New US Policy Changes on Cuba Take Effect

November 8, 2017 |

The new pull back on Obama’s opening towards Cuba will no doubt make the depressed economy take longer to recover. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – The Trump administration announced today regulations that will make it more difficult, but not impossible, for US citizens to visit Cuba and establishes new limits on commercial transactions with the island, in a reversal of the policy of rapprochement that Barack Obama had initiated, reported dpa news.

Back in June, president Trump had already said that he would reverse the Obama policy on Cuba, placing limitations on travel by individuals and establishing regulations to prohibit direct payments to companies run by the government, military and secret services. However it is today that many of the details were finally announced.

The State and Treasury Departments formalized that policy change on Wednesday listing 180 Cuban entities, including 83 hotels, on its off-bounds list for US citizens and businesses.  They will also be barred from investing in a sprawling economic development zone in Mariel, 25 miles west of Havana, that Cuba envisions as crucial to its commercial future, noted the Miami Herald.

The no-go list include ministries, holdings, hotels, tourism agencies, marinas and stores, among others, to which the United States attributes being under the control of or acting for or on behalf of the armed forces, Cuban security and intelligence services. There are some exceptions when involving subsidiaries.

“We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

US officials also said they would enforce an existing tourism ban by eliminating individual person-to-person exchanges that had been allowed under Obama and that opened a back door to tourism.

Some people have seen it all during the over half-century of hostile US policy towards the island.

Instead, regulations will revert to previous rules that require visitors to participate in specific programs with licensed group tour operators, or to participate in other approved types of travel, such as assistance to the Cuban people or visits to Cuban relatives.

The regulations will take effect as of Thursday and do not apply to individuals who have already booked their trips.

Washington is also making changes to its export licensing program, which allows US companies to trade with Cuba, by mentioning the entities included in the restricted list.

US officials said the measures are aimed at suspending economic activity with the Cuban government and redirecting it to the private sector, something much easier said than done considering the centralized nature of the Cuban economy.

According to a White House official, this policy is intended to hold the Cuban government responsible for oppression and human rights abuses; is based on US security and foreign policy interests, and is intended to “lay the foundation to empower the Cuban people to develop greater economic and political freedoms.”

“Our actions today show that we are with the people of Cuba,” said the official when presenting the policies to journalists, and pointed out that improvements in US-Cuba relations depend on Havana’s willingness to implement reforms.

The military’s Gaviota hotel chain is one of the targets of the Trump administration’s new policy measures.

Targeting payments to the Cuban armed forces will have an impact on the tourism industry due to the large participation of the military in the Cuban economy.

The restricted list includes the Ministries of the Interior and Defense and holdings controlled by the military, such as GAESA – Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA, with commercial interests throughout the Cuban economy, and owner of the largest company in the country, the Cimex Corporation for export and import. and the Gaviota hotel chain, among other companies.

The list mentions a series of hotels controlled by Gaviota and another state business group such as Habaguanex S.A, which controls retail businesses in Old Havana.

The objective, says the White House, is not to damage US companies that have already started doing business with Cuba under Obama’s policy of rapprochement and there will be exceptions in regulations for airlines, cruise ships and other businesses.

According to the Miami Herald, the four month delay in releasing the detailed restrictions allowed some US companies to get in under the wire and they will be allowed to continue.  These include an agreement with a Caterpillar tractor subsidiary in Puerto Rico to set up a warehouse and distribution operation at the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone. John Deere also moved in time to set up a deal to hopefully sell hundreds of tractors to the Cuban government for its agricultural cooperatives.

Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and two daughers went to a baseball game with Raul Castro when they visited Havana in March 2016.

The Obama administration initiated an opening towards Cuba, including the resumption of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies after half a century.

Trump has sought to back down with some of these policies, but not all. The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Havana, although the link was affected after a series of alleged mysterious acoustic attacks against US diplomats, which led the Trump government to greatly reduce its diplomatic staff on the island.

