Nearly two years after President Barack Obama restored U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, his successor, Donald Trump, is poised to roll them back. That would be a mistake.

Trump is reportedly considering restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and on transactions by U.S. companies with entities connected to the Cuban military, which controls more than half of the country’s economy. But turning back the sanctions clock would hurt the U.S. without offering Cuban citizens a clear path to a better future.

Cuba is less than 100 miles off the coast of the world’s biggest economy. American tourism is already creating more Cuban entrepreneurs: Airbnb has paid Cuban hosts $40 million during the past two years – an average of $2,700 a year, nearly eight times the average annual wage.

Record remittances from the U.S. to Cuba are opening up other new economic opportunities for ordinary citizens. Empowering them will, in turn, put more pressure on the regime.

More broadly, U.S. engagement with Cuba has improved cooperation on everything from counter-narcotics to environmental protection.

Greater sanctions wouldn’t persuade Cuba’s one-party state to change its spots; they would just reinvigorate aging hardliners and their narrative of Yanqui persecution. And a blanket ban on U.S. transactions with Cuba’s military conglomerate would just create opportunities for European, Asian and Latin American investors to fill the gap, depriving the U.S. of influence and commercial opportunities.

At the same time, engagement alone cannot break the grip of a one-party state. The U.S. could use further dismantling of the embargo as leverage for Cuba’s progress in implementing economic reforms that the Cuban government has tentatively endorsed, settling property claims, releasing political prisoners or returning fugitives.

Reversing course in Cuba would benefit neither Cubans nor Americans. The last half-century offers lots of proof of what doesn’t work. Why repeat it?

filed under: