Yahoo Finance: How Trump's new Cuba policy will impact US travelers

Yahoo Finance

President Donald Trump, on June 16, announced he would reverse some of the steps President Obama made to normalize relations with Cuba.

During his speech in Little Havana, Miami, Trump criticized the previous administration, and promised to cancel the “one-sided deal” he claimed only enriched the oppressive Cuban regime.

“The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry,” he said. “The outcome of the last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement.”

Critics of Trump’s decision believe the opposite is true. According to James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a bipartisan nonprofit focused on ending trade restrictions to Cuba, the new policies will actually hurt the Cuban people.

“It takes money out of the pocket of Cubans in the private sector and puts it in the hands of the Cuban regime,” Williams told MarketWatch.

This political back and forth will likely have a big impact on US tourism to Cuba, which got a bump after Obama eased travel restrictions between the two countries in 2016. Airbnb says that Cuba was its ninth largest market for Americans traveling abroad in 2016, and tour companies, hotels and airlines have all invested time and money into making Cuba an attractive destination for US travelers.

Here’s what you need to know about booking a trip to Cuba in the Trump era.

Can Americans still go to Cuba?

Yes, but it’s going to be more difficult. Trump’s new policy will enforce the ban on tourism that many hoped would be lifted. While Obama’s policies loosened restrictions, it never technically removed the ban. Currently, there are 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, including visiting family, journalistic activity, religious activity or educational activity. These categories are very specific, so a lot of travelers chose the educational route because they can classify their trip as a “people-to-people” visit, which is intended to increase international understanding by interacting with people in different countries. As long as travelers sought out a “meaningful interaction with locals, Americans could plan their own itineraries and visit Cuba under the Obama administration.

Trump will remove the “people-to-people” visits, so those who want to tour Cuba will have to find another reason. Under Obama, travelers could choose one of the 12 categories, and no one really questioned their self-declaration. Under Trump this process will be more closely monitored, and travelers will be audited regularly to make sure the rules are being followed.

What if you already booked  a trip?

Don’t change a thing if you have a trip planned under the “people-to-people” category. The changes will not take effect until the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issues new regulations, so you can continue with your itinerary if you’ve already completed at least one travel-related transaction (like booking a flight) before Trump’s announcement on June 16.

Tourists walk in Havana, CubaView photos
In this May 24, 2015 file photo, US tourists walks outside the Bodeguita del Medio Bar in Old Havana, Cuba.
Do you still have time to book a trip?

Technically, but you’ll have to move fast. Trump is eager to get the policies enacted, and has asked the Commerce and Treasury departments to approve them within 30 days. Even so, it can take months to get the new rules finalized; in fact, it took Obama four months to enact his Cuba policies. So there might be a small window in the next couple of weeks, but it won’t last long.

Legal ways to visit

While individual people-to-people travel will be retracted, group trips are still permissible as long as they are with an approved organization. These organizations include a full-time schedule of educational activities “intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”

Florida Courier: Trump turns his back on a future with Cuba

Florida Courier

In his perverse fixation on overturning all things Barack Obama, President Donald Trump now turns his attention to Cuba, the island located 90 miles off our shore.

The president traveled to Florida to announce that he will reverse Obama’s opening to Cuba, reinstate restrictions on the right of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, and curtail business opportunities that Obama opened by executive order.

Makes no sense
This is, in a word, ridiculous. The United States maintained an economic embargo on Cuba for more than 50 years. It plotted repeatedly to assassinate Fidel Castro and to overthrow his regime.

It painted Cuba as a terrorist nation for its support of Nelson Mandela in the fight against apartheid.

For more than five decades, a succession of U.S. presidents – cowed by the right-wing Cuban community in Florida – enforced an economic embargo even though the policy increasingly isolated the US from its neighbors in the hemisphere and its allies across the world. When Obama finally went forward with a limited opening, he was doing more to end the isolation of the US than of Cuba.

Now Castro, the leader of Cuba’s revolution, is dead. His brother Raul has announced he will leave office next year. The Soviet Union is no more; the Cold War is over. A new generation is coming to power in Cuba and a new generation of Cuban-Americans is rising in Florida. Most Americans and Cuban-Americans support free travel to Cubans.

So why would Trump want to revive the failed policies of the past? The reasons range from the petty to the perverse.

Clear hatred
Trump’s hatred of Obama is apparent. From Obamacare to climate policy to Cuba, he seems intent on overturning whatever Obama did – no matter how great the cost to the American people.

In the campaign, Trump pledged in Florida to overturn Obama’s opening. Right-wing Cuban-American legislators – Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida – have lobbied Trump hard to revive the travel ban and embargo.

According to the New York Times, Diaz-Balart exacted a promise from Trump as a price for his vote in favor of Trumpcare. He signed off on depriving 23 million Americans of healthcare coverage to tighten the screws on Cuba.

Showing results
Obama’s policy of engagement, however halting, has already shown results.

Engage Cuba, a U.S. business lobby group, published an economic impact analysis on the costs of reversing Obama’s policy. It put the cost at as much as $3.5 billion in lost revenues and 10,000 jobs lost in the travel industry over the next four years. Commercial contracts that will create $1.1 billion worth of US exports to Cuba in the next five years would be broken, costing more than 1,000 jobs a year.

Once more, the right of Americans to travel would be sacrificed – in the name of what? Petulance? Perversity? Undying hatred?

The Trump administration has made it clear that in its “America First” foreign policy, America’s economic and security concerns will not be sacrificed in the name of human rights. But it rationalizes its reversion in Cuba on the grounds of defending human rights and spreading democracy.

This is at best what former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes called a “tragic irony,” given the Trump administration’s “complete lack of concern for human rights around the world.”

More impact
Surely after more than five decades, we have learned that Cubans – proud of their revolution and their independence – will resist economic or military coercion. One would think that Trump, who trumpets his business background, would understand that open relations with Cuba – trade, travel, human and cultural exchange – will have far more impact in generating pressure for change than a reversion to the failed embargo.

Under Castro, Cuban education and health care became the envy of Latin America. An educated generation now rises to power yearning for more. The US should engage them, not seek to isolate them.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is president and CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

HuffPost: The Contradictions of Trump’s Announced Cuba Policy: An interview with Arnold August

Huffington Post

Shortly after visiting the repressive, sexist, homophobic and pro-Jihadi state of Saudi Arabia where he inked a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis, Trump turned his attentions to the island nation of Cuba. Specifically, Trump announced a planned roll-back of Obama’s policies of rapprochement with Cuba – a country which is light years ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms of both its domestic and international relations, and which is indeed a great hope for the poor of 70 nations who benefit from its medical solidarity.

As explained to me by Arnold August — a Canadian journalist and author of 3 books on Cuba, including his latest work, Cuba-U.S. Relations: Obama and Beyond —Trump’s announced policy is so ridden with both internal contradictions, as well as contradictions with some very powerful political and economic interests in the U.S. that it may very well crumble under the weight of these contradictions before it is ever put into place. And that is good news for those of us who welcome an even more open relationship with Cuba and an end to the over 50-year blockade of that nation.

DK: Arnold, can you explain where we are at on Trump’s new Cuba policy?

AA: Trump’s policy is not yet set in stone. According to the June 16 White House Fact Sheet on Cuba Policy, the Treasury and Commerce Departments will begin the process of issuing new regulations only in 30 days. His policies cannot take effect until the new regulations are established, a process that, according to the Fact Sheet, “may take several months.” A lot can happen within this time frame.

In order to evaluate the current situation, we need to backtrack. Trump had a lot on his domestic and international agenda in the first 100 days and could not deal with Cuba. This country was and is very controversial. There are contradictions within his own party. A large number of Republican members of Congress, politicians at the state and municipal levels as well as Republican voters support the Obama policy and even want to go further in opening trade and travel. This has been and still is a formidable obstacle for Trump.

Thus, it was only last month, on May 3 (six months into his mandate), that he convened a special meeting on Cuba at the White House, including his top officials, Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart whom initially favored breaking diplomatic relations with Cuba and shutting down the U.S. Embassy in Havana. In this meeting, it was clear that the upper-level civil servants at Homeland Security and the State Department wanted to continue the Obama policy. In fact, State Department Secretary Rex Tillerson, during his January 2017 Congressional confirmation hearing, was quite ambiguous with regard to any major change to the Obama policy. In another hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, just last June 13, Tillerson was likewise obscure regarding a major rollback in Cuba policy. According to some American press sources, Tillerson has privately expressed support for the Obama policy. . . .

Secretary of State Tillerson may not be the only one in the Trump Cabinet who seems to be in at least partial contradiction with the new policy. As recently as May 17, 2017, after the May 3 White House meeting, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue pledged his support for expanding agricultural trade with Cuba at a House Agricultural Committee hearing. Secretary Perdue has long been a supporter of expanding agricultural trade to Cuba, having expressed his support at his Senate confirmation hearing as well as during his time as Governor of Georgia following a trade delegation trip to Cuba. This is just part of a larger picture whereby Midwestern farm states that voted for Trump also want to seek out the Cuban market for their exports.

DK: Can you tell me about some of the economic contradictions of Trump’s about-face on Cuba policy?