Anti-Castro Miami Republicans Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart were reportedly highly influential in guiding the administration’s turn against improved political and economic relations with Cuba.

Meanwhile, critics of the new policy, who support closer Cuba ties, believe ordinary Cubans will be the main victims.

Collin Laverty, president of the group Cuban Education Travel issued a statement saying the new policy “serves to placate a fading minority in South Florida, harming American and Cuban workers and families. This cold-war policy shows just how out of touch with reality Senator Rubio, Congressman Diaz-Balart and President Trump are.

Marco Rubio is considered highly influential in the Trump administration’s policy towards Cuba.

“US backtracking on Cuba could not come at a worse time. Restrictions on trade and travel are hammering Cuba’s private sector, which has grown through interaction with US travelers and US companies, and put the US on the sidelines, politically and economically, at a time of transition in Cuba.

“At the same time, these limited tweaks to President Obama’s policy demonstrate the popularity of opening up trade and travel with Cuba. There remain countless ways to legally visit the island and there are many fully compliant avenues for doing business.

“US citizens can rest assured that it’s still completely legal to visit Cuba. Commercial flights, cruise ships, Marriot hotels, Airbnb and top-notch tour providers continue to operate business as usual, and it takes just minutes to secure your legal trip to the island. US companies will continue to pursue deals that comply with the new regulations, benefiting business owners, workers and consumers in both countries,” said Laverty trying to remain optimistic.
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  • Moses Patterson

    These so-called changes will have little negative effect on current US/Cuba relations. This is simply a fait accompli in delivering on Trumps campaign promises on Cuba.

  • Eden Wong

    To all the travellers in an uproar over this, fear not. It’s yet more hyperbole and meaningless hot hair from the Trump administration. (Thank God.)

    The announcement has almost no impact on anyone who visits regularly or for that matter any new independent traveller who really wants to explore the island. The regulations haven’t been changed significantly, they’ve only been tweaked a little in an attempt to make it appear that Trump’s policy means something. Which it doesn’t.

    They’re still vague enough (with zero funds applied towards enforcement) that anyone who really wants to travel to Cuba will continue to do so. For tourists simply select, “Support of the Cuban People” and make up some itinerary that (to quote the new announcement) shows you’re supporting the Cuban people by, “… renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by selfemployed Cubans (cuentapropistas)…” as examples of authorized activities.

    Bottom line: If you’re ever actually asked to supply an “itinerary” after you’ve returned (this has NEVER happened yet) then fill it out however you wish. It’s not like there’s any auditing or enforcement whatsoever of what you actually did during your Cuba trip.

    What an utter embarrassing waste of time and money by the present administration….

  • CAPTCURLY

    Don’t look for Rubio or for that matter the rest of the GOP running for reelection in Florida to win in the MIDTERMS 2018, BASTA BASTA.

  • Alejandro Alexander

    From reviewing the list on the Federal Registry, the restrictions do not seem to impact U.S. travelers staying in casas and not shopping at high end stores. From the U.S. I think the big impact will be not being able to fly direct because of the increased restrictions on the 12 categories and forcing people to travel with licensed groups. Those restrictions are oppressive for truly independent travelers and it is just easier to revert to traveling to Cuba the old school way before the ‘opening’. For me it means an increase of $500 in round trip costs and a much longer trip.

    From a political perspective it is just meanness based on feeding the Florida ‘base’. But, everything in the U.S. these days is about feeding the (ignorant and narrow minded) far right base. Everything. So, this just follows suit. Most of us in the U.S. are strangers in our own country. We do not recognize it anymore.

    But it will not deter the dedicated among us from visiting Cuba.

  • N.J. Marti

    Bad policy, but it could have been worse. Blocking Americans from traveling is wrong move. Cuba needs to be allowed to change on its own.

  • Nick

    Always makes me smile when the rulers of the so called ‘land of the free’ place restrictions on where it’s citizens can travel to or where they can invest or spend their dollars.
    A more perfect example of hypocrisy would be difficult to find.