Trump and Francis may face new tensions over Cuba
John L. Allen Jr.June 12, 2017 EDITOR
President Donald Trump and Pope Francis had a cordial meeting on May 24,
stressing areas of agreement such as religious freedom and persecuted
Christians in the Middle East. Since then, however, a Vatican aide
described Trump's pullout from the Paris climate change accord as a
"slap in the face," and now Trump seems poised to rollback the opening
to Cuba that Francis helped engineer.
ROME - Just days after basking in the support of white Evangelicals in a
speech at the Faith and Freedom Forum in Washington, U.S. President
Donald Trump may be poised to create new tensions with a different sort
of religious leader with whom he already has an ambivalent relationship:
According to media reports, Trump will travel to Miami on Friday to
announce a partial rollback of the opening to Cuba that was a
cornerstone of the Obama administration's foreign policy, among other
things reinstating tighter restrictions on trade and travel. The setting
is carefully chosen, as Miami remains a stronghold of Cuban exiles and
The move likely will be justified on human rights and pro-democracy
grounds. Aides caution, however, that the president has yet to make a
final decision on Cuba, and plans for the announcement could still change.
Shortly after taking office, Trump ordered his national security team to
undertake a review of American policy on Cuba with an eye towards
undoing some of the openings under Obama, and is expected to package his
announcement on Friday as a "promise kept."
Assuming the president follows through, it's unlikely to go down well
When a restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba was
announced in December 2014, both U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban
leader Raúl Castro thanked Pope Francis for the role he played in
creating lines of communication, after writing both men to appeal for
The letter from Pope Francis "gave us greater impetus and momentum for
us to move forward," a White House official said at the time.
In October 2014, the Vatican hosted confidential negotiations between
the two sides that helped pave the way for an agreement.
Francis later visited Cuba in September 2015, immediately prior to
arriving in the United States, a bit of scheduling widely seen as his
way of affirming the opening between the two nations and encouraging the
process to continue.
"For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with
hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following
years of estrangement," Francis said in a speech on the tarmac of Jose
Marti International Airport immediately after arriving on the island nation.
"I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all
its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called
to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of
all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world,"
Francis's top aide, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said on that trip
the Vatican hoped the restored diplomatic relations would soon be
followed by lifting the U.S.-imposed trade embargo on Cuba, which is the
world's longest-running such ban.
Given all that, it's likely the Vatican under Pope Francis will not view
a rollback on U.S./Cuban détente in positive terms.
The possible new tension over Cuba compounds other differences between
the White House and Rome on issues such as immigration, anti-poverty
efforts, and climate change, including the recent decision by the Trump
administration to abandon the Paris accords which Francis and his
environmental encyclical Laudato Si' helped to inspire.
The pull-out from the Paris agreement was described as a "slap in the
face" to the Vatican and Pope Francis by Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo,
head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Social
Despite those flashpoints, Trump and Francis had a cordial encounter in
the Vatican on May 24, stressing basic agreement on matters such as
religious freedom, the dignity of human life, rights of conscience, and
the importance of defending persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, the new twists on Paris and, apparently, now Cuba, suggest
that if Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker Newt
Gingrich, is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Trump's ambassador to the
Vatican, what already promised to be a fairly complicated diplomatic
assignment is likely to be even more so.
Source: Trump and Francis may face new tensions over Cuba -