U.S. Travel to Cuba Faces Tighter Restrictions on Non-Family Visits

The unraveling of the Obama administration’s opening up of U.S. citizen travel to Cuba is just about complete under a new pledge that national security advisor John Bolton made in a speech outside Miami Wednesday.

The U.S. Treasury Department will issue new restrictions on non-family travel to Cuba, Bolton said as part of a multifaceted effort by the Trump administration to clamp down on the Cuban regime — and Americans’ freedom to travel.

Details were sparse and there were no guidelines about the policy change on the U.S. Treasury Department website. A Treasury Department spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba were part of a series of measures, including tighter limits on remittances that Cuban-Americans can send to families in Cuba and loosening restrictions on lawsuits designed to recover damages for properties confiscated on the island, designed to pressure the Cuban government.

“U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private-sector entrepreneurs in Cuba,” said James Williams, president of the Washington-based Engage Cuba coalition, a non-profit lobbying group. “These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba. The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse. We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida.”

The Trump administration has been steadily reversing the Obama administration’s opening up of American travel to Cuba. In March 2016, the U.S. government made it possible for Americans to make people-to-people visits to Cuba. But in June 2017, the Trump administration reversed that policy, stipulating that Americans could only visit the island, which had been subject to a decades-long U.S. blockade, as part of organized tours. Several months later, the Trump administration barred Americans from staying at certain hotels on the island with ties to the Cuban government.

Bolton said the new Treasury Department restrictions on non-family travel to Cuba and the series of other measures he announced would bar American money from propping up Cuban military and security services “who control the tourism industry in Cuba.”

Several U.S. cruise lines, such as Carnival and Norwegian, as well as major airlines began cruises and flights to Cuba following the Obama administration lifting restrictions.

The Cuba travel policy announcement, with few details available, left some U.S. travelers anxious. Twitter user Ryan Ahn tweeted to the U.S. Treasury and State Departments: “When do the new Cuba travel restrictions go into effect? You should announce this info right away as people have already made plans.”

With little guidance from the Treasury Department about the travel policy changes that Bolton announced, it’s unclear just how radically they will affect U.S. travelers, as well as cruise lines, tour operators, and airlines. But the moves can’t be welcome news for the U.S. travel industry or travelers.

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Trump Administration Levels Punitive New Sanctions On Cuba, Plans To Restrict Travel

The Trump administration today announced sweeping new sanctions against Cuba, taking a major step toward fully dismantling the policy of engagement initiated during the Obama administration and signaling U.S. intentions to foster regime change on the island. The changes will severely restrict the ability of Americans to travel to the island, limit the amount of funds people can send to relatives in Cuba and also open the door to lawsuits against companies doing business with Cuba.

In a blunt speech in Coral Gables, National Security Advisor John Bolton said that “the twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere.” After the collapse of the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro, Bolton predicted, “we know that Cuba will be next.”

Bolton announced that “the Department of the Treasury will implement further regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba, or in other words, ‘veiled tourism,’ ” strongly implying that tours, cruise ship stops and travel to special events—such as the annual Habanos cigar festival—would soon be prohibited. He also announced that remittances, unlimited as part of Obama’s policy of supporting the Cuban private sector, would now be capped at $4,000 a year.

It is unclear when these new policies would go into effect.

The survival of the Cuban private sector, which now makes up one-third of the nation’s workforce, has depended on an influx of U.S. travelers to the island after President Obama normalized commercial plane service and expanded loopholes for legal travel in the embargo laws during his last two years in office. Last year, more than 600,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba, in addition to more than 400,000 Cuban-Americans.

In addition to those sanctions, the State Department also announced that it would fully implement provisions in legislation passed more than 23 years ago meant to deter foreign investment on the island.

“Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned today.