AA: Rubio, in promoting the Trump policy, gave the example that they are trying to enforce the patronization of privately owned bed-and-breakfast establishments rather than state-run hotels. However, if, in a few months’ time, the Trump policy is allowed to complicate travel to Cuba, how will these potential B&B customers get there? In addition, the powerful accommodations-networking firm, Airbnb, is not expected to take this lying down, nor are the major U.S. airlines companies or the giant online travel company Expedia, which just concluded a deal with Cuban hotels.

With regard to the new Trump policy of outlawing stays at hotels owned by the Cuban Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA, Spanish acronym), what will the drafters of the new rules do over the next several months? Hotel giant Starwood recently opened a Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Havana in collaboration with Gaviota, one of the Army’s main tourist companies. (The Four Points Hotel is 49% Hyatt-owned and 51% Gaviota-owned.) If the eventual new rules effectively annul this deal, Robert Muse, one of the most important American lawyers dealing with the blockade, contends they will be in contravention of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It stipulates that no one can be deprived of property without compensation. Perhaps Trump is seeing the writing on the wall, as it seems that he is not going to interfere in this transaction. Even if the hotel is allowed to continue operating as it does now, Trump will be faced with the ridiculous spectacle of Americans being barred from staying at the only American hotel in Cuba!

DK: Is there a chance of derailing Trump’s attempt to roll back Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba?

AA: As soon as the Trump speech was over, Engage Cuba, the main coalition against the blockade with the backing of bipartisan political and business support across the nation, issued a statement. It concluded, “Today was the speech. Tomorrow we get back to work.” This is the main message of my words today, as a very initial reaction to Trump policy. The forces in the U.S. – from business to the travel industry, and from scholars/educators, community and politicians to the grass roots – still have several months to strive to influence the situation in favor of more open travel and trade with the goal to lift the blockade altogether. It can be carried out by taking advantage of the contradictions within the Trump Administration and his entire party, and be inspired by the across-the-board majority American opposition to the blockade. This is supported by peoples around the world who support Cuba’s right to self-determination and sovereignty. They strongly oppose the U.S. attempt to interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs to force it to “change” in conformity with U.S. desires.

Tampa Bay Times: Poll: Trump's Cuba policy has some support but less popular than Obama's

Tampa Bay Times

President Donald Trump's Cuba policy is less popular than the opening created by President Barack Obama, a new Florida poll shows.

"Overall, 47 percent of Floridians support Obama’s Cuba policy, while Trump’s policy changes announced on June 16 in Miami garnered 34 percent support. However, Trump’s policy changes did receive a plurality of support," reads a release from Florida Atlantic University.

"The Trump administration’s plans to prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses owned by the military and intelligence services won support form 43 percent of respondents, while 25 percent opposed and 33 percent said they were not sure."

More from the online poll:

-- Trump’s new restriction to only allow Americans to visit Cuba as part of a tour group received 44 percent support, while 32 percent opposed and 24 percent were not sure. His decision to retain an American embassy in Havana was most popular, with 61 percent supporting, 13 percent opposing and 15 percent not sure.

-- While showing support for Trump’s announced changes, Floridians were pessimistic the new policies will improve life for the Cuban people. Only 21 percent said the new policies would make life better for Cubans, while 36 percent said they would make life worse, and 43 percent expect no difference.

“Despite support from Floridians for President Trump’s Cuba policies, they are pessimistic that they will improve the life of the Cuban people,” said Monica Escaleras, director of the Business and Economics Polling Initiative.

Engage Cuba, a Washington interest group, seized on the results. "President Trump's Cuba policy isn't about Florida politics, it's about two influential Florida politicians," the group said in a statement. 

Worrisome for Trump is his sliding approval rating in Florida, down six percentage points from a poll in March.

His disapproval rating is at 38 percent (but remains strong among Republicans at 78 percent.)

The online poll included 500 Florida residents and has a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points.

HuffPost: Trump Takes Aim at Obama’s Détente With Cuba

Huffington Post

Making good on his deal with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Florida), President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to roll back some of the steps Barack Obama took to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba.

In 2015, Obama weakened restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and eliminated some of the economic prohibitions between the two countries. He removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and loosened the export of U.S. internet hardware and telecommunications. He also set up increased cooperation in intelligence-gathering, drug interdiction, scientific research and environmental protection.

Obama made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. Nearly everyone can now visit Cuba without applying for a specific license. U.S. airlines can fly there directly with cheaper fares; only general licenses are required for most travel to Cuba.

In his presidential policy guidance on Cuba, Trump reinstituted some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and U.S. business relations with the island. He did not touch Obama’s loosened limits on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba, however, because that would anger a significant voter base in Florida.

Trump also left in place the U.S. embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC, that Obama established. And Trump did not end direct flights to Cuba by U.S. airlines.

Trump’s Restrictions Will Hurt Americans and Cubans Alike

On June 1, Engage Cuba released a report concluding that a reversal of Obama’s Cuba policies could cost the U.S. economy $6.6 billion and affect nearly 13,000 jobs during Trump’s first term. Obama’s 2015 policies have led to significant economic growth and job creation throughout Cuba. So much for the dealmaker-in-chief’s commitment to creating jobs.

René Esquivel, who sang with the Buena Vista Social Club, is a bellhop at the Havana Libre hotel. Esquivel told me he couldn’t believe Trump would jeopardize the U.S. economy to the tune of $6 billion.

Darian Hernandez Rojas, a Cuban law student at the University of Artemisa, concurs. “I thought that since Trump is a businessman, he would not step back from the progress of the Obama administration, that he would seize the Cuban market.” In an interview, he added, “The initiative that Obama and [Cuban president] Raul Castro took on December 17, 2014, was a breakthrough. But to make a deep transformation, two years is not enough time. The new hotels and stores are not meant for the Cuban people; they are meant for tourists. But it helps the economy and that should help the Cuban people to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Cuban law professor Gabriela Torres Romulo, who teaches at University of Holguín, informed me that increased currency from tourism helps Cubans because there is more money in the country for social programs, such as education, health, culture, sports and scientific research.

Cubans who run private restaurants called “paladares” and Airbnbs will be hurt by Trump’s crackdown. “In short, many Cubans believe that the Trump administration’s new policy will hurt those it is ostensibly meant to help: the average Cuban who has struggled under the weight of a battered economy for decades,” according to the New York Times.

“Since 2015, American companies have undertaken significant efforts in identifying opportunities and cultivating appropriate connections in Cuba. Many are now well positioned to take advantage of continued relaxations in restrictions and further market openings,” according to Louis A. Dejoie, chairman of the International Law Practice Group at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC. “To reverse course at this point would only benefit our foreign competitors, none of whom are under the same restraints. If the Trump Administration truly wants to put Americans first, the choice seems clear.”

When I informed Alejandro, a 26-six-year-old Cuban taxi driver, about Trump’s changes, he said, “Things got better for Cuba; now they will get worse.”

Last year, the U.S. and Cuba signed a bilateral agreement to respond to oil spills and hazardous pollution in the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Since Obama’s détente with Cuban President Raul Castro, U.S. airlines, hotel chains and cruise ship lines have started doing business in Cuba. Agricultural producers in Kansas and Louisiana have exported tons of goods to Cuba. And Cuban people have obtained access to the internet.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, 75 percent of people in the U.S. support the policies Obama instituted. Those changes have created jobs and income for the U.S. economy. Last year, more than 60,000 Americans visited Cuba, an increase of 34 percent over 2015. U.S. airlines and cruise lines now travel directly to Cuban cities. “Airbnb also now lists hundreds of privately owned houses where open-minded Americans can stay and interact with locals, and last week it said its connections have helped place $40 million in the pockets of Cuban owners of private bed-and-breakfasts,” Christopher Sabatini wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Since 2015, individual Americans have been able design their own trips under “people-to-people” educational exchanges that no longer need to be organized by a U.S. organization. Under Trump’s new rules, Americans must qualify under one of 12 permitted travel categories. The Trump administration will also tighten enforcement of travel under the authorized categories.

These categories include professional research or attendance at professional meetings relating to the traveler’s profession, professional background or area of expertise; educational, religious, humanitarian, journalistic, athletic or artistic activities; visiting a relative in Cuba; support for the Cuban people; business visits for exchanges of information, telecommunications and Internet hardware and software, and exportation of agricultural products and building materials; foundations, research or educational institutions interested in international relations collecting information about Cuba; and official U.S. government business, including visits to Cuba by foreign diplomatic staff residing in the United States.

Trump’s order prohibits American travelers and businesses from participating in financial transactions with entities owned or largely controlled by the Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (GAESA), a holding company run by the Cuban military, which poses no threat to U.S. security. Now Americans will be barred from spending money in state-run hotels or restaurants connected with GAESA.

“This is a new way to enforce the old embargo,” John S. Kavulich, president of US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, told Politico. He says about 60 percent of the Cuban economy and 80 percent of Cuba’s tourism economy are controlled by GAESA.

The new rules will not apply to travelers who have booked trips or to business deals already concluded with the military. But Americans will be barred from staying at new properties such as the Gran Hotel Manzana, which is managed by Kempinski Hotels but owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military-run company.

Trump wrote that his policy “will be guided by key U.S. national and security interests and solidarity with the Cuban people.” His changes, however, have nothing to do with national security and will only hurt the Cuban people.

“We must ensure that U.S. funds are not channeled to a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society,” Trump’s directive says.

Trump’s Human Rights Hypocrisy

Trump’s rollbacks of Obama’s policies are ostensibly aimed at improving human rights in Cuba, which is curious in light of Trump’s treatment of “human rights considerations as an impediment to trade and partnerships that create jobs in the United States,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis wrote in the New York Times.

