MIAMI — President Donald Trump on Friday announced plans to tighten restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and clamp down on U.S. business dealings with the island’s military, rolling back parts of former President Barack Obama’s open door to Havana after five decades of silence with the island nation.
“Effective immediately, I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said in a speech from the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.
Surrounded by Castro exiles, Trump signed a presidential directive to reverse parts of the 2014 breakthrough deal that loosened restrictions between the two former Cold War foes, demanding that Cuba improve its dysfunctional political and human rights record before future progress can be made.
“We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are free, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized and free, and internationally supervised elections are scheduled,” Trump demanded.
Furthermore, he said the Obama deal has done little to improve diplomatic relations or the lives of those still living under Communist control.
“They made a deal with a government that spread violence and instability in the region … they fought for everything and we just didn’t fight hard enough, but now, those days are over,” Trump said Friday.
“We now hold the cards. The previous administration’s easing of restrictions of travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime.
“The president, who promised to be tough on Havana during the presidential campaign, outlined stricter enforcement of a longtime ban on Americans going to Cuba as tourists and will seek to prevent U.S. dollars from being used to fund what he sees as a repressive military-dominated government.
The new policy will ban most U.S. business transactions with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a sprawling conglomerate involved in all sectors of the Cuban economy.
However, Trump avoided turning back the clock completely, leaving intact many steps toward normalization. For one, embassies will remain open to continue diplomatic relations reignited after years of hostility.
Likewise, Trump will not cut off recently resumed direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights, but will impose additional restrictions for personal travel to the island 90 miles south of Key West.
Under the revised travel policy, U.S. officials say there will be tighter enforcement to make sure Americans legally fit the 12 authorized categories they claim to be traveling under, which could spook many visitors, wary of receiving a hefty fine.While tourism to Cuba is banned by U.S. law, the Obama administration had been allowing people to travel to Cuba as part of “people to people” educational trips for visitors, a popular classification that a White House official said was “ripe for abuse” by those looking for beach vacations.
Trump’s new policy will eliminate such self-certified visits by individuals while still allowing them to be done as group tours, and also retaining some individual travel under other authorized categories such as religious, artistic and journalistic activities, officials said.T
he administration, according to one White House official, also does not intend to “disrupt” existing business ventures such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by Marriott International, to manage a Havana hotel. Nor are there plans to reinstate limits that Obama lifted on the amount of the island’s coveted rum and cigars that Americans can bring home for personal use.
In a statement read out on the evening news on Friday, the Cuban government reiterated its willingness to “continue the respectful dialog and cooperation on matters of mutual interest” with the United States.
In a statement read out on the evening news Friday, the Cuban Communist government said Trump was resorting to “coercive methods of the past” that hurt the Cuban people and prevented economic development but would not weaken the revolution.
“The Cuban government denounces the new measures hardening the blockade that are destined to fail … and that will not achieve their aim of weakening the revolution,” Havana said.
Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick from Reuters News Service contributed to this article.