American travelers who long to swill a cocktail at Havana's legendary Sloppy Joe's bar or dive into the rooftop pool of its newest luxury hotel had their dreams dashed when U.S. President Donald Trump announced his new Cuba policy this week.
Surrounded by Cuban-American exiles and Cuban dissidents, Trump announced from a theater in Miami that the USA would impose new limits on US travelers to the island and ban any payments to the military-linked conglomerate that controls much of the island's tourism industry. His excuse was completely disingenuous: "Trump decides to draw a line at Cuba's human rights policies?"
Over the last months the uptake in travel from the United States to Cuba has not been as high as expected, primarily as hotel capacity has not kept up with the demand, leading to some of the USA airlines cutting back capacity to the island.
Trump has said that he will attempt to reverse some of the relaxations in travel and trade that Obama implemented. The move to end the decades-old US isolation of Cuba "does not help the Cuban people; they only enrich the Cuban regime", he said. The group did not include US agricultural exports to Cuba in its estimates.
But Trump left in place many of Obama's changes, including the reopened US embassy in Havana, even as he sought to show he was making good on a campaign promise to take a tougher line against Cuba, especially over its human rights record.
Donald Trump claims to want an end to the Castro regime and to encourage democratization in Cuba. "Caterpillar believes that engagement with Cuba continues to represent a strong opportunity, not just for American businesses, but to serve as a powerful tool for change". The reasons for Trump's return to embargo may be more domestic than global politics, as the Cuban emigre lobby is a powerful one in the Republican party, including notable figures like Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans who have called for a complete reversal of Obama's Cuba policy, and business leaders, human rights groups and many of Trump's own advisers who opposed it. It was a win-win for the former president: Like Richard Nixon opened China, Obama opened Cuba. After his remarks, Trump signed an order directing the Treasury Department to make the changes. Grupo de Administracion Empresarial SA, known as GAESA, a state-run, military-affiliated conglomerate, owns nearly all of the retail chains in Cuba and 57 of the mainly foreign-run hotels on the island. Paul Johnson of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, says agriculture will largely not have to worry about that.
Airports and seaports are exempted from the ban, meaning cruise ship companies and airlines can continue to operate their routes to Cuba.
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Trump described his move as an effort to ramp up pressure to create a "free Cuba" after more than half a century of communism. Against that backdrop, any U.S. changes Havana can interpret as "hostile" may affect Cuba's "domestic process in a way that doesn't serve the kind of. gradual but sustained road to real reform that most Cubans would like to see".
NCL and Royal Caribbean are also sailing into Cuba. On one hand, banking transactions and fees would be exempted, which means American can still rent private properties through Airbnb, for instance. "This is a completely unnecessary step backward for American families and businesses, the Cuban people and US global leadership". One of the few minority groups to vote Republican, Cuban-Americans helped Trump to win Florida and when Trump repealed Obama's Cuba policies he was quick to stump and celebrate with the Cuban-American Republican base.
There is no timeline set for the completion of the draft of the new regulations.
Implementing regulations are expected from the Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") and the Bureau of Industry and Security in the coming months.
Mr. Castro has announced plans to step down as head of state in 2018, and the current first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, is considered a likely successor.
The biggest change in travel policy will be that Americans making educational people-to-people trips, one of the most popular authorized categories, can no longer go to the island on their own but only on group tours.
Mr. Trump is furious about "leaks".