Passed in 1996, the Helms-Burton act contains a section known as Title III that permits former Cuban-American owners of expropriated land and businesses in Cuba to sue foreign and U.S. companies whose current investments and operations relate to those properties. Fearing thousands of lawsuits against companies from allied countries such as Canada, Germany, Mexico and Spain, the Clinton administration insisted on attaching a waiver clause to this section of the legislation, permitting U.S. presidents to suspend, every six months, implementation of Title III.

Until now, every president since Clinton, including President Trump, has waived this section of the law, out of concern for the legal chaos that could ensue, and the bilateral tensions with governments whose companies would be targeted by legal action.

A State Department report issued shortly after the legislation was passed more than 20 years ago predicted between 70,000 and 200,000 lawsuits could be filed. The Justice Department has already certified some 8,000 complaints as having merit. Lawsuits could be filed as soon as May 2, when the current waiver of Title III expires.

Already the European Union has warned it will “consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests,” including calling for World Trade Organization action.

The State Department also said this week that it would begin to deny visas to executives of foreign corporations dealing in “trafficked companies” from coming to the United States, putting further pressure on foreign companies to pull out of Cuba, or differ plans to invest there.

The new sanctions were applauded by hardliner politicians from Florida such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL) who have worked closely with the Trump White House to roll back the Obama-era policies of political, cultural and economic engagement.

But advocates of normalized relations between Washington and Havana denounced the new punitive measures as a return to the failed policy of aggression and a flagrant political effort to mobilize Trump’s hardline Cuban-American base in the Miami community.

President Trump was attempting to “appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election,” said James Williams, who heads Engage Cuba, a lobby that promotes normal commercial ties. He noted that “U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba. These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba.”

The implementation of Title III also drew criticism for hurting the private sector, which the Trump administration has repeatedly claimed to support. The decision was “plain stupid,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said in a statement. “It undercuts the emerging private sector in Cuba, which the Trump administration still pretends to support. It alienates our closest allies in Europe, Canada and Latin America, and it strengthens Cuban alliances with Russia, China and Iran. In short, Trump’s Cuba policy is driven by political expediency and an ideology that’s fifty years out of date.”

The Trump administration's new sanctions are only the latest in a series of punitive actions against Cuba this year. Last month, the State Department announced that it would no longer issue five-year visas to Cubans who have been traveling back and forth to the U.S. Now, three-month visas, good for only one trip, will be used—creating serious constraints on Cuban entrepreneurs who come to the U.S. to obtain goods, parts and machinery for the growing private sector on the island.

In late-March, the administration vetoed a historic agreement between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed professional and amateur Cuban players to sign with the U.S. teams without having to defect from Cuba and leave the island.

Bolton chose to give his speech at a special luncheon before the Veterans of the Bay of Pigs Association in Miami to commemorate the 58th anniversary of the invasion. Cuba’s militia forces defeated the CIA-led exile brigade less than 72 hours after the paramilitary invasion began.

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Travel Industry Reacts to President Trump's New Crackdown on Cuba

n a move that’s being described by some in the travel industry as catering to southern Florida’s hard-liners in advance of the 2020 presidential elections, the Trump administration has announced harsh new Cuba sanctions and travel policy changes.

The administration is largely reversing Obama-era engagement policies toward the Caribbean island nation, while also describing its latest actions as an attempt to increase pressure on Cuba’s government in response to its support of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.

An official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Miami Herald that travel to Cuba will now be limited to family visits, restricting those visits to the island deemed as “veiled tourism.”

That could have sweeping effects on travel to the island, which has blossomed since President Obama’s administration.

By some accounts, Trump’s new stance could mean the end of cruises that started to operate during the Obama years as part of the expansion of the types of travel allowed, the Miami Herald reported.

The re-tightened restrictions could also impact air travel, reducing the numbers of passengers headed to the island. Travel by Cuban Americans to reunite with relatives on the island will remain unchanged.

The just announced changes also include new limits on remittances made to Cubans from family members in the United States. They will be slashed from the unlimited remittances allowed by Obama to just $1,000 per person every three months.

Many of the measures were announced by National Security Advisor John Bolton during a speech at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables Wednesday afternoon.