Indeed, “given [the Trump administration’s] complete lack of concern for human rights around the world, it would be a tragic irony if [they use] that to justify policies that harm the Cuban people and restrict the freedom of Americans to travel and do business where they please,” Benjamin Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to Obama who negotiated the 2014 deal with Raul Castro, told the Times.

For example, Trump is enamored of Saudi Arabia. Critics of the Saudi government and clerics have been tortured, beheaded, crucified and lashed. Even lawyers who question government policy are imprisoned. In spite of its egregious human rights violations, Trump sold a record $110 billion in arms to the monarchy.

The Cuban government reacted to Trump’s new policy by citing the U.S. double standard on human rights, stating, “The U.S. is in no condition to lecture us.” They called out the U.S. for its police killings of African-Americans, 23 million people without health insurance, pay inequity, marginalization of immigrants and refugees, torture at Guantánamo, and extrajudicial executions and killing of civilians with drones.

In fact, Cuba has surpassed the United States in its guarantee of economic, social and cultural rights, which constitutes a category of human rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Cubans enjoy universal health care, free education, equal pay rates and paid maternity leave.

Unlike in the United States, health care is considered a human right in Cuba. Universal health care is free to all. Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors to patients in the world at 6.7 per 1,000 people. The 2014 infant mortality rate was 4.2 per 1,000 live births ― one of the lowest in the world.

In Cuba, free education is a universal right up to and including higher education. Cuban law guarantees the right to voluntarily form and join trade unions. Unions have the right to stop work they consider dangerous and the right to participate in company management. Women make up the majority of Cuban judges, attorneys, lawyers, scientists, technical workers, public health workers and professionals.

As of 2018, the date of the next general election in Cuba, there will be a limit of no more than two five-year terms for all senior elected positions, including the president. Anyone can be nominated to be a candidate.

Trump and Rubio: The Quid Pro Quo

But Trump’s cutbacks really constitute a thank you to some Cuban-American lawmakers for their support of his policies, including repealing Obamacare and shielding the president from consequences for his malfeasance.

Notably, Rubio’s questioning of former FBI director James Comey during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was designed to undercut Comey’s testimony that implicated Trump in wrongdoing. “I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy,” Rubio declared after the hearing. Trump’s rollbacks of some of Obama’s Cuba policies were developed during several meetings between the president and Rubio.

In addition, Trump thinks the Cuban-American vote in Florida was key to his election victory, although many have disputed its significance. In 2015, Trump had supported Obama’s overtures to Cuba, telling The Daily Caller, “I think it’s fine. I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba ― 50 years is enough ― the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.”

The 57-Year-Old U.S. Economic Blockade of Cuba Remains

Obama was unable to lift the longstanding U.S. economic blockade of Cuba because Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, which codified the blockade so that only Congress could revoke it. Díaz-Balart’s brother, Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, was instrumental in securing Bill Clinton’s signature on the Act.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba, now a blockade, was initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Cold War in response to a 1960 memo written by a senior State Department official. The memo proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Castro] government.” That purpose was never realized.

Nevertheless, USA Today reports, “Supporters of Trump’s changes said they are designed to hurt Cuba’s communist government economically, and encourage people to rise up against the regime that has been in power since 1959.” Don’t hold your breath.

The U.S. blockade has hurt the Cuban people. They are unable to obtain equipment to test pregnant women for birth defects and medicines for children with liver disease. Cubans are also denied access to life-saving medical equipment, such as kidney dialysis machines, and antibiotics.

And Cubans have trouble getting new software. Liober Rodrigues Guerra, a 29-year-old educational video games designer, told Resumen Latinoamericano, “it is difficult to keep updated with the latest software we need for work. When we try to download these updates, our access is denied with a message that says it is not available because we come from, ‘a region under an embargo.’”

Moreover, the blockade also hurts people in the US. Cuba has developed pioneering medicines to treat and prevent lung cancer and diabetic amputations. Because of the blockade, however, we in the United States cannot take advantage of them.

Esquivel joked that when Obama was president, he used to call Esquivel every day and tell him to “take care of my people.” But when Trump became president, Esquivel quipped, Trump called him every day and told him to be on the lookout for Americans who come to Cuba against the blockade, gather their particulars, and send them to Trump so he could arrest them. Trump has no feeling for what it means to be human, Esquivel added.

There is a long history of friendship between the Cuban and American people that neither Trump nor anyone else can destroy, according to Esquivel. He suggested that one of the most significant cultural/historical exchanges between the two peoples would be for the U.S. to help Cubans repair the vintage U.S. cars some still drive. It’s not an economic issue, Esquivel said, but would be an important cultural interchange between the two countries.

Writing in The Nation, Cuba expert Peter Kornbluh cites a recent study concluding that the U.S. travel industry stands to lose $3.5 billion and more than 10,000 jobs as a result of increased travel restrictions. Kornbluh notes:

Trump is threatening to undermine years of concerted effort ― inside and outside of government ― to establish a civil, peaceful coexistence with an island neighbor after more than a half century of intervention, embargoes, and assassination plots. At stake is a model of responsible U.S. foreign policy ― to be emulated, not repudiated.

Most people in the US, including 6 in 10 Republicans, favor expanded travel and trade with Cuba. A new Morning Consult national poll found 65 percent of U.S. voters support Obama’s Cuba policy. Sixty-four percent of Republicans support relaxed travel and trade restrictions. And 61 percent of U.S. voters favor a total end to the blockade.

A Florida International University biannual poll published in September 2016 found that 63 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, historically the center of opposition to engagement with Cuba, support lifting the blockade.

Esquivel said Cubans love Americans. But of everyone he has encountered from the United States in the course of his employment, not one supports Trump’s policies.

In order to establish complete normalization of relations, Cuba would require lifting the blockade and returning Guantánamo to Cuba. Trump’s new order is a step backward, not forward.

The future of real progress toward normalization of US-Cuba relations, which will help people in both countries, lies with Congress. Several bills have been introduced in the legislature to challenge the blockade. The Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act (S.1287) would guarantee Americans the right to travel to Cuba. The bill already has 55 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans.

Legislators respond to public pressure. Calls, letters, emails and demonstrations aimed at improving the United States’ Cuba policy can be most effective. Contact your congress members and demand that they vote to lift travel restrictions on Cuba and end the U.S. blockade.

Travel Weekly: A "sigh of relief" over new Cuba policies

Travel Weekly

Although President Trump plans to tighten some travel and trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba and clamp down on dealings with Cuba's military, which owns many of Havana's hotels and restaurants, the announcement fortunately fell short in overturning all of the Cuba policies that President Obama championed during his last two years in office.

In his speech Friday in Miami, Trump said that current tourism policies were "misguided," but the speech was short on specifics, leading to some confusion and questions.

Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, helped cleared the air.

"The travel industry, Cuban locals and U.S. travelers wanting to travel to Cuba should breathe a sigh of relief," Popper said. "Yes, he went after individual self-certified travel. We knew that would be the first thing to go, but everything else remains the same as before."

"People-to-people programs remain in place. The burden falls on each operator to be licensed to operate such programs. Usually the licenses are good for a year and have to be renewed, but most of us are familiar with how this all works."

Close to 300,000 Americans flocked to Cuba from January through May, according to figures released recently by Havana's National Statistical Bureau.

Since 2000, InsightCuba has brought more than 20,000 Americans to Cuba under people-to-people tour programs, under which travelers are part of an organized, guided tour that follows a strict itinerary of activities focused on engagement and interaction with Cubans.

These programs remained the mainstay of Insight's Cuba product even after Obama normalized relations with Cuba in December 2014 and opened the gates to individual travel last March.

Individual travelers had only to certify that they were traveling under one of 12 authorized categories of travel. Vacationing on a beach sipping daiquiris has never been permitted, but individuals were free to travel and stay where they wanted as long as they engaged in meaningful exchanges with locals.

It was pretty much the honor system, and very few individual travelers were questioned about their activities once they returned to the U.S., although they were required to retain documents and receipts for five years should they ever be audited.

Those days are over now -- or will be once the new regulations go into effect, which could be between one to three months from now. Trump's changes prohibit financial transactions with government-run Grupo de Administracion Empressarial, or Gaesa, and its affiliates, which include Gaviota, the tourism arm that operates the Four Points by Sheraton Havana, the first U.S. hotel to open in Cuba in nearly 60 years. Even Americans traveling legally to Cuba are not permitted to stay in any hotel connected to the Cuban military.

Individual travelers who have purchased at least one component of their trip, such as an air ticket to Cuba, can travel as planned until the regulations are in effect, according to guidelines issued by the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which is charged with implementing the changes announced by Trump.

Critics were quick to respond to Trump's speech, including the World Travel & Tourism Council. "The Cuban people are directly benefitting from increased business and leisure travel to Havana," said David Scowsill, president and CEO. "Travel brings income to the people who work in our industry. President Trump's statements indicate that the Cuban people, rather than the government, will be hit by this policy change."

Scowsill called the rollback to group travel a "retrograde step."

"Rolling back on individual travel means that less tourism dollars will find their way to the Cuban people."

