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.