16 Juin 2017
Donald Trump will on Friday announce new restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba on Friday, but will not entirely reverse Barack Obama’s 2015 rapprochement with Havana.
Diplomatic relations will remain, and so will commercial flights, but travel to Cuba will be more tightly monitored and business will face restrictions aimed at ensuring that Cuban military and intelligence organisations do not benefit.
“The new policy will empower the Cuban people,” a senior White House official said. “It does not target the Cuban people but the measures are designed to restrict the flow of money to oppressive elements of the Cuban regime.”
Trump will declare the new policy in Miami, at the heart of the Cuban exile community in Little Havana, fulfilling an election campaign promise.
Obama’s opening to Cuba, negotiated in secret with the help of the Vatican and which culminated in a presidential trip to Havana in March 2016, was regarded by his administration as one of its signature foreign policy achievements, easing an embargo of more than a half century, which had failed to produce a softening of the communist regime.
Flights and sea links were reopened and travel increased to an estimated 400,000 Americans expected to visit the island this year. Administration officials said that those who had already booked trips before the new policy takes effect would be able to go ahead with their plans, but future travel would be policed more rigorously to ensure it fitted one of twelve authorised categories as part of the Obama rules laid down in 2015.
Those categories allowed Americans to travel to Cuba for educational, professional, humanitarian, sporting, artistic or trade purposes, but not for general tourism, but Trump administration officials said the policy was not carefully monitored and was abused to allow tourism.
It remains unclear how Americans still allowed to visit Cuba would be prevented from spending money that profited the security forces. The Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA) is a sprawling conglomerate with tentacles in many sectors of the economy, including tourism and trade. For example it controls the main container port at Mariel, which has signed partnership deals with US Gulf Coast ports and the Port of Virginia.
Administration officials said that the new policy would be reviewed if the Havana government carried out reforms.
“We hope the Cuban regime will see this as an opportunity to institute reforms that they have paid lip service to,” one official said.
The President’s declaration on Friday will be a statement of policy but the details of how it will be implemented will have to worked out by the Treasury and Commerce departments in the coming months.
Officials briefing journalists about the new policy were asked why human rights concerns had led to punitive measures in Cuba’s case but were not playing a role in the administration’s policy to other notable human rights offenders, like the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. One official said the difference was that Trump had specifically promised to take action on Cuba to a rally of the Cuban diaspora last year in Florida, a state which Trump won.
• This article was amended on 16 June 2017. An earlier version referred to Obama ending an embargo on Cuba. This has been changed to easing an embargo.