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a national coalition of private companies, organizations and leaders dedicated to advancing legislation to lift the Cuban embargo, said, "Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of Americans have traveled to Cuba, stayed in private homes, eaten at privately-owned restaurants, taken private taxi cabs and engaged with the Cuban people. You would be hard pressed to find a Cuban living on the island who would say that U.S. engagement has not improved their lives."

Williams said that the new policy "was clearly written by people who have never been to Cuba, at least not in this century. If they had, they would find that the only thing that restricting travel will do is to devastate Cubans working in the private sector who have relied on American visitors to provide for their families."

Eddie Lubber, president of Cuba Travel Network, has operated programs to Cuba since 2002 and has seen his U.S. business expand, so much so that the firm opened a New York office in 2015.

"These new regulations will hit us directly, and we will have to alter itineraries make required adjustments," Lubber said.

"If we see a gap in our tour programs for U.S. travelers, we will update," he added. "Our U.S. growth will continue, but not at the levels we've seen recently."

Caribbean News Now: US in no position to lecture us, says Cuban government

Caribbean News Now

Following US President Donald Trump's announcement on Friday that he is reversing the Obama administration's steps to normalize relations with Cuba, the Cuban government said in a 1,400-word statement published by the Cuban News Agency that the US is in no position "to lecture us".

In a "Declaration of the Revolutionary Government", Havana said that Trump's speech in Miami announcing the rollback was "full of hostile rhetoric", adding that the newly announced policies constitute "a fall back in relations between the two countries" that have improved in the past two years.

In accordance with a national security presidential memorandum, the Trump administration will begin strictly enforcing the exemptions that allow travel between the US and Cuba and prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses owned by the military and intelligence services. 

Trump also directed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to convene a task force on expanding Internet access on the island and reiterated the United States' opposition to efforts in the United Nations to lift the Cuban embargo until more is done to honour human rights.

During his speech, Trump slammed Cuba for human rights abuses, saying, "The Castro regime has shipped arms to North Korea and fueled chaos in Venezuela. While imprisoning innocents, it has harboured cop killers, hijackers and terrorists. It has supported human trafficking, forced labour and exploitation all around the globe."

However, his critics have questioned why his administration is now singling out Cuba for its human rights record but downplaying the issue in other parts of the world.

The LA Times commented in an editorial that Trump just reopened the Cold War with Cuba. His excuse was completely disingenuous: “Trump decides to draw a line at Cuba’s human rights policies? He could at least try to make a fake excuse a little more believable."

Marselha Margerin of Amnesty International noted that Trump recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he lavished its leaders with praise and signed a huge military deal but ignored their flagrant human rights abuses.

"It's a bit hypocritical how the US government addresses human rights violations in different countries," she said.

The Cuban government also rejected those claims, saying that Trump's executive order betrays a double standard on human rights.

"The government of the United States once again has resorted to coercive methods of the past, adopting measures to reinforce the embargo in place since February 1962, which not only inflicted damage and deprivation on the Cuban people and constitutes undeniable obstacles to the development of our economy, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, promoting international condemnation," the Cuban statement said.

"The United States is not in the condition to give us lessons. We have serious concerns for the respect and guarantees of human rights in that country where there is a number of assassination cases, police brutality and abuses, in particular against the African American population; the right to life is violated as a result of the deaths by weapons; child labour is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there are threats with imposing more restrictions to health services, which will leave 23 million people without health insurance; there are wage inequality between men and women; emigrants and refugees are marginalized in particular those from Islamic nations; walls pretend to be lifted that denigrate its neighbours; and international commitments are abandoned aimed at preserving the environment and confronting climate change," the Cuban government said.

Havana also pointed to human rights violations committed by the United States in other countries, like the arbitrary detentions of dozens of prisoners in the illegally occupied territory by the US Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where torture was carried out; extrajudicial executions and civilian deaths caused by bombs and the use of drones; and wars against different countries like Iraq, sustained by lies like the possession of weapons of mass destruction, with serious consequences for peace, security and stability in the region of the Middle East.

The newly announced measures impose additional obstacles to the very restricted opportunities that the US business sector had to trade and invest in Cuba, while restricting even further the right of US citizens in visiting the island.

While the policy changes are intended to cut off cash to Cuban leader Raúl Castro’s regime, which controls about 60 percent of the island’s economy through military-run enterprises, and pressure the Cuban government to let the nascent private sector grow, supporters of Obama’s policy of rapprochement argue that tightening travel restrictions will reduce US tourism and only hurt the very small businesses Trump hopes to help.

“This policy was clearly written by people who have never been to Cuba, at least not in this century,” James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, a group that lobbies for closer Cuba ties, said in a statement. “Because if they had, they’d know that the only think that restricting travel will do is devastate Cubans working in the private sector who have relied on American visitors to provide for their families.”

The reversal in ties comes despite overwhelming support of Americans for their right to visit Cuba, and the recent reintroduction of a bill sponsored by 55 US senators promoting the freedom to travel to the Caribbean island.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 75 percent of Americans support improved links between Havana and Washington.

The Morning Consult group noted that six out of ten Republicans support the process towards the normalization of relations between the two countries.

"It's heartbreaking," said Patrick Hidalgo, a Cuban-American and former director of the White House Business Council under Obama. "We all know that Raúl Castro and the leadership in Cuba will be fine. They don't worry where they're going to get breakfast, lunch and dinner. The average Cuban does, and our policy has helped them. This change will have a very direct, negative impact on their daily lives and their morale."

CNN: Trump, America needs Cuba's Business


President Donald Trump has announced changes to our policy of expanded engagement with Cuba. These new changes are not a complete rollback, but they are a setback.

Americans agree that we need to encourage -- rather than discourage -- engagement with Cuba. Seventy-three percent of Americans want more engagement with Cuba -- not less. Why? Doing business with Cuba is good for America. It's that simple.

American business owners get it. Take the turkey growers from my home state who are hopeful that income growth among Cubans will lead to higher demand for American poultry. Or the farmers throughout the Midwest who want to export their crops to Cuba.

    There are US tech companies that want to help Cubans connect with the world, American manufacturers who want to sell their products to help upgrade the Cuban economy, and of course the US travel industry that wants an even playing field to compete with its European and Asian counterparts.

    Nationwide, American businesses export about $300 million in agricultural products to Cuba each year-- and that's just for humanitarian purposes. If the trade embargo were lifted, the US Department of Agriculture believes that number would be more than three times as much.

    But Congress has not lifted the embargo -- yet. Instead, for more than 50 years, American businesses and farmers have been hamstrung by it, unable to fully tap into a market with 11 million people just 90 miles from our shore. Let's be honest: The trade embargo with Cuba hasn't secured our interests or helped the Cuban people. Because the way to promote positive change and better human rights in Cuba is through engagement, not isolation.

    With American business shut out, other countries have moved in. In 2015, I visited the port of Mariel - a massive new port designed to handle the largest ships in the world. Brazil is financing a $1 billion project, and in return, Cuba purchased more than $800 million in goods and services from Brazilian suppliers. The computers the port uses are from China.

    It doesn't make sense that American companies are not part of this critical economic development. It's not that American businesses can't compete, it's that we've been shut out of the competition altogether.

    That's why, together with Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, I have introduced legislation -- the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act -- to lift the trade embargo once and for all and knock down the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba, boosting exports and creating jobs here at home. It keeps in place the important human rights and property claims provisions already in US law.

    Under the Obama administration, we started taking steps in the right direction. Today, traveling to Cuba is easier. American airlines have started new routes to Cuba and the first American hotel opened in Cuba last year.

    US companies can work on telecommunications infrastructure in Cuba, and in late April, Google launched its first servers to make it the first foreign company to go live in Cuba. There are fewer barriers to banking in Cuba now, and our two governments are working on issues like agricultural productivity and food security, too.

    We can and must do more. We have only scratched the surface with what's possible. But now we have a new administration that has a different outlook on US-Cuba relations, which may result in a reversal of some of this progress.

    Engage Cuba -- a nonpartisan organization representing economists, business groups, and experts -- has said that reversing the policies of the Obama Administration could cost the United States economy more than $6 billion and more than 12,000 American jobs over the next four years.

    The President is a businessman, and I hope that he can see that cutting off Cuba is a bad deal for American business. And I'd ask, why not take another step forward instead of two steps back? After all, the opportunity is there.

    The private sector accounts for nearly one third of Cuba's workforce, and there are currently over 500,000 licensed entrepreneurs. They need a good Internet connection. They need computers and office supplies. They need car parts. And if American businesses are shut out in providing these goods and services, other countries will step in.

    On top of that, more than a million Americans will travel to Cuba over the next year. They need a way to get there. They need a place to stay. They need something to eat. Again, if American businesses are shut out, these tourists will be sleeping in Spanish-owned hotels and eating food from China. That's not what we want.

    As a nation, America is at its best when we are thinking and making things and exporting to the world.

    Americans agree that we need to increase -- rather than decrease -- engagement with Cuba. During the last Congress, 25 senators, both Republicans and Democrats, supported my bill to lift the embargo. And even more expressed support for the bill behind the scenes. I really believe that if it had come to a vote on the Senate floor, it would have had a very good chance at passing.

    Rebuilding our relationship with Cuba would be a win for American business and a win for the Cuban people.

    Los Angeles Times: Better ties between the U.S. and Cuba? Miami's Cubans are divided

    Los Angeles Times

    When President Trump scaled back President Obama’s pact that broadened relations with Cuba, he said he was “completely canceling” a “terrible and misguided deal.”

