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U.S.-Cuba detente supporters make last-ditch effort to sway Trump

By Marc Frank

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. organizations that have worked closely with the outgoing Obama administration to improve relations with Cuba on Tuesday released a four-page letter to President-elect Donald Trump urging him not to act rashly toward the Communist-run nation.

The Cuban Study Group, an organization of Cuban-American business leaders who favor engagement, and the Washington-based Engage Cuba coalition, arranged what they termed the "memo" which says, "to reflexively reverse course could have pernicious consequences for U.S. economic and foreign policy interests and the prospects of evolutionary change in Cuba."

The Trump transition includes five Cuban-Americans who are vocal opponents of detente and have close ties to Cuban-American lawmakers who are calling for a return to pre-Obama efforts to isolate Cuba.

A number of other Trump appointees have expressed hostility toward the Obama administration’s two-year effort to normalize relations.

"We are confident that a close evaluation will confirm that constructive engagement — including the reduction of travel and commercial barriers — is the best strategy for supporting the Cuban people and boosting U.S. jobs and exports," the signers of the report, which include the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, the National Foreign Trade Council, the American Society of Travel Agents and the Association of International Educators, say.

They argue that the policy has improved human rights on the island, sped the expansion of internet access, led to dialogue on sensitive issues, improved national security and created jobs, among other positive results.

The report follows the release last week of a similar plea by dozens of U.S. agricultural organizations which argued Cuba was an important market for their products.

Trump, a Republican, has said he will dismantle the still-fragile detente unless Cuba gives the United States a better deal, while providing no specifics.

He is expected to review the Cuba engagement on taking office on Friday. Trump has named Jason Greenblatt, a Trump Organization executive and chief legal counsel, as negotiator for sensitive international issues, including Cuba.

The normalization of relations between the old Cold War foes has included restoration of diplomatic relations, Obama's historic trip to Cuba, the signing of 18 cooperation agreements and the use of executive orders to punch holes in the embargo, which can be lifted only by the U.S. Congress, now controlled by Republicans.

Travel to the island from the United States has increased, with the start of direct flights and cruises and the signing of cellphone roaming agreements, but no manufacturing or significant trade deals have been reached.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)