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Retired military officials say it's in US interest to work with Cuba

Letter calls on US to work with island on issues of terror, drugs, immigration

HAVANA – Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas sailed into Havana Harbor over the weekend.

The cruise was the company's first ship to sail into Cuba since the U.S. and Cuba reset, and the journey is the latest example of a U.S. company doing business on the island.

More than a year since the reset, the military community is pushing the Trump administration not to cut off ties with Havana, out of national security interest.

James Williams with Engage Cuba runs a group based in Washington, D.C., calling for economic sanctions to be lifted for good in Cuba.

"It's not a question of will the U.S. engage or not. It's will the U.S. engage, or do our adversaries engage? Does Russia engage? Does China? Does Iran engage?" Williams said.  

In a two-page letter to President Donald Trump's national security adviser, 16 retired military officials said it's in the U.S. interest to work with Cuba on issues of terror, drugs and immigration.

"We acknowledge the current regime must do more to open its political system and dialogue with the Cuban people," the letter read. "But, if we fail to engage economically and politically, it is certain that China, Russia, and other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States' will rush into the vacuum."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said the letter could sway the president.

Trump has made it clear that he intends to give his commanders more authority, a move that's led to a change in his position on Syria and China.

"If President Trump goes back on his word and doesn't roll back on these concessions, I think a lot of our folks in our community will be quite displeased," Ros-Lehtinen said.  

Trump left no doubt on his position toward Cuba during his campaign when he courted the Cuban exile vote, saying he'd be tough on Cuba and would roll back President Obama's policy toward the island, even if it meant closing the newly opened U.S. Embassy.

"I don't think President Trump is going to touch the people-to-people exchanges," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I think he's more looking at making sure American businesses aren't helping to prop up the Castro regime."