President Donald Trump is expected to announce on Friday a plan to tighten rules on American travel to Cuba, and significantly restrict US companies from doing business with Cuban enterprises controlled by the military.
Trump, who will be making the announcement in Miami, plans to rollback a number of the Obama administration policies aimed at opening Cuba to US tourism and trade. The administration has said their goal is to put an end to business transactions that financially benefit the Castro regime while the Cuban people get little in return.
“My administration’s policy will be guided by key US national security interests and solidarity with the Cuban people. I will seek to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. To that end, we must ensure that US funds are not channeled to a regime that has failed to see the most basic requirements f a free and just society,” the draft of a Presidential Policy directive reads.
Cuba’s military conglomerate, GAESA, is estimated to control more than half of the Cuban economy; involved in all sectors of the economy. Exceptions to dealing with GAESA is expected to be made for air and sea travel; essentially shielding US airlines and cruise lines now operating on the island.
“The drive of Trump’s policy is that the actions taken by the previous administration of Barack Obama were enriching the Cuban military and intelligence services,” a senior official at the White House said.
The Trump administration is expected to enact new measures in order to restrict the flow of money from the United States to Cuba, and strictly enforce the existing statutory ban on tourism. Relaxed regulation had allowed Americans to visit Cuba under people-to-people travel, but the new policy will restrict this kind of travel for individuals; forcing them to have to book their travel through groups sanctioned by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets and Control.
Critics of Trump’s proposed changes argue reinstating tougher travel and business restriction will have the opposite of their intended effect. Brett Bruen, who was director of global engagement in the Obama administration, argues that Trump’s policy will not only set back Cuba-US relations, but with much of Latin America as well.
“For decades our policy was a hindrance to efforts to forge close ties with countries across the hemisphere, and under President Obama’s leadership, we were able to take that obstacle off the table and to engage more effectively in countries like Brazil… Returning to the days of barriers and blockades will hurt American foreign policy, it will hurt American companies…” Bruen said.
However, many of Trumps proposed changes appear to be less sweeping than many pro-engagement advocates had initially speculated/feared. Officials have said there will be no intention in new regulations to disrupt the existing business that has occurred on the island. Also expected to stay in operation will be the US embassy recently opened, though officials from the White House have said they do not know whether President Trump will nominate an ambassador to Cuba.
International human rights groups have questioned the Trump administration intentions, pointing out their hypocrisy in singling out the small nation, while insisting the need to not lecture other countries on the issue in other parts of the world. These groups have argued that any US policy further isolating the island could make the situation worse by empowering Cuban hardliners.
The White House has said the administrations proposed changes come as an attempt to crack down on Cuba’s increased human rights abuses. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently stated to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while the administration favored commercial engagement, Cuba should still face penalties for its poor record on human rights.
Cuban officials announced that they will not allow foreign economic pressure to force political reform within their country.
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