February 26, 2018

White House cancels Obama's Cuba deal

16 June 2017, 06:26 | Kara Nash

Cubans fret new Trump policy will dampen tourism boom

REUTERS  Stringer

President Trump will announce efforts to restrict USA companies from doing business with Cuban ventures controlled by that country's military and strictly enforce rules on Americans traveling to the Communist nation, according to a memo seen by Fox News.

In a briefing to reporters, senior White House officials said Trump would announce changes to current Cuban policy that the administration hopes will prevent American dollars from hurting Cubans.

Getting to stroll through the colorful streets of Havana may soon be much harder for Americans.

Former President Barack Obama made it easier to travel to Cuba, do business there, re-established diplomatic relations with the island nation, and ended the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that gave Cuban illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. And Cuba's main political and trade ally Venezuela is in crisis with triple-digit inflation and shortages of food and medicine fanning protests against the socialist government.

More than four million foreign visitors traveled to Cuba in 2016, an increase of 13 percent over 2015, according to Cuba's Ministry of Tourism.

Under Trump's new travel restrictions, commerce with businesses run by the military branch of the Cuban army will be strictly forbidden. Likewise, Gaviota, the military-run tourism company which already makes hundreds of millions of dollars off visitors every year, has significantly increased its revenue since the sanctions loosening, and aims to double the amount of hotel rooms under its control in the next three years, spurred in large part by USA visitors to the island.

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But Trump's planned rollback of Obama's policy has drawn opposition from American businesses and the travel industry, which have begun making inroads on the island, as well as many lawmakers, including some of Trump's fellow Republicans. The embargo remains in place and unchanged by Trump's policy.

"My administration's policy will be guided by key U.S. national security interests and solidarity with the Cuban people", the draft of the eight-page Presidential Policy Directive said, according to the website. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who lobbied for the change in policy earlier this year at the White House.

But even some worldwide human rights groups critical of the Cuban government say that would mean doubling down on a failed policy.

Last year, the Obama administration opened up Cuba to USA travelers essentially on the honor system - allowing travelers to self-report their trip's goal. Those categories include family visits, official government business, education and religious activities, health clinics, and "support for the Cuban people". Although Trump lost the Miami area to Hillary Clinton by double digits, he credits support from Cuban-Americans for helping him eke out a narrow victory statewide. Supporters expressed appreciation for Trump's emphasis on human rights in Cuba.

"They know exactly what they're doing and what they're trying to do is stop travel to Cuba", said James Williams, president of a lobbying group that advocates for greater engagement with the island. "Likewise, Americans should be allowed to travel to other nations and serve as diplomats who can spread our soft power overseas".

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