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Cubans Fear Dampening Of U.S. Relations Under Trump Presidency


U.S. and Cuban officials are meeting in Havana today. It's their first get together since two major events that could shape U.S.-Cuba relations going forward - the death of Fidel Castro and the election of Donald Trump. Trump has criticized the Obama administration's approach to the communist island and has vowed to get a better deal from Havana.

Cubans who have benefited from Obama's policy are nervous and have come to Washington to voice their concerns. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Right after she finished her master's degree from the University of California, San Diego, in June, Maria Recio (ph) returned home to Havana to start a business as an events planner, catering mostly to visitors from the U.S.

MARIA RECIO: So I just started my business, so I'm totally dependent on this new growing sector.

KELEMEN: That's why she's worried about what President-elect Donald Trump might do.

RECIO: So obviously if we take a step back in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, I cannot do my business anymore. All these dreams that - all this effort that I have put into starting and starting to grow a new idea, a new business - it's going to affect me a lot.

KELEMEN: Recio is among about a hundred Cuban entrepreneurs who have written a letter to Trump's transition team. They're calling on the president-elect to continue on this path, says Marta Deus, a 28-year-old accountant and tax specialist who now runs three businesses in Cuba.

MARTA DEUS: And we'd like to ask Mr. Trump to come to Cuba to visit us. We will take him to, you know, Old Havana if he want.

KELEMEN: She says Trump would see there's a growing number of private entrepreneurs. The women clam up when I ask them about the lack of political rights in Cuba. They say they're business people, not politicians. Change will come slowly, adds Julia de la Rosa, who runs a bed and breakfast. She's nudging Cuba to do more to allow private businesses to thrive and says Trump can help on that front.

JULIA DE LA ROSA: We are entrepreneurs. So I think he's a businessman. So I think he can understand what we have been through to arrive up to this point in our lives.

KELEMEN: The women came here on a trip organized by the lobbying group Engage Cuba, which is promoting the Obama administration's policy. They haven't had any contact yet with the incoming Trump team and don't know what to expect. They've just been reading his tweets.

In one recent tweet, the president-elect threatened to, in his words, terminate the deal if Cuba is unwilling to make a better one for Cubans and for Americans. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.