President Trump announced on Friday that he was reversing crucial pieces of what he called a “terrible and misguided deal” with Cuba and will reinstate travel and commercial restrictions eased by the Obama administration in an attempt to obtain additional concessions from the Cuban government.
During a speech in Little Havana, the epicenter of a Cuban exile community that enthusiastically supported him in last year’s election, Mr. Trump said he was keeping a campaign promise to roll back the policy of engagement begun by President Barack Obama in 2014, which he said had empowered the communist government in Cuba and enriched the country’s repressive military.
We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer, Mr. Trump said at the Manuel Artime Theater, named for a former supporter of Fidel Castro who became a leader of Brigade 2506, the land forces that spearheaded the United States-led Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Mr. Trump said.
After the speech, he signed a six-page directive that ordered new travel and commercial restrictions while leaving in place some key Obama-era measures that eased sanctions.
As part of the new policy, Americans will no longer be able to plan their own private trips to Cuba, and those who go as part of authorized educational tours will be subject to strict new rules and audits to ensure that they are not going just as tourists.
American companies and citizens will also be barred from doing business with any firm controlled by the Cuban military or its intelligence or security services, walling off crucial parts of the economy, including much of the tourist sector, from American access.
“We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba,” Mr. Trump said.
The policy represents a middle ground between hard-liners in Congress, including Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans who have called for a complete reversal of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy, and business leaders, human rights groups and many of Mr. Trump’s own advisers who wanted to preserve it.
It drew swift condemnation from diverse quarters, from congressional Democrats and a handful of Republicans who support greater engagement with Cuba, to business-minded conservatives like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which argued the move would hurt American businesses and jobs.
Still, Mr. Trump’s action allowed him to claim credit for taking a tough stand while leaving in place many of the changes made by Mr. Obama, which polls have shown are broadly supported, including by most Republicans.
Under the directive, embassies in Washington and Havana will stay open and cruises and direct flights between the United States and Cuba will be protected under an exception from the prohibition on transactions with military-controlled entities.
The directive does not affect the ability of Cuban-Americans to travel freely to the island and send money to relatives there, or a broad array of rules the Obama administration put in place aimed at making it easier for American companies to do business in Cuba.
But Mr. Trump’s speech was a rejection of Mr. Obama’s announcement in 2014 that he and President Raúl Castro of Cuba would begin normalizing relations between the two countries. Mr. Trump’s speech evoked, instead, the Cold War thinking that dominated the United States government’s stance toward Cuba for a half-century.
To the Cuban government, I say: Put an end to the abuse of dissidents, Mr. Trump said. Release the political prisoners. Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms. Return the fugitives from American justice.
Just over one year ago, Mr. Obama took the stage at a theater in Havana, with Mr. Castro in attendance, to reject that thinking and declare that he intended to “bury the last vestige of the Cold War” and “leave behind the ideological battles of the past.”
On Friday, Mr. Trump sought to revive that struggle, listing the misdeeds of the Castro government over more than five decades. “We will never, ever be blind to it,” Mr. Trump said. “We remember what happened.”
His audience of Cuban exiles and their families, including Mr. Rubio and Mr. Díaz-Balart, roared its approval. “President Trump will treat the Castro regime as the malevolent dictatorship that it is,” Mr. Díaz-Balart said.
But critics argued that Mr. Trump was returning to a strategy that had been a proven failure.
Benjamin J. Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for Mr. Obama who led secret negotiations with Cuban officials that led to the rapprochement, said Mr. Trump’s moves would undermine his stated objectives, pushing the Cubans into the arms of the Chinese and Russians, who have no restrictions on their dealings there, and emboldening hard-liners in the country who are opposed to moving toward democracy.
If you want Cuba to change and reform, we are doing the opposite of what would be most likely to bring about reforms inside of Cuba, Mr. Rhodes said.
But some Cuban dissidents who had backed Mr. Obama’s thaw in the hopes it would lead to greater openness on the island said the opposite had occurred.
Among them was José Daniel Ferrer García, head of the Cuban Patriotic Union, the largest opposition group in Cuba, who was among the dissidents Mr. Obama met last year in Cuba.
We believe that this is the moment for a maximum reversal of some policies that only benefit the Castro regime and does very little or nothing for the oppressed people, Mr. Ferrer wrote in an open letter to Mr. Trump last week.
It is time to impose strong sanctions on the regime of Raúl Castro.
Under Mr. Trump’s directive, the Treasury and Commerce Departments will have 30 days to begin writing new travel and commercial regulations.
They are instructed to reverse a rule that Mr. Obama put in place last year to allow Americans who are making educational or cultural trips to initiate their own travel to Cuba without special permission from the United States government and without a licensed tour company, as long as they kept records of their activities for five years.
Trips will only be possible through a United States government-approved tour company, as was the case before 2016.
The move shuts down what amounted to a backdoor way to allow American tourism in Cuba, despite the decades-old embargo that prohibits it.
Mr. Trump is also directing a broad prohibition against Americans doing business with companies controlled by the military, intelligence or security services in Cuba, which own large segments of the economy through the military’s business arm known as Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., or Gaesa.
The change could have sweeping implications for American companies, but it is not clear how it will affect existing deals, such as the one struck by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to manage hotels in Cuba, including one owned by the military conglomerate Gaviota.
A senior White House official said the administration’s intent was not to disrupt existing business. It was also not clear how the new travel rules would affect Americans who have already planned their own trips to Cuba.
Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a sponsor of legislative efforts to lift the travel ban, which has 55 supporters, took to the Senate floor on Friday to lament that we seem to be going in the other direction.
By denying Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba, we will be denying them customers, and they will be worse off, he said of the Cuban people.
However, Cuban government has denouced President Trumps decisions but it emphasised its willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation.
President Trump says his new policy will tighten rules on travel and on sending funds to Cuba.
He will not close the US embassy in Havana, commercial flights from the US will continue, and Americans will still be able to return home with Cuban goods.
Cubans say the embargo should continue. Why give credit to a country where the people don´t see a penny? They are still starving and there is no freedom whatsoever. Why should we keep feeding the people who are on top when they repress their own people.
I am 100% Republican. I agree 150% with everything Trump says and does. They should impose more sanctions against Cuba. When Obama made the agreement and restored relations with the Cuban government, he gave them everything they asked for. We received nothing from the Cuban government. This is why Trump wants to strengthen the sanctions.
I am against the embargo. The Cuban tyranny uses the embargo as a pretext to justify that it has failed. Everything bad that happens in Cuba, they blame the embargo.