President Donald Trump on Friday ordered tighter restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and a clampdown on U.S. business dealings with the island’s military, saying “with God’s help a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve.”
As Trump laid out his new Cuba policy in a speech in Miami, the White House announced plans to roll back parts of former President Barack Obama’s historic opening to the communist-ruled country after a 2014 diplomatic breakthrough between the two former Cold War foes.
But Trump was leaving many of Obama’s changes, including the reopened U.S. embassy in Havana, in place even as he sought to show he was making good on a campaign promise to take a tougher line against Cuba.
“We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Miami’s Cuban-American enclave of Little Havana, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who helped forge the new restrictions on Cuba.
Trump’s revised approach, which will be enshrined in a new presidential directive, calls for stricter enforcement of a longtime ban on Americans going to Cuba as tourists and seeks 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. businesses and even some fellow Republicans to avoid turning back the clock completely in relations with communist-ruled Cuba, the Republican president chose to leave intact many of his Democratic predecessor’s steps toward normalization.
The new policy bans most U.S. business transactions with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, a Cuban conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy, but makes some exceptions, including for air and sea travel, according to U.S. officials. This will essentially shield U.S. airlines and cruise lines serving the island.
However, Trump will stop short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostilities. He will not cut off recently resumed direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights or cruise-ship travel, though his more restrictive policy seems certain to dampen new economic ties overall.
The administration, according to one White House official, has no intention of “disrupting” existing business ventures such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels Inc, which is owned by Marriott International Inc, to manage a historic Havana hotel.
Nor does Trump plan 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.
While the changes are far-reaching, they appear to be less sweeping than many U.S. pro-engagement advocates had feared.
Still, it will be the latest attempt by Trump to overturn parts of Obama’s presidential legacy. He has already pulled the United States out of a major international climate treaty and is trying to scrap his predecessor’s landmark healthcare program.