The crackdown also includes the full implementation of the Helms-Burton law, which will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts against American and foreign companies doing business in Cuba over the use of property nationalized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution.

Aside from its goal of reversing changes put in place by the Obama administration, the new Trump policies on Cuba are being described as an attempt to show the Cuban government that “its support for Maduro will cost it," according to the official who spoke to the Miami Herald on the condition of anonymity.

Travel industry reaction to the news varied from disappointment to anger, to concern about the future for both the island's nascent tourism industry and also for companies in this country that have benefitted from open relations with Cuba.

“President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations that have been working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba.

“The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe,” Williams added. “President Trump himself tried for years to open up a Trump Hotel and golf resort in Cuba.”

U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba, Williams added, who called the restrictions “a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society” and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba.

“The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse,” Williams said. “We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida.”

Williams added that the new limit on U.S. remittances to the island will be a heavy blow to Cuba’s nascent private sector (roughly one-third of the workforce) which greatly depends on remittances and U.S. travelers to keep their small businesses alive.

Andrea Holbrook, president of Florida-based Holbrook Travel, which has been providing trips to the island since 2000, expressed disappointment and concern about Trump's latest announcement.

"We are very worried about what this means," Holbrook told TravelPulse. "We are really disappointed by the attitude of our lawmakers who don’t see the tremendous economic opportunity that the opening of Cuba represents."

Gainesville-based Holbrook Travel employs about 40 people, 30 of them locally. In 2017 the company suffered a disappointing year due in large part to all of the confusion caused by the Trump administration's initial policy announcements tied to Cuba.

"This is certainly something we are disappointed to see happen. It means jobs, income, economic development. Here in Gainesville, Florida. Our opportunity to grow what we do in Cuba means growth in Gainesville," said Holbrook.

She also expressed concern about the full implementation of the Helms-Burton law and the lawsuits that might stem from that change, which will be aimed at foreign companies doing business in Cuba.

“The majority of investment in hotels is coming from Canadian and other foreign sources. This will expose those companies to foreign lawsuits,” said Holbrook. “It’s obviously an attempt to strangle foreign investment in Cuba. That’s a big concern in the long term and possibly the short term. I can imagine it being potentially titanic in terms of impact.”

Martha Honey, the executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), expressed similar dismay over the news.

“This sweeping suite of hardline policies will make life more difficult for average Cubans, including those involved in Cuba’s private tourism sector, which has burgeoned in the wake of the Obama-Raul Castro accords that opened Cuba to US travelers," Honey told TravelPulse.

"Today’s announcement appears intended to strangle US citizens from visiting Cuba, except for family reasons. While the details are still not fully known, the announcement may bar US citizens from visiting one of our nearest neighbors, a country that is widely viewed as one of the safest and most peaceful in the world. Here in Havana, we are deeply saddened by this back to the future announcement based on 50 years of failed US policies.”

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US Organizations Criticize New Measures Against Cuba

US organizations favorable to the rapprochement with Cuba today criticized the new measures announced by the administration of Donad Trump against the Caribbean country and warned of its negative consequences for the people of the island.At the same time, they denounced that both the application of Title III of the controversial Helms-Burton Law, as well as the new restrictions on travel by the Americans and the limits to sending remittances to the Caribbean nation, are mainly focused on the aspirations for reelection of Trump. The president is doing this for one reason only: to appease hard-liners in South Florida before the 2020 election, Engage Cuba coalition president James Williams said in a statement.

According to the headline, the trips of the Americans and the remittances are fundamental for the entrepreneurs of the private sector in the island. 'These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects of a growing independent private sector.' 

Williams described as hypocritical the position of the Republican leader to appeal to the issue of human rights to justify the measures, when his administration approaches governments with strong accusations on the matter, and noted that Trump 'tried for years to open a hotel and a resort of golf in Cuba.

In turn, Collin Laverty, president of the specialized travel company Cuba Educational Travel, said it is sad to see Cubans and Americans suffer because the head of the White House has left his policy in the hands of South Florida lawmakers.

