New rules will eliminate individual travel to the island, curb U.S. transactions with Cuban military.
President Donald Trump on Friday will announce a revised U.S. Cuba policy that eliminates travel for single individuals and bans future U.S. business transactions with Cuba’s military, according to senior administration officials.
The new approach aims to tighten several of the travel and commercial policies that President Obama loosened over the last two years with the goal of curbing the flow of U.S. cash to the Cuban government, especially its military.
Trump and others who back the changes want to pressure the Castro regime to allow the island’s private sector to grow and to stop beating and imprisoning political opponents, which dissident groups say increased after Obama’s diplomatic thaw.
“We want the relationship very much to be one in which we encourage people through economic interaction and that process has hopefully been started,” an official told reporters Thursday.
“We can’t put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent—I think this is an effort to improve upon what the president has said is a very bad deal.”
“He’s not opposed to any deal with Cuba—he’s opposed to a bad deal, and this starts the process of making it clear to the regime that there are very specific benchmarks that there needs to be if they want to continue this kind of relationship,” the official added.
Trump is expected to announce the changes Friday at Miami’s Manual Artime Theater surrounded by prominent Cuban-Americans who back the move. The venue, a former church, is named after one of the leaders of the Brigade 2506 Bay of Pigs veterans whose group endorsed Trump last October.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump vowed to reverse the Obama administration’s policies that have “enriched the Cuban military regime and increased repressions on the island,” an administration official said.
“It is a promise President Trump made and it is a promise that President Trump is keeping,” an administration official said.
The new policy would eliminate one of 12 different categories of travel Obama allowed—individual, so-called “people-to-people” travel. Instead, U.S. visitors would once again be required to travel in groups with a set itinerary designed for educational, not strictly tourist, purposes. Travelers would be subject to Treasury Department scrutiny of their trip and could face fines if it did not comply with rules.
The group trips would require U.S. visitors to travel with a guide from an educational group—a requirement the Obama policy had lifted.
U.S. visitors also will be prohibited from staying in any hotels doing business with the Cuban military, including the Four Points Sheraton, which Starwood took over from the military in a deal the Obama administration approved. However, the policy changes appear to allow Marriott, Starwood’s parent company, to continue operating the hotel.
“This is one way to ensure that individuals who travel to Cuba are participating in their itinerary and not just sitting on the beach,” an official said.
Those on both sides of the issue say the Starwood decision was particularly vexing for the administration.
General diplomatic relations with Cuba would continue and embassies re-opened in Washington and Havana would remain. Additionally, travel and money sent by Cuban Americans could continue unaffected.
Trump’s changes would still allow commercial flights and cruise ships trips to Cuba as long as U.S. visitors aren’t traveling there strictly as tourists. These visitors will be allowed to pay bank fees at the military-run bank and rent private properties such as those offered by Airbnb.
Critics say the threat of a Treasury audit could have a chilling effect on travel and hurt business for the private-run bed and breakfasts and restaurants Americans often frequent.
While far from a major reversal of Obama’s détente with Cuba, the revised policy has borrowed from suggestions from more hardline Cuban-Americans who believed Obama had struck an uneven bargain with the Castro regime. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) played a “central” role in helping the administration recast the policy, one official said, while other members of Congress were instrumental as well.
Trump’s decision to roll back some of Obama’s Cuba changes has split Republicans with many pro-business, open-trade advocates in the GOP urging him not to reverse the policies.
Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks, along with seven other conservative organizations, sent Trump an open letter Thursday pressing him not to unravel Obama’s policies that expanded travel to and trade with Cuba. The pro-business leaders said travel and trade with Cuba boosts American businesses and spread free market ideals to the island.
“The United States prospers by engaging with the world,” they wrote.
“Access to foreign markets unleashes domestic productivity and gives workers a greater range of employment opportunities.
Likewise, Americans should be allowed to travel to other nations and serve as diplomats who can spread our soft power abroad.”