Last Wednesday, the Trump administration announced new restrictions on American travel and trade with Cuba, finally implementing the changes promised months ago when President Trump said that he would reverse Obama-era policies that were meant to improve the relationship between the US and Cuba.
The announcement by the White House comes after diplomatic relations between the two nations have hit a low point in the wake of the United States’ decision to withdraw a majority of its diplomats from Cuba and expel Cuban diplomats from the US in turn.
The attacks this year on US diplomats working in Cuba certainly have not helped matters much, but the attacks do not seem to have a relationship with the recent policy announcement by the White House. President Trump made the announcement that he would reverse diplomatic Obama-era policies towards Cuba back in June of this year, well before the mysterious attacks on US diplomats in Havana entered political discussion.
Regardless of the motivation, the promised policy reversals will take effect this Thursday. According to an anonymous senior administration official, the new rules “are intended to steer economic activities away from the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services,” and also to “encourage the government to move toward greater economic freedom” for the Cuban people.
Many of the new policies take aim at Cuba’s tourism industry. In accordance with the new policies, most individual visits to Cuba will no longer be allowed. US citizens wanting to visit the island will again have to travel as part of groups specifically licensed by the Treasury Department and accompanied by a group representative. Also, it will be illegal for Americans to stay at certain hotels and spend money at certain restaurants, stores, and other establishments that the State Department has identified as being owned by or benefiting members of the Cuban government.
Commercial relations are also in the crosshairs, with restrictions similar to those for tourism. Exchanges with a list of ~180 entities on the State Department’s list will be forbidden. However, US-owned businesses who signed contracts before publication of the new policies will be allowed to proceed with those exchanges, which would include Caterpillar, a recent planned addition to Cuba’s Mariel Special Economic Development Zone.
The 2015 regulations put forth by Obama were widely popular with US businesses, but President Trump has implied that his policies are in the best interests for both American and Cuban citizens. In his speech this past June he said that “our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America. We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.”
Under the new regulations, US airlines and cruise ships will continue to operate in Cuba. Despite the fact that trade did not expand as much as expected under the more open Obama-era policies, US companies have continued to seek contracts in Cuba, though now the future is a but more uncertain for those looking to expand into the Cuban market.