    There was a time in Florida when the Cuban American community would have reacted to such an announcement with almost uniform approval.

    But a paradigm shift has occurred over the last 20 years. Younger generations of Cuban Americans have been looking for opportunities to capitalize on trade and business with Cuba. According to a 2016 poll by Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute, a majority of Cuban Americans oppose the U.S. embargo on the island and want better relations.

    Not surprisingly, Trump’s announcement, made in Miami’s Little Havana, left some cheering but many in the business community disappointed.

    Vicente Amor, vice president of ASC International USA, a Florida-based commercial travel agency specializing in executive-service trips to Cuba, said that aside from the drop in business expected from the Trump doctrine on Cuba, the president’s action signaled another issue.

    “The problem is not only the impact of the changes,” he said. When the Obama administration forged the pact to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, the work was done without input from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and what Amor called “the Miami extremists.” This time, he said, they were “at the center of the deal,” along with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. For Amor, that’s a bad development.

    Contrary to Trump’s sweeping statements, he did not completely gut the Obama administration agreement. However, it will affect a large community of entrepreneurs — both in the U.S. and in Cuba — that had been at the forefront of establishing economic ties between the two nations, according to the Washington, D.C.-based group, Engage Cuba, a coalition of pro-Cuban business companies that includes P&G, Viacom, Honeywell and Choice Hotels.

    “We are encouraged that the Trump administration wants to help Cuba’s private sector, but unfortunately, the people who will be most negatively impacted by this directive are Cuban entrepreneurs,” Madeleine Russak, spokeswoman for Engage Cuba, said Saturday.

    “The confusion that will surround this policy will undoubtedly stifle U.S. demand to travel to the island,” she said. “Additionally, by requiring Americans to travel in tour groups, the administration is not only making it more expensive for everyday Americans to travel to the island, but it pushes them away from staying in private homes, which are unable to accommodate large tour groups, and into state run hotels.”

    Albert Fox, a Cuban American from Tampa, which has a generations-old Cuban community descended from the war for independence at the turn of the last century, said that although commercial flights might continue under the new policy, Trump’s decision will hurt American and foreign businesses.

    “Overnight he’s eliminating hundreds and hundreds of people that were going there on a daily basis,” said Fox, who serves as president of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. “Do you think Southwest could cancel flights eventually for a lack of passengers?”

    On Saturday, Southwest Airlines responded to that very question.

    “Southwest is now reviewing the president’s statements made in South Florida and is assessing [the] impact any proposed changes could have on our current scheduled service to Cuba,” airline spokesman Dan Landson said by email Saturday.

    Amor, the travel industry executive, said the trade embargo is patronizing.

    “I don’t like President Trump’s policy,” he said. “It treats Cuba like a colony and fails to recognize Cuba as a sovereign nation.”

    Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to roll back Obama’s Cuban initiative, and Rubio had lobbied Trump intensely to keep that promise. Among other things, the new rules prohibit Americans from spending money on businesses controlled by the military.

    “Economic practices that benefit the Cuban military at the expense of the Cuban people will soon be coming to an end #BetterDealforCuba,” Rubio tweeted.

    But in the Cuban community, the pact drew diverse opinions from Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. On Saturday he tweeted, “Whatever the intent, new Cuba regs help Cuban Govt and hurt Cuban entrepreneurs.”

    A day earlier, he suggested on Twitter that the Senate weigh in on U.S.-Cuba ties: “There is overwhelming support in the US Senate to allow all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba. Let's vote!”

    Despite the generation shift, many in Florida’s Cuban American community resist any engagement with the Cuban communist government.

    “The Obama administration’s policy towards Cuba consisted of a slew of unconditional and unilateral concessions that placed business interests over human rights and democracy,” said Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, co-founder and spokesman for the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a Miami-based “resistance” group to the Castro government. “These unilateral concessions to the Castro regime actually emboldened them to increase their repression against the Cuban people. ... Only [the] rule of law in Cuba would guarantee American investment and protect the Cuban people.”

    Reuters: Individual travel scrapped under Trump's new Cuba policy


    U.S. President Donald Trump's rollback on his predecessor's liberalization of travel to Cuba will all but eliminate a burgeoning market for independent tourism, forcing would-be visitors into organized trips, experts said.

    That policy change could be bad news for airlines that have been helped by demand from solo travelers and families who have booked seats for ad-hoc informal "cultural exchanges" that had passed muster under former President Barack Obama's loosened rules.

    "It's going to frustrate airlines who scheduled service on the premise that travel restrictions would eventually be removed," Robert Mann, analyst at R.W. Mann & Co, said. "It was an 'if you build it they will come' kind of a philosophy."

    Now, under directives announced by Trump on Friday, independent travel to Cuba from the United States will once again be forbidden, complicating the already tricky-to-navigate industry.

    The new policy will ban most U.S. business transactions with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, a sprawling conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy, including the hotel and hospitality industry, but make some exceptions, including air and sea travel. 

    The president's directive will essentially shield U.S. airlines and cruise lines now serving the island but dim a potentially bright outlook for travel growth between the countries.

    While the industry at large is bracing for weakened demand following the policy shift, specialized travel agents could potentially see a windfall as travelers rush to book authorized organized trips to the island.

    "You can't get through to our call line. We're receiving 10 times the emails we were this morning," Tom Popper, president of travel agency InsightCuba, which organizes legal group tours of the tourism-restricted island, said on Friday.


    U.S. cruise operators and airlines could lose around $712 million in annual revenues if the Trump administration fully reinstates restrictions on travel, Washington lobby group Engage Cuba said in a recent report. (

    While Trump's new policy avoids the worst-case scenario of cancelling all commercial flights or severing diplomatic relations, it will still be a blow to a tourism sector betting on Cuba as a new high-growth market.

    "If the goal is to help Cuban entrepreneurs, adding job-killing regulations on U.S. businesses and increasing government resources to investigate everyday Americans traveling to our island neighbor is not the answer," James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said in a statement.

    Marriott International Inc on Friday urged the White House to improve relations with post-Castro Cuba and recognize tourism as a strategic tool in the effort.

    Marriott, the world's biggest hotel chain, operates the Gaviota 5th Avenue Hotel, which is owned by the Cuban military.

    The Treasury Department said on its website that travel-related commercial engagements established before new regulations from the Office of Foreign Assets Control will be permitted, which appears to exempt the Marriott venture.

    Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said airlines are reviewing the directive and "will continue to comply with all federal rules and regulations regarding travel to Cuba."

    Obama's initial opening prompted a dash to launch flights into Cuba in mid-2016. Some early entrants, including smaller carriers Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways and Spirit Airlines Inc, have pulled out.

    While larger U.S. carriers have pared back flights to smaller Cuban cities, American Airlines, Delta, United Continental, Southwest and JetBlue have requested additional flight clearances on various routes to Havana.

    Cruise operator Carnival Corp downplayed any impact from the change, saying it was "pleased" its ships could continue to sail to Cuba.

    NBC News: Trump and Cuba: Crackdown, But No Breakup

    NBC News

    Leaving the ill winds of Washington behind, President Donald J. Trump basked in the adulation of supporters in a packed Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana, the heart of the Cuban exile community in Miami, where he announced on Friday his rollback of Washington-Havana relations and a crackdown on travel and business ties to the island.

    His directive, signed with a Trumpian flourish after the speech, prohibits Americans from doing business with companies controlled by the military in Cuba, which controls much of the economy and the tourism industry. Claiming that the Obama rapprochement with Cuba had only strengthened the communist government and the military, Trump dealt a major one-two blow to Cuba’s thriving tourism industry, small businesses and entrepreneurs.

    But he didn’t go all the way to wipe out the Obama policy: Embassies in Washington and Havana will remain open; licensed people-to-people tour groups will continue to operate but under stricter rules; cruises and direct flights will continue; and Cuban-Americans will travel freely to the island.

    Reaching some Cuba experts on both sides, I heard exultation and condemnation.

    “President Obama failed both Cuban human rights advocates and the American business community when he crafted a deal that benefitted no one but Raul Castro’s thugs,” Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal commission, told me by email. “President Trump is right to restrict trade and travel with Cuba. Cuba is not yet open for business. To think otherwise is a fantasy.”

    But Emily Mendrala, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas, emailed me, “I’m in Havana now, and it’s clear to me that the Cuban people want engagement with the United States to continue. Even in the hours since my plane landed, I’ve heard as much from several people working in Cuba’s private sector – the hostess and property manager for the Airbnb I’m staying in, my taxi driver from a private taxi service – each of them depends on U.S. engagement for business, and values contacts with U.S. visitors.”

    Twelve years ago, in 2005, when I first visited Cuba on a reporting assignment, I saw little commerce in Havana. Russian-made cars rattled down broken down streets even along the famous Malecon; food was mediocre to terrible even at the Hotel Nacional, where I stayed; families lived in ruined mansions without electricity; neighborhood grocery markets were foul, their poultry and meat covered in flies, ripe vegetables spoiled. My drivers avoided political questions, and the city seemed at least half a century behind developing Caribbean and Central American countries.

    But there was, even then, an optimism that the island would prosper if it could entice Americans back. I was told this openly by high-level members of the Castro government. They were seriously putting in motion a plan for tourism development with Americans in mind. “Americans spend more money than anyone else,” one Ministry of Tourism executive said readily.

