Trump to clamp down on Cuba travel and trade
President Trump is considering reversing major pieces of the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba and reinstating limits on travel and commerce, citing human rights abuses by the Castro government as justification for a more punitive approach.
President Donald Trump on Friday will announce plans to tighten restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and clamp down on U.S. business dealings with the island’s military.
Laying out his new Cuba policy in a speech in Miami, Trump will issue a presidential directive to reverse some of the loosened regulations that Obama introduced after a 2014 breakthrough between the two former Cold War foes, senior White House officials said.
Trump, taking a tougher approach against Havana after promising to do so during the presidential campaign, will outline stricter enforcement of a long-time ban on Americans going to Cuba as tourists and will seek to prevent U.S. dollars from being used to fund what the new U.S. administration sees as a repressive military-dominated government.
But, facing pressure from U.S. business and some of his fellow Republicans to avoid turning back the clock completely in relations with communist-ruled Cuba, he also will leave intact many of Obama’s steps toward normalization.
The new policy will ban most U.S. business transactions with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a sprawling conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy, but make some exceptions, including for air and sea travel, the officials said. This will essentially shield U.S. airlines and cruise-ship companies now serving the island.
However, Trump will stop short of closing embassies or breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility and will not cut off recently resumed direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights – though his more restrictive policy seems certain to dampen new economic ties.
The administration, according to one White House official, does not intend to “disrupt” existing business ventures such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by Marriott International Inc, to manage a Havana hotel.
Nor are there plans to reinstate limits that Obama lifted on the amount of the island’s coveted rum and cigars that Americans can bring home for personal use.
As a result, the changes – though far-reaching – appear to be less sweeping than many U.S. pro-engagement advocates had feared.
Under Trump’s order, the Treasury and Commerce Departments will be given 30 days to begin writing new regulations and they will not take effect until they are complete. No deadline has been set, the officials said.
Under the revised travel policy, U.S. officials say there will be tighter enforcement to make sure Americans legally fit the 12 authorized categories they claim to be traveling under, which could spook many visitors, wary of receiving a hefty fine.
While tourism to Cuba is banned by U.S. law, the Obama administration had been allowing people to travel to Cuba as part of “people to people” educational trips for visitors, a popular classification that a White House official said was “ripe for abuse” by those looking for beach vacations.
Trump’s new policy will eliminate such self-certified visits by individuals while still allowing them to be done as group tours, and also retaining some individual travel under other authorized categories such as religious, artistic and journalistic activities, officials said.
In a contentious internal debate, some aides argued that Trump, a former real estate magnate who won the presidency promising to unleash U.S. business and create jobs, would have a hard time defending any moves that close off the Cuban market.
But other advisers have contended that it is important to make good on a campaign promise to Cuban-Americans.