Trump to clamp down on Cuba travel,
trade, curbing Obama's detente
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[June 16, 2017]
By Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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, rolling back parts of former President Barack Obama’s
historic opening to Havana.
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
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
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
As a result, the changes – though far-reaching – appear to be less
sweeping than many U.S. pro-engagement advocates had feared.
Trump will justify his partial reversal of Obama’s measures to a large
extent on human rights grounds. His aides contend that Obama’s easing of
U.S. restrictions amounted to "appeasement" and has done nothing to
advance political freedoms in Cuba, while benefiting the Cuban
Saying that the aim was to repair what Trump has called a “bad deal”
struck by Obama, U.S. officials said the new administration would leave
the door open to improved relations if Cuba undertakes democratic
reforms such as allowing free elections and releasing political
International human rights groups say, however, that reinstating a U.S.
policy of isolating the island could make the situation worse by
empowering Cuban hardliners. The Cuban government has made clear it will
not be pressured into reforms in exchange for further engagement with
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A tour bus of Transgaviota drives past the U.S. embassy in Havana,
Cuba June 13, 2017. Picture taken June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
“If you want Cuba to change and reform, we are doing the opposite of
what would be most likely to bring about reforms,” said Ben Rhodes, a
former Obama aide who helped negotiate rapprochement.
Trump’s critics have also questioned why his administration is now
singling out Cuba for its human rights record while downplaying the
issue in other parts of the world.
Trump will announce his new approach early Friday afternoon at the
Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana, the heart of America’s
largest Cuban-American community, whose support aides believe helped him
win Florida in the election. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a key
player in forging the new policy, was expected to attend along with
other Cuban-American lawmakers.
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
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.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle in
Washington, Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Michael
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