President Trump walks with members of the National Security Council during the NATO summit in Brussels on July 11, 2018. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images
In the next few days, the White House is expected to name former Cuba-embargo lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone as Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council, replacing Juan Cruz. Claver-Carone was a co-founder and director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee (USCD PAC), one of the most active pro-embargo groups in Washington. He was also director of the nonprofit organization Cuba Democracy Advocates, which is dedicated to promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.
Why it matters: If Claver-Carone starts as expected on September 17, a political appointee who has dedicated his entire career to U.S.–Cuba policy will assume responsibility for coordinating U.S. policy across departments (State, Defense, Commerce and Treasury, among others) for 34 countries in the hemisphere.
The future White House advisor’s limited background on most things Western Hemisphere (including Canada) raises concerns. Claver-Carone’s only other experience in the region has been with Venezuela and Nicaragua as Cuban client states, advocating harder-line policies toward the countries’ autocratic regimes in accordance with Cuban interests.
Reality check: Coordinating U.S. policy toward a diverse hemisphere with myriad interests requires a larger lens through which to view the region than just that of Cuba. Tightening alliances with Argentina, Chile, and Peru, working with a future Brazilian government after its October elections, deepening trade relations with partners, and addressing the endemic security issues in Central America require a deeper, broader knowledge and experience.
The bottom line: For many Latin American governments — perhaps unfortunately — Cuba is seen primarily as a peripheral issue driven by U.S. politics. Placing Cuba at the hub of policy coordination, as Claver-Carone’s appointment may well do, is not the way to maintain and build influence with U.S. allies in the hemisphere.
Christopher Sabatini is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, executive director of Global Americans and a non-resident fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute.