A little more than two years ago, the sitting president of the United States was taking in a baseball game in the Cuban capital of Havana.
Then-President Obama's historic trip was designed to further his policy of engaging with America's longtime foe in hopes of improving living conditions in Cuba and slowly gaining influence over the future of the communist nation.
Now, as Cubans prepare for a historic change in their leadership, the U.S. government is nowhere to be found, allowing countries such as Russia and China to fill the vacuum.
After a series of mysterious "health attacks" against Americans in Cuba, President Trump reversed many of the openings his predecessor pushed through. Trump ordered most employees of the U.S. Embassy in Havana to leave. He expelled Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington. He's made it more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba or do business there.
That has left the United States back where it started: sitting just 90 miles off the Cuban coast but unable to have any impact on the island.
Vicki Huddleston, former chief of the U.S. mission in Havana, described Trump's actions as a regression toward a "failed policy" that cut off what had been a promising start to a new relationship with Cuba.
Cuban President Raúl Castro is expected to retire Wednesday and hand over power to his handpicked successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel, a Castro loyalist who has steadily risen through the ranks of the Communist Party of Cuba. Huddleston said Trump wasted a rare opportunity to engage with the new leader and nudge Cuba in a more democratic, capitalist direction.
"If the United States was not threatening, if the economy was doing all right and the relationship was stable, it would've given Díaz-Canel a good deal more leeway to be an agent of change," she said. "Why are we doing this again? Don't we ever learn?"
That sentiment is echoed by many who say the previous five decades of isolation with Cuba yielded no results. Ric Herrero, who ran #CubaNow, an advocacy group that supported Obama's opening of relations, said there was clear and convincing evidence the United States was making inroads.
Expanded business opportunities between Cuban entrepreneurs and Americans, and the influx of U.S. tourists, rattled the most hard-line members of the Cuban government, he said. Former president Fidel Castro published a letter shortly after Obama left Havana, criticizing the visit and saying Cuba didn't need help from the Yankees.
That backlash, Herrero said, proved the Americans were starting to win over more progressive segments of the population and the government. "The fact that Obama raised those expectations to such a considerable degree is something (the hard-liners) saw as a threat," he said.
Critics of the Obama opening dismiss those arguments, saying the policy didn't show any tangible results in the more than three years it was in place. The communist regime didn't change, Castro continued working closely with the failing government in Venezuela, and Cuba did nothing to change its human rights record, said Jaime Suchlicki, executive director of the Cuban Studies Institute in Miami.
"There was nothing that we were getting that was worth it," he said. "Cuba gave nothing."
Whether Obama's effort to warm relations worked or not, Trump's decision to end it has left America's adversaries back in the driver's seat in Havana.
Trump started a trade war with China, imposed sanctions on Venezuela, threatened to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and is dealing with a special counsel's investigation into his campaign's possible ties with Russia. By pulling out of Cuba, all those countries remain the most influential foreign voices in Cuba.
Russia has been the most visible, even parking one of its spy ships in Havana Harbor last month. Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, said that fits into Russian President Vladimir Putin's goals of creating mayhem throughout Latin America to upset its relations with the United States.
"Moscow has been delighted to see the Washington-Havana attempt at reconciliation not work out," Winter said. "Cuba offers the Russians the same thing it did 60 years ago, which is a fabulous opportunity to be a thorn in the side of the United States."
China's interests in Cuba are more economic. The country has long turned to Latin America as a source of commodities to fuel its growing economy. Its relationship with Cuba has deepened in recent years.
"I don’t think they’re as openly nefarious a presence as the Russians are, because I think their presence is more economic and resource-based and less political," Winter said.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a Cuban American who has long opposed engaging with Cuba, said all those countries had been involved in Cuba before, during and after the Obama opening.
Cuba has been wedded to Venezuela for decades, because of the cheap oil Caracas sends north in exchange for Cuban doctors and other experts, he said. China has increased its economic ties with Cuba, becoming the island's main trading partner in 2016.
Russians running around Cuba should not be a surprise, Diaz-Balart said. He pointed out that the same spy ship that docked in Havana last month made another stop in Havana in 2015, shortly after Obama and Raúl Castro announced the rapprochement.
"The Castro regime has had very close ties with all of the enemies of the United States for decades," Diaz-Balart said. "So how does helping legitimize, and helping fund, the regime ... do anything to help the national security interests of the United States?"
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