the U.S. embassy in Havana largely empty following the departure of all non-essential personnel last September due to unexplained health incidents, Landau French says there are two key reasons for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to fully staff it again: “Cuba’s impending presidential transition and his own stated interest in limiting growing Chinese and Russian influence in the Hemisphere.”

Cuban President Raul Castro is expected to step down in April, offering what Landau French describes as “a historic moment and a rare and important opportunity in U.S.-Cuban bilateral relations.” Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese engagement with Cuba has been increasing. By August 2017, Russian trade with Cuba, Landau French notes, was up 80 percent last year. At the same time, “China has become the island nation’s biggest trading partner, with imports reaching $2.5 billion in 2016.”

Landau French writes that the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba “fueled development of broader business ties that could provide a counter-weight to Russian and Chinese influence – if continued.” She says it would be difficult for the U.S. embassy in Havana “to provide the kind of normal support and assistance to U.S. companies that they generally need in foreign markets if its reduced team isn’t able to build robust contacts, knowledge and influence.” This is the time, she concludes, for the United State to have “diplomatic and business contacts, knowledge and influence on an island nation 90 miles away.”