President Donald Trump is to announce a plan on Friday to tighten U.S. policy toward Cuba by adding travel restrictions for Americans traveling to the island and banning U.S. companies from doing business with enterprises controlled by the Cuban military, White House officials said on Thursday.
Trump’s changes are intended to cut off cash flow to the Castro regime by banning business deals with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a government-controlled conglomerate involved in all sectors of the Cuban economy, in an attempt to pressure Cuba’s leaders to allow the island’s private sector to grow. Exceptions will be made for sea and air travel, which means U.S. cruise lines and airlines serving the island won’t be affected by the directive.
“The new policy will empower the Cuban people,” a senior White House official told the press. “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 is expected to sign the new policy directive at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, which is named after one of the leaders of the Brigade 2506 Bay of Pigs veterans. The group endorsed Trump during the election because he promised them a “better deal.”
The diplomatic relations restored in 2015 by the Obama administration, including the reopening of embassies, will remain. Money sent to the island by Cuban Americans will also be unaffected, but U.S. citizens won’t be able to spend money in hotels or restaurants tied to GAESA.
Trump reportedly plans to cite human rights violations on the island as justification for the partial changes. His aides contend that Obama’s rapprochement has done nothing to advance the political freedoms of Cuban citizens. Dissidents report that government repression has actually increased since 2015.
“The Cuban people have long suffered under a Communist regime that suppresses their legitimate aspirations for freedom and prosperity and fails to respect the essential human dignity of all Cubans,” the directive reportedly says.
Under the revised travel policy, Americans traveling to Cuba will be more rigorously policed to ensure their visit fits under the 12 authorized categories laid down by the Obama administration. “People to people” educational trips will no longer be allowed because they are “ripe for abuse” by travelers looking for beach vacations, a White House official reportedly said.
The changes are not a full reversal of Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy, but they reflect the hard line espoused by Cuban-American members of Congress who derided the former administration’s changes as a capitulation. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who played a key role in pushing for the Trump administration for the changes, will be present for Trump’s speech along with Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
“If we’re going to have more economic engagement with Cuba, it will be with the Cuban people,” Rubio told Miami Herald. The senator believes that the new policy will force the Cuban government to ease its grip on the island’s economy as a new generation of leaders prepare to take over.
“All the pressure comes from American business interests that go to Cuba, see the opportunities and then come back here and lobby us to lift the embargo,” Rubio said. “I’m trying to reverse the dynamic: I’m trying to create a Cuban business sector that now goes to the Cuban government and pressures them to create changes. I’m also trying to create a burgeoning business class independent of the government.”