    But Jose I. Jimenez, a Cuba-born Miami businessman I’ve known for years, who came to the United States as a child on a Peter Pan flight, tells me frankly, “The Obama policy resulted in a significant increase in repression of opposition leaders. Cuba’s communist leaders mockingly repressed opposition party leaders and members to the point of almost daring the U.S. to respond. The Obama government never responded. Participation in the ridiculously limited and anemic openings to free market initiatives were always denied to the people in the opposition. Any relaxation of Cuban government restrictions on private enterprise only benefitted Castro government apologists.”

    That’s a refrain often heard in the endless debates that define so much of life in the Cuban exile community. No retort will suffice or change minds. It’s been that way for half a century, and only younger generations show inclination to consider the other side. But in the last presidential election, not enough of them voted to preserve Obama-era reconciliation. At least half of the Cuban American bloc favored Trump and won Florida for him.

    Apart from partisan politics, what’s the real impact of Trump’s policy on Cuba’s and U.S. economy and business? No question, Trump’s policy will hit U.S. businesses. Many American corporations and the US Chamber of Commerce support closer trade and economic ties to Cuba. A report released recently by Engage Cuba estimated that rolling back the Obama policy on Cuba could cost U.S. businesses and taxpayers $6.6 billion over the course of Trump’s first term in office and could affect 12,295 jobs in this country. Cuba will take a harder hit. Restrictions on American travel will damage hotel and restaurant businesses, shops, and deprive taxi drivers, waiters, hotel janitors and maids, bartenders, guides and others linked to tourism their only means of having independent income.

    Belmont Freeman, a half Cuban New York-based architect, adjunct professor at Columbia and columnist for the online journal Places, told me cutbacks on travel,“Pretty much all of the new paladares, clubs, guest houses, fleets of restored automobiles, and other private businesses that we’ve seen pop up in Havana have been the consequence of the off-island money that has flowed into Cuba since Obama lifted restrictions. If that is cut off by Trump, it will really hurt the Cuban people, so many of whom have aspirations to private enterprise. If Trump makes travel to Cuba more difficult for Americans, that will induce a slump in tourism.’’

    Trump would not reverse businesses like the airlines, cruise ship lines, hotel operators, and telecommunications companies already doing business in Cuba, Mr. Freeman said. “Indeed, the Trump Organization has already had people in Cuba scouting for hotel and golf resort sites.”

    "These measures will crush the emerging Cuban small businesses by taking away the possibilities of more economic opportunity and will further isolate the Cuban people," said Mariola Montequin, a multicultural-communications consultant in the Washington area, daughter of Cuban exiles, and graduate of Georgetown University and the University of Puerto Rico.

    All this reminds me of my most recent visit to Cuba, a year after the Obama-Castro opening. Havana seemed transformed. This time I stayed at the Parque Central, a restored colonial building, run by the Spanish hotelier Iberostar, fitted with a lush lobby, modern facilities and amenities, good service, good food, and a horde of American tourists. The lobby was perennially crowded with Americans trying to work their iPhones.

    Old Havana was a hive of activity with strollers and peddlers in leafy plazas, crowds at the museums; freshly painted yellow taxis lined up in front of hotels; sophisticated restaurants; and glorious baroque and Beaux Arts colonial-era buildings renovated and retrofitted for the 21st century. Air-conditioned tourist buses rolled up to hotels day and night; peddlers, sightseeing tour guides, and souvenir hawks smiled happily for tips, dollars the government could not take away from them. Fledging private enterprises like those were growing with the tourism industry, especially private car services, upper-class restaurants and shops, and boutique Airbns. Havana seemed an open city, a city beginning to come into its own, welcoming the world.

    Miami Herald: Trump's new Cuba policy is too much for some, not enough for others

    Miami Herald

    If President Donald Trump did one thing during his Miami trip it was stir up simmering passions about the best course for U.S. policy toward Cuba.

    Neither side in the emotional debate — those who favor a more hardline approach and those who favor the former Obama administration approach — got exactly what they wanted from Trump, although those who favor a middle ground that aims at sanctioning the Cuban military while not hampering Cuban Americans’ ability to travel and send money to relatives on the island may be most pleased.

    In the Manuel Artime Theater, which was festooned with American flags and red-white-and-blue bunting, Trump told the enthusiastic crowd he was “canceling completely” former President Barack Obama’s “one-sided deal with Cuba.”

    “The actual policy didn’t match the rhetoric in the theater,” said Christopher Sabatini, a professor at Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. “Many of the things that hardliners have denounced will seemingly remain in place.” He said he was surprised that Trump hadn’t instituted a further rollback of the Obama opening, perhaps curtailing cruises to Cuba or restricting embassy operations.

    Trump’s new Cuba policy left big chunks of the Obama policy of engagement intact, while instituting a policy designed to economically starve important Cuban military enterprises from cash they take in from American visitors and, to a lesser extent, U.S. businesses.

    The Cuba Study Group, which is made up of business executives and professionals who support engagement, took a glass half-full view of the new policy.

    “President Trump’s announcement today indicates how far the Cuba policy debate has moved, despite intense pressure from scarce Congressional hardliners. Many of the gains of normalization remain intact,” the organization said in a statement. “At best, this is a partial victory for those who hoped to reverse increased bilateral ties.”

    But instead of “half-measures” proposed by the president, the group said Trump should pursue a policy of full normalization with the island. “Restricting U.S. travel isolates Cubans from knowledge of American political, economic, and human rights norms.”

    For Everett E. Briggs, a retired U.S. ambassador, the new Trump policy didn’t go far enough.

    “I regret that he did not go further in adopting the changes to Obama’s misbegotten actions I and a number of former State Department colleagues advocated earlier this year — namely, to bring U.S. policy into line with existing U.S. law — the Cuba Democracy Act and the Cuba Liberty and Democracy Restoration Act,” he said. “Exempting Cuban ports and airports from the prohibition on dealing with Cuba is a mistake.”

    “Some will probably say this is not enough, but this is a good start,” said Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. “Today the dismantling of Obama’s outrageous orders have begun.”

    Trump’s policy retained the Obama-era’s travel opening for Americans, which allows them to visit Cuba if they fall into 12 categories of travel such as family visits, and religious, humanitarian and educational trips. It does, however, eliminate the ability for Americans to pursue individual people-to-people educational trips.

    Calzon said he would be watching closely how the new Cuba policy is implemented.” Some people, he said, use religious exchanges as disguised tourism and a pretext to go to nightclubs. One of the cornerstones of the Trump policy is to allow travel but to strictly enforce “the statutory ban on tourism.”

    New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez also called the new Cuba policy “a step in the right direction.” He said he was pleased that the president made the return of Joanne Chesimard, a fugitive from justice now living in Cuba, contingent on future engagement with Cuba. Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, is a former Black Panther who escaped from a New Jersey prison where she was serving a life sentence for murdering a state trooper.

    In Cuba, state media outlets offered live updates of Trump's speech.

    “The president continues to refer to the Cuban people and Cuban Americans, but ignores polls that indicate that 75% of Americans support the rapprochement between Havana and Washington or that the vast majority of Cubans on the island reject the policy of aggression that has marked relations between the two countries during the last decades,” stated Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

    The headline in an article posted on CubaDebate, an official Cuban website, took Trump’s speech rhetoric at face value: “Donald Trump cancels Obama’s bilateral agreement with Cuba.”

    On the streets of Miami, reaction was mixed.

    “Trump is the one who is going to take the communism out of Cuba,” said Robert Linares, a 47-year-old warehouse manager whose parents were born in Cuba.

    But across the way outside the Manuel Artime Theater, Javier Lopez Rodriguez, a Cuban-born substitute teacher who works in Miami-Dade, protested Trump’s new policy, yelling his displeasure into a megaphone.

    “It goes against the spirit of the constitution,” he said. “Maybe not the wording explicitly, but the spirit when it was signed. In Saudi Arabia, they violate more human rights than in Cuba.”

    Humberto Arguelles, president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, said Trump showed he has “great interest” in pursuing improved human rights in Cuba.

    “What Trump did is of great value because it shows that the cause of liberty in Cuba is still alive,” he said at a press conference at the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center following Trump's event.

    Although Trump said that “we will never turn our backs on the Cuban people,” some analysts said his new policy could end up stifling the small private businesses the president emphatically says he wants to support.

    “We are encouraged that the Trump administration wants to help Cuba’s private sector. Unfortunately, the people who will be most negatively impacted by this directive are Cuban entrepreneurs,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba.

    “The confusion that will surround this policy will undoubtedly stifle U.S. demand to travel to the island,” he said, and that in turn will hurt private businesses that engage with Americans.

    The prohibition on doing business with military enterprises is far-reaching in the tourism sector. The military conglomerate GAESA controls about 40 percent of hotel rooms in Cuba, the largest fleet of Chinese-made tourism buses, most government shops and restaurants in picturesque Old Havana, the HavanaAuto rental car company, gas stations, and even the ServiCentro stores where visitors might pick up a bottle of water.

    That could be the “poison pill,” of Trump’s new policy, said Pedro Freyre, a Miami lawyer who represents U.S. companies that have done business with Cuba or are trying to strike deals.

    American travelers may be so confused about what they can and can’t do and where they can stay or eat or which taxi to hail that they may decide to stay home, he said.

    Pro-engagement supporters criticized a return to sanctions and pressure to force the Cuban government’s hand. Taking a sanctions approach, they said, may backfire and won’t result in the United States getting a better deal for Americans or the Cuban people.