These changes will push back American interests on the island for years, and will hurt American businesses and travelers, and millions of families who live there, he said.

'The only winners here are a handful of members of Congress and those caught in the past who support them,' Laverty added.

For him, the losers with these ads are millions of Cubans inside and outside the Caribbean country, and the vast majority of Americans who support the approach to Cuba. 'The hypocrisy and the counterproductive nature of the approach are disturbing'.

The president of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, Emily Mendrala, also estimated that with these moves Trump makes a policy statement on Cuba in one of the most recognized hinge states in the country, with a view in 2020.

Our policies towards Cuba have been erroneous for a long time, but in spite of that, and despite a 60 year history of failures, this administration is duplicating the isolation and, in doing so, it is causing great pain to the Cuban people, affirmed.

The polls are clear, Mendrala added, Americans want to travel to Cuba, want to explore business opportunities and want to do so without fear of reprisals from their government.

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US Tightens Pressure on Cuba Amid Crackdown on Maduro in Venezuela

"The sanctions included new limits on remittances to Cuba and its access to foreign currency, as well as new sanctions on the Central Bank of Venezuela that prohibit its access to US dollars".

The major policy shift, which the State Department said could draw hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billions of dollars, appears meant to intensify pressure on Havana at a time Washington is demanding that it end its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Observers say that with the United States presidential election looming next year, the Trump administration is trying to appeal to Hispanic voters who have fled anti-US governments in Latin America.

"The world has told John Bolton and the USA government to eliminate the criminal blockade against Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act", Johana Tablada, Cuba's deputy director of US affairs, said on Twitter.

The Kremlin has rejected USA calls for Moscow to withdraw its military specialists from Venezuela.

The OFAC on the same day blacklisted Laureano Ortega Murillo, the son of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, as well as a Nicaraguan bank Banco Corporativo SA.

"Following U.S. condemnation of the exchange, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that troops would remain in the country as "for as long as needed" and accused the U.S. of trying to "stage a coup" in the country through the threat of military action".

One of those sanctioned was Vice President Rosario Murillo.

The Trump administration is stepping up its crackdown again Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

In addition, the United States also announced new limits on the amount of money Cuban Americans can send to relatives on the island at Dollars 1,000 per person.

He said of Venezuela's social and economic crisis, "The walls are closing in".

Pompeo called the move a "chance at justice" for Cuban-Americans and urged anyone doing business in Cuba to examine whether they were "abetting" the regime.

Wednesday's announcement coincided with the 58th anniversary of the failed USA -backed invasion at Cuba's Bay of Pigs.

U.S. citizens sending remittances to Cuba will be limited t $1,000 per person per quarter, Bolton said on Wednesday. The Obama administration had lifted all limits on such remittances.

The State Department official conceded that the European Union and other countries were strongly opposed to the change, but insisted that "there is no targeting of any countries...it is about targeting the Cuban regime". The United States has enforced a trade embargo against Cuba since the early 1960s.

Washington also moved to restrict "non-family travel" after a broad loosening of so-called purposeful visits under Obama led to soaring numbers of American trips for cultural and educational exchanges. She said the only way companies will be safe from litigation would be to ensure that they are not doing business on expropriated properties.

"This doesn't punish the Cuban government; it lets them off the hook", said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations that lobbies for the end of the USA embargo of Cuba.

Freeland said the government has regularly met with USA officials since January when the issue first surfaced.

Bolton's remarks come just hours after President Trump allowed American citizens to sue companies operating at properties previously seized by Cuba's Castro regime.

"The EU reiterates a strong opposition to the extraterritorial application of unilateral restrictive measures which is considers contrary to worldwide law", a spokesman for the EU executive told a briefing in Brussels.

Canada's Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland said that her country was "deeply disappointed" and would be "reviewing all options in response to this U.S. decision".

Mogherini and Freeland say in a joint statement issued Wednesday they're "determined to work together to protect the interests" of their companies.

