Stopping short of a complete turnabout, President Donald Trump is expected today to announce a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of US cash to the country’s military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations and allowing US airlines and cruise ships to continue service to the island. In a speech today at a Miami theater associated with Cuban exiles, Trump will cast the policy moves as fulfillment of a promise he made during last year’s presidential campaign to reverse then-President Barack Obama’s diplomatic re- engagement with the island after decades of estrangement. Senior White House officials who briefed reporters yesterday on the coming announcement said Obama’s overtures had enriched Cuba’s military while repression increased on the island.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the policy before Trump announces it, despite the president’s regular criticism of the use of anonymous sources. The moves to be announced by Trump are only a partial reversal of Obama’s policies, however. And they will saddle the US government with the complicated task of policing US travel to Cuba to make sure there are no transactions with the military-linked conglomerate that runs much of the Cuban economy.
By restricting individual US travel to Cuba, the new policy also risks cutting off a major source of income for Cuba’s private business sector, which the policy is meant to support. Under the expected changes, the US will ban American financial transactions with the dozens of enterprises run by the military-linked corporation GAESA, which operates dozens of hotels, tour buses, restaurants and other facilities. Most US travelers to Cuba will again be required to visit the island as part of organized tour groups run by American companies.
The rules also require a daylong schedule of activities designed to expose the travelers to ordinary Cubans. But because Cuban rules requires tour groups to have government guides and use state-run tour buses, the requirement has given the Cuban government near-total control of travelers’ itineraries and funneled much of their spending to state enterprises. Obama eliminated the tour requirement, allowing tens of thousands of Americans to book solo trips and spend their money with individual bed-and-breakfast owners, restaurants and taxi drivers.
The US Embassy in Havana, which reopened in August 2015, will remain as a full-fledged diplomatic outpost. Trump isn’t overturning Obama’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed most Cuban migrants who made it onto US soil to stay and eventually become legal permanent residents. Also not expected are any changes to US regulations governing what items Americans can bring back from Cuba, including the rum and cigars produced by state-run enterprises.