President Donald Trump announced on Friday a rollback of some of the Obama administration’s policies that loosened restrictions on United States–Cuba economic relations.
“I am canceling the previous administration’s completely one-sided deal,” he announced to massive applause at an event in Miami in front of Cuban dissidents.
Despite this rhetoric, Trump’s moves appear to be less far-reaching than he described. For example, Trump is maintaining and allowing to be maintained the embassies that Obama opened and allowed to be opened in Havana and Washington. The president is also maintaining policies that allowed Cubans to visit their families on the island and to send money to them. The administration would also allow U.S. companies to continue commercial transportation—such as air flights—from the United States to Cuba.
There were some major changes, though. In a fact sheet about the move, the White House announced that it “enhances travel restrictions to better enforce the statutory ban on United States tourism to Cuba.”
Obama’s policy shift had allowed visitors to travel to the island for educational purposes but loosely enforced that restriction to the point of seeming to allow tourism in practice. Trump’s move promised to limit such travel for nonacademic purposes to approved group travel, saying “self-directed, individual travel permitted by the Obama administration will be prohibited.”
The brunt of the policy, meanwhile, focused on preventing U.S. visitors from spending money in the mostly Cuban-controlled travel industries, such as hotels restaurants.
“Stays at hotels run by the Cuban military conglomerate—many brand-name hotels—will be prohibited, but a senior White House official suggested travelers who had already booked trips would be accommodated,” the Miami Herald reported.
More from the newspaper:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was instrumental in drafting Trump’s changes, with help from Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Other Cuban-American lawmakers started getting briefed on the policy Thursday.
Trump’s policy will not reinstate wet foot, dry foot, the policy that allowed Cuban immigrants who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country. It will not alter the U.S. trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress. And it will not limit travel or money sent by Cuban Americans, as former President George W. Bush did—though fewer Cuban government officials will be allowed to come to the U.S. and receive money than under Obama.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the new policy risked alienating other Latin American countries that had been in favor of more open United States relations with Cuba. From the Times:
The timing and place of Trump’s announcement raised some eyebrows. His vice president and three cabinet secretaries have been hosting leaders of Mexico and Central America in Miami for a two-day conference on immigration and regional prosperity.
“The optics are not the best,” said a senior international Latin American finance official in Miami for the conference. Like many diplomats, he spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about the Trump administration.
“The entire region welcomed the United States’ normalization of relations with Cuba,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the nonpartisan Wilson Center think tank in Washington. “The hardening of policy can only add to the growing distance between Washington and the region’s democracies.”
The Trump White House announced that the Treasury Department had 30 days to issue these new regulations on businesses and travel, and that the policy would not take effect until those changes were finalized, “a process that may take several months.”