    “I think this reignites the confrontational dynamics between Cuba and the United States,” said Freyre. “This fuels the extremes on both sides.”

    “Reversing course on Cuba will dash the hopes of millions on the island who felt empowered after Obama’s visit. It will be rejected by two-thirds of the American public — Republicans and Democrats alike — as well as by a majority of Cuban Americans in Florida,” said Jose W. Fernandez, a New York lawyer who served as assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs in the Obama administration.

    “It goes against the advice of U.S. military experts,” he said. “And it will open the door to Russian and Chinese influence while shutting out American businesses.”

    Trump has forged his policy in the name of his preoccupation with human rights abuses and lack of religious freedom in Cuba. Although some Cuban dissidents do favor pressure tactics, international human rights organizations and some members of Congress aren’t buying the notion that less engagement and pressure are the best way to achieve that goal.

    “You can’t improve human rights by withdrawing from a relationship with Cuba,” said Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, an early Trump supporter who favors lifting the embargo.

    “He [Trump] must be listening to a very small group of voices — perhaps as few as three in Congress,” said Emmer. “Actually less than 10,” he amended.

    South Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz Balart and Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Trump on the Air Force One flight from Washington.

    “It is clear to us that there are real human rights abuses in Cuba and there have been for many years, but a policy of isolation does nothing to improve the human rights situation,” said Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America.

    “The only chance to really improve the record of the Cuban government is by dismantling the embargo as a precondition, and to have the US government, as well as European and Latin democracies exercising multilateral pressure, not in the form of a multilateral embargo, but through diplomatic pressure to expose the record of the Cuban government on human rights,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.

    Trump’s new Cuba policy also comes at a time when the administration has proposed dropping funding for Cuban democracy programs from $20 million to $0 for Fiscal 2018.

    “There is no money for Cuban democracy programs established by the Helms Burton Act,” said José “Pepe” Hernández, president of the Cuban American National Foundation and a director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba. “We need to make sure the opposition continues to be supported.”

    Money that was budgeted this year for material support of human rights and opposition activists inside Cuba also hasn’t been fully disbursed, he said, and some organizations that bid for contracts to aid activists on the island were turned down. “The money exists but not much has been put into use,” he said.

    On the surface, Trump has left most of the Obama administration’s Cuba travel policies intact. One change that’s spelled out is that individuals may no longer undertake educational trips whose purpose is to interact with the Cuban people on their own. Anyone traveling under that category must now be a part of a group.

    Sun Sentinel: Donald Trump visits Little Havana, orders change in U.S. policy toward Cuba

    Sun Sentinel

    Before a wildly enthusiastic audience in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump on Friday scaled back much of his predecessor’s policy on Cuba — taking a step back toward the kind of policies that attempted, but failed, to topple the nation’s ruling regime for more than five decades.

    After denouncing the Cuban government and praising the Cuban people, the president delivered the message his audience was primed to hear.

    “Effective immediately I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” the president declared, prompting the most enthusiastic, sustained applause of his 35-minute speech — and some cries of “Viva Trump!”

    Actually, he isn’t doing either of those things. Trump is keeping much of former President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy. And the changes aren’t going into effect immediately; the order Trump signed at a table with the presidential seal was a directive to agencies to implement rules containing the new policies, something that could take months.

    Trump unambiguously set a new tone, shifting to a more confrontational approach than Obama’s policy of engagement. Trump’s order will result in changes aimed at curbing tourist travel to Cuba and dealings with businesses owned by the Cuban military.

    The objective is to force change in the country run by Raul Castro, brother of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. “We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are free, freedom of expression is guaranteed, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally recognized elections take place.”

    Trump’s policy change is personal and powerful for Ingrid Carvajal, of Miami. She came to the U.S. on the Mariel boatlift at age 9, with little but the clothes she was wearing.

    “I am very happy with the words of President Trump,” she said outside the Manuel Artime Theater, where Trump spoke. “Cubans deserve to be free and to do with their lives what they wish, not be forced to be in a tyrannical communist country for perpetual history. So I believe this is going to help pave a path for a true freedom for all Cubans.”

    The recasting of U.S. policy toward Cuba was praised by the state’s Republican political leaders, many of whom were present for the speech. Warm-up speeches, filled with praise for Trump and criticism of Obama, came from Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami-Dade County Republican.

    Also on hand was Vice President Mike Pence, who was already in Miami for a conference on Central America, several cabinet secretaries, and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County Republican.

    “More than anything else, this change empowers the people of Cuba,” Rubio said. “America is prepared to outstretch its hand and work with the people of Cuba, but we will not, we will not empower their oppressors.”

    Diaz-Balart said the message to the Cuban people is: “President Trump stands with you.”

    Missing from Friday’s event was one of the region’s fiercest critics of the Cuban regime, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade. Ros-Lehtinen has been strongly critical of Trump on many other issues and on Friday tweeted pictures showing how she was spending the day in Washington, including a visit to the National Air and Space museum with her grandchildren.

    Demonstrating the pro-Trump leanings of the crowd, Diaz-Balart’s mention of Ros-Lehtinen, Cuban-American official U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Obama prompted boos.

    The new policy wasn’t universally applauded. Outside Florida and New Jersey, the states with large Cuban-American populations, Cold-War era policies aimed at taking down the Cuban government don’t resonate. A poll released Monday showed 65 percent of voters support maintaining the Cuba policy launched by Obama. Just 18 percent opposed that rapprochement, in a survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of Engage Cuba, an organization that favors continued — and expanded — liberalization of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

    Many business leaders and elected officials from both parties see economic benefits to the U.S. from increased trade with Cuba, and don’t see why that nation should be treated any differently from all the other countries with poor human rights records that the U.S. does business with. Others say the Cuban people benefit as well from increased tourism.

    “You would be hard pressed to find a Cuban living on the island who would say that U.S. engagement has not improved their lives,” James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said in a statement. His group wants to increase U.S.-Cuba trade and travel.

    Some human rights organizations also opposed the change. José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, said reducing interaction between the two countries would do nothing to improve the situation for the Cuban people — and would likely make it worse.

    U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., tweeted that Trump’s “Cuba policy is not about human rights or security. If it were, then why is he dancing with the Saudis and selling them weapons?”

    Trump’s policy change wasn’t a surprise. Campaigning last year in Miami, Trump courted Cuban-American voters and was endorsed by Brigade 2506, veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro.

    Announcing the action before a supportive audience — something millions more will see on television — provides a political benefit to Trump, who hasn’t been able to get his fellow Republicans in Congress to pass major legislation.

    The Cuba policy change is the kind of action he’s been taking instead, ordering changes in areas that he can do on his own, such as withdrawing from the international climate change agreement. It shows him as a president who is achieving results — and does something to please an important political constituency.

    The long-term political implications aren’t clear, even in Florida.

    Older Cuban-Americans, who fled the country decades ago, remain especially animated by the Castro regime — and largely loyal to the Republican Party. Many younger Cuban-Americans, especially those born here, aren’t as doctrinaire as their elders about U.S. policy toward Cuba.

    State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, a congressional candidate hoping to succeed the retiring Ros-Lehtinen, didn’t feel compelled to support the tightened policy toward Cuba.

    “President Trump’s Cuba policy changes do not fundamentally alter the direction of President Barack Obama’s vision of empowering the Cuban people,” he said in a written statement. “That’s because in the long run, if done right, President Obama’s policy of fostering contact between the American people and the Cuban people will lead to greater freedom on the island and human rights for its people than decades of a failed policy of isolation.”

    Jose Sanchez, a Miami attorney who visited the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana after listening to Trump’s speech on the radio, said the policy changes would “starve off the American oxygen from the Castro dictatorship.”

    Sanchez came to the U.S. from his native Cuba at the age of 17 with his family.

    Also at Versailles, Carolina Lopez was wearing a “Hispanas for Trump” shirt. “I am with him. I agree with him. It’s not a free Cuba,” said Lopez, who came to the U.S. from Cuba with her parents when she was 21 months old. “ He’s trying to make things better for the Cubans.”

    U.S. policy toward Cuba

    The biggest changes:

    Travel: Individual travel to Cuba under so-called “people-to-people” educational and cultural trips will be stopped. Those trips were largely a fig leaf for tourist visits to Cuba. Such travel will now require people to go as part of a group, with documentation about the activities taking place — which, administration officials said, aren’t supposed to include touristy activities such as spending time at the beach. And they’ll have to hold onto the documentation for five years.

    Trade: U.S. businesses will be restricted from dealings with Cuban companies that are owned by the military or state security services. That’s a major change because the military-owned Grupo de Administración Empresarial, or GAESA, controls large parts of the Cuban economy, especially in the travel and tourism industries.

    And there are some exceptions. The ban on financial dealings with military and security services, for example, won’t apply to landing fees paid by airlines and docking fees paid by cruise lines, allowing them to continue operations there.

    Obama policies that remain:

    Relations: The two countries will maintain diplomatic relations. Embassies will remain open in Havana and Washington.

    Refugees – The so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed special immigration status for Cubans who arrived in the U.S. won’t be reinstated. Under “wet foot, dry foot,” Cubans who made it to U.S. soil were granted permanent residency after a year and a day. Obama ended the policy early this year, just before he left office.

