The Trump administration is imposing new travel and commerce restrictions on Cuba aimed at limiting Americans from doing business with entities connected to Havana’s military, intelligence and security services.
The new regulations, which President Donald Trump ordered in a June memorandum, tighten many restrictions on personal travel and trade that were loosened after negotiations between former President Barack Obama’s administration and the Castro regime.
Effective Thursday, Americans who want to travel to Cuba will have to go with an organized tour group run by a U.S. company, and a representative of the company must accompany the travelers. Individual travel for a personal nature — what the administration calls “people-to-people, nonacademic” travel — is no longer permitted, senior administration officials said Wednesday.
American travelers will also be prohibited from dealing with at least 180 Cuban businesses deemed to have links to the Cuban security apparatus. The banned businesses — posted Wednesday on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List — include mostly government-linked holding companies and subsidiaries, but also dozens hotels and shops across the island.
Business agreements and “people-to-people” travel arrangements made before Trump announced his new Cuba policy in June were excepted from the new rules.
The changes come amid a period of heightened diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Cuba over unsolved “sonic attacks” that have injured at least 24 U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed in Havana. Even before the attacks were revealed, the Trump administration had sought to reverse much of the previous administration’s rapprochement with Cuba.
The revised polices are intended to hold the Castro regime accountable for suppression of democratic rights and “empower the Cuban people” to achieve economic and political liberty, according to an administration official who spoke to reporters on background.
Groups that advocate for greater engagement with Cuba were dismayed by the administration’s announcement, arguing that the new rules would only serve to harm the island’s burgeoning private sector economy. Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, called the policy “out of touch” with both Cuban and American interests.
“U.S. backtracking on Cuba could not come at a worse time,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “Restrictions on trade and travel are hammering Cuba’s private sector, which has grown through interaction with U.S. travelers and U.S. companies, and put the U.S. on the sidelines, politically and economically, at a time of transition in Cuba.”
Not all of the administration’s new Cuba regulations put up barriers to trade. The Commerce Department will simplify and expand a license that allows American companies to export certain consumer products to Cuba without asking for special permission from the U.S. government, officials said.
The tighter restrictions are not expected to have a significant impact on American travel to Cuba, which has surged in recent years. American tourists typically stay at hotels not included on the Cuba Restricted List, and U.S.-based flights and cruises are exempted from the regulations.
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