    Families: Family travel to Cuba and remittances from family members to relatives there won’t be restricted. Obama eliminated all such restrictions

    Travel industry responds

    JetBlue Airways: One of two major U.S. airlines offering commercial flights between Fort Lauderdale and several Cuban cities, JetBlue reiterated its commitment Friday to operating air service between the countries under the new rules. “We plan to operate in full compliance of the new president’s new policy,” the New York-based airline said in a statement.

    American Airlines: The airline, which flies from Miami to a handful of Cuban cities, also said it was committed to continuing Cuba service.

    Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings: The Miami-based company said in a statement it was pleased that cruises offered by its three cruise brands (Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas) would be allowed to continue. Norwegian said the trips as well as shore excursions offered in Cuba comply with Treasury Department rules. “We were very concerned about any potential changes, given how popular Cuba itineraries have proven to be with our guests.” Norwegian said 70,000 passengers had booked to sail to Cuba.

    The Hill: How Trump's Cuba policy impacts US travelers

    The Hill

    Americans may need to rethink their travel plans to Cuba in the wake of President Trump's effort to crack down on the communist regime.

    The White House announced a slew of new restrictions on Friday aimed at tightening travel and commercial ties between the U.S. and Cuba, which comes after a nearly five-month policy review of former President Obama’s historic opening with the island nation.

    Trump didn’t fully reverse the rapprochement with Cuba.  But the significant policy shift will curtail Americans’ ability to travel freely to Cuba, even as numerous U.S. airlines, hotels and travel sites like AirBnb have begun offering services there.

    Here’s how Trump’s new Cuba policy impacts U.S. visitors.

    Legal types of travel

    One of the biggest changes is what constitutes a legal form of travel to Cuba.

    Under Trump’s new restrictions, Americans will only be able to visit Cuba as part of a tour group if they want to go to the island for educational purposes.

    Obama allowed U.S. visitors to travel to the country under 12 different license categories, including for educational purposes, religious reasons, journalistic activities and family visits. There was also a general license. Tourism was still prohibited, however.

    Trump is eliminating the so-called people-to-people trips, a sub-category of education that enables Americans to design their own trips and go to Cuba on their own. That method has been one of the more popular ways that U.S. travelers have been seeing the island since Obama announced his changes.

    White House officials also said it’s the category most ripe for abuse, with Americans using it to skirt the tourism ban.

    Visitors will still be able to self-certify under a general license that they are traveling to Cuba for one of the remaining legitimate reasons. And Cuban-Americans will be able to continue to visit their family in Cuba and send them remittances, according to a fact sheet.

    But those going for educational purposes will now need to apply with the Treasury Department and go with a licensed tour group – a process than can be far more lengthy and expensive, according to anti-embargo advocates.

    “By requiring Americans to travel in tour groups, the administration is not only making it more expensive for everyday Americans to travel to the island, but pushing them away from staying in private homes – which are unable to accommodate large tour groups – and into state run hotels,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba.

    Spending restrictions

    Another major crux of Trump’s Cuba policy is prohibiting any financial transactions that benefit the Cuban military’s business arm, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA), in an effort to restrict the flow of money to the oppressive elements of Raúl Castro's regime.

    That means Americans will be largely restricted in where they can spend their money, given the Cuban government’s control of a large swath of the travel and tourist economy, including hotels, restaurants and other entities. 

    The administration hopes that the ban on financial transactions with companies linked to the Cuban military will help funnel more money towards free and private Cuban businesses.

    White House officials also noted that Americans can still bring back Cuban cigars from their trips.

    Stronger enforcement

    U.S. visitors may face more questioning from authorities when they return home from Cuba.

    Part of Trump’s policy focuses on enforcing the existing ban on tourism, which means travelers can expect to see stepped up enforcement, either from customs agents at the airport or through audits later on.

    “Our policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law,” Trump said during his speech in Miami, unveiling the new policy. “We will enforce the ban on tourism.”

    All visitors are required to maintain full schedules while in Cuba and keep detailed logs for five years  – something that has been rarely checked.

    The White House is now directing the Treasury Department to conduct regular audits of travelers and calling on the Inspector General to keep tabs on the agency's effort.

    Those who are caught violating Cuban sanctions could face civil or criminal penalties, with individual civil fines that could reach up to $65,000 per violation, according to the Treasury Department.

    Commercial flights

    Commercial flights, which resumed between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in over 50 years last summer, will be allowed to continue uninterrupted under Trump’s Cuba policy.

    Seven U.S. airlines now fly nonstop to Cuba, following an intense effort to win a direct flight route to the island last year.

    But facing lower than expected travel demand, a number of carriers have already begun to scale back their Cuba operations.

    If demand continues to decline once people-to-people trips are banned, and with tour groups more likely to book charter flights, travelers may see higher ticket prices and less commercial flight options.

    “There was already a sense that there were way too many flights. I do think you’re likely to see a fewer number of flights and higher fares,” said Stephen Propst, a partner at Hogan Lovells focusing on international trade and investment. “You may well see more of the airlines pulling out, if it’s just not worth it.”


    The Treasury and Commerce departments will now have 30 days to start drafting new rules that fulfill Trump’s directive, but “then the process takes as long as it takes,” said one senior official.

    That means that travelers who have already scheduled a trip to Cuba can still move ahead with their plans, as long as the new regulations have not taken effect yet.

    In writing new rules, the Treasury Department is expected to spell out exactly what will happen to people who book trips before the new rules, but travel after their release.

    Dallas News: What Trump's Cuba reversal means for Texas airlines and businesses

    Dallas News

    President Donald Trump reversed course on thawing U.S.-Cuba relations Friday, promising to tighten restrictions on travel and trade with the island nation. 

    During a speech in Miami, Trump criticized previous efforts by the Obama administration to liberalize relations with Cuba, which he described as a "terrible and misguided" deal with the country's communist regime. 

    "The previous administration's easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people, they only enrich the Cuban regime," Trump said. "Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and the United States of America." 

    The policy reversal will complicate efforts by Texas and U.S. businesses to build economic ties with Cuba, which had been viewed as a potentially $6 billion market for the export of goods and services. But Trump and supporters say the steps are critical to cutting off the flow of U.S. dollars to the Cuban regime and ultimately forcing progress on democratic reform.

    Trump's order signed Friday calls for the Treasury and Commerce departments to amend existing regulations or issue new ones to accomplish his priorities, meaning it will be at least several weeks before the specific details of the new policy are known. 

    Broadly, the changes will make it difficult for the average traveler to visit the island without an organized tour group.

    They will also prevent U.S. companies from doing business directly with the Grupo de Administración Empresarial, a conglomerate of dozens of companies controlled by the Cuban government with broad reach throughout the country's economy, including retail, hotels, rental cars and restaurants. 

    Cuban-Americans will still be able to visit family and send remittances to the island, according to the Trump administration.

    "Clearly, the tone has changed," said Charles Shapiro, president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and a former ambassador to Venezuela under President George W. Bush. "It's how strictly are they going to write those regulations and how strictly they're going to enforce the regulations."

    Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whose father fled Cuba as a teenager, praised Trump's actions for cutting off the flow of U.S. funds to Cuban government-backed entities. 

    "The effect of President Obama's policies had been to strengthen the Cuban government, strengthen the communist government there and to strengthen the oppressive machinery that is used to hurt the citizens of Cuba," Cruz said Friday in a visit to Arlington. "We ought to instead be using American policy to encourage real democratic reforms in Cuba."

    The shift in policy is sure to dampen optimism for Texas businesses that viewed Cuba as an appealing market for exports when the Obama administration first implemented its policy of opening travel and trade relations between the two countries in 2014. 

    The most immediate impacts will likely be felt by North Texas' American and Southwest airlines, which moved aggressively to launch service to Havana and several other Cuban cities last year. 

    While U.S. airlines have struggled to fill their planes to the island — American and others have cut frequencies, with a few even dropping out of the market — most viewed Cuba as a long-term play with the potential of becoming a top Caribbean destination. According to the Boston Consulting Group, 285,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Cuba in 2016, triple the amount from 2014.

    Tourism to the island has not been allowed for decades, with the Obama administration instead permitting 12 types of travel, ranging from academic research to religious outreach. 

    One of the most popular reasons used for visiting the island was person-to-person educational trips, which allowed individual U.S. residents to travel by themselves to the island with little restriction. 

    Trump's new policy will require those educational trips to be done as part of a formal tour group, which must document a full schedule of activities aimed at promoting "meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba," according to a fact sheet from the Treasury Department. 

    Spokesmen at American and Southwest both said the companies are reviewing the potential impacts of Trump's new policy, but declined to speculate how it could affect current or future service. 

    Aviation consultant Robert Mann said the changes will likely further reduce demand for U.S. travel to the island, which could lead airlines to cut flights or fly smaller planes. 

    "Cuba is headed back nearly to square one, with the exception that scheduled flights replace the charters of the 1960s to 2015," Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co., said in an email. 

    The impact on other U.S. businesses will likely be limited, in large part because they haven't made significant progress on building trade and economic development partnerships, Shapiro said. 

    Still, Trump's move was criticized by Engage Cuba, a leading group promoting stronger economic ties between the two countries. 

    "If the goal is to help Cuban entrepreneurs, adding job-killing regulations on U.S. businesses and increasing government resources to investigate everyday Americans traveling to our island neighbor is not the answer," the group's president, James Williams, said in a statement.