The complete lifting of the ban could allow billions of dollars in legal claims to move forward in USA courts and likely antagonize Canada and Europe, whose companies have significant business holdings in Cuba.

Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the USA would no longer suspend Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. The decision is a blow to Havana's efforts to draw foreign investment to the island.

However, the Trump administration will reportedly do away with the waivers, potentially opening foreign businesses including those from Europe to lawsuits.

On Wednesday, Washington imposed new sanctions and other punitive measures on Cuba and Venezuela, seeking to ratchet up pressure on Havana to end its support for Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

The LIBERTAD Act, which became effective in 1996, is a USA federal law which aims to strengthen the embargo against Cuba.

During a speech in Miami, Florida, before participants in the failed mercenary invasion of Cuba that began on April 17, 1961, the advisor to the Republican president noted that five names will also be added to the list of Cuban entities banned from United States citizens.

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Trade Groups Denounce Trump Administration Changes on Cuba Policy

Key leaders of groups promoting better U.S.-Cuban relations have denounced the Trump administration's announcements April 17 that it will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts against American and foreign companies doing business in Cuba over the use of property nationalized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution and new regulatory restrictions on remittances, non-family travel and financial transactions.

Announcing the crackdown in Coral Gables, Fla., on Wednesday, national security adviser John Bolton called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua the "troika of tyranny" and said the new measures would "end the glamorization of socialism and communism," NPR reported.

It is unclear what impact the changes will have on the legal sale of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba or the ability of U.S. farmers and agribusiness leaders to travel to Cuba to promote the sale of U.S. farm products, but the changes will undoubtedly sour the relationship between the United States and Cuban governments, which had improved under the Obama administration.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said that for the 5,913 certified claimants for Cuban property, "the currently-implemented strategy by the Trump administration is not viewed as viable or efficient or serious because there is no focus."

"The result thus far suggests not a government strategy, but a child-like exercise — there is no core, no 'what do we want and when do we want it and how do we get it,' only a what-comes-next impulse; no review of whether announcements lessen the distance between the issue of the certified claims and a settlement for the certified claimants," Kavulich said.

"Why is this a rational view of certified claimants? Because neither the White House (including the National Security Council) nor the United States Department of State have held a formal briefing, let alone briefings, for the two largest certified claimants (who represent 24% of the total value of the certified claims) or the 30 largest certified claimants (who represent 56% of the total value of the certified claims).

"If the Trump administration wants to assist the certified claimants, wouldn't sound decision-making processes require formal input from the injured parties? Yes, it would. Why hasn't there been a formal outreach to the largest certified claimants? Because the Trump administration does not want to resolve the issue of the certified claims; formal briefings would hold them accountable for action or inaction; no formal briefings, no formal accountability for what is done or left dangling for future presidents."

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba said, "President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election."

"The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table. This lets the Cuban government off the hook and shifts the burden to American, European and Canadian companies. American companies and our closest allies will now be paying instead of the Cuban government," Williams said.

"The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe. President Trump himself tried for years to open up a Trump hotel and golf resort in Cuba."

"U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba," Williams said.

"These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba. The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse. We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida."

Earlier, Engage Cuba also criticized the Trump administration's change in policy to make it difficult for Cuban baseball players to come to the United States.

National Foreign Trade Council Chairman Carlos Gutierrez said, "The changes announced today will undermine the ability of Americans to engage with the Cuban people and threaten to further poison relations with key U.S. allies."

"We've seen this movie before. The United States limited travel by U.S. citizens and remittances for years without achieving our stated foreign policy goals. Today's announcement repeats mistakes of the past and does nothing but harm the Cuban people," Gutierrez said.

"In addition, by activating Title III and stepping up enforcement of Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act, the administration is needlessly picking a fight with key American allies whose businesses and citizens could be subject to U.S. court proceedings and travel restrictions."

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Trump Administration Restricts Remittances, Travel to Cuba

The Trump administration is imposing new restrictions on Cuba aimed at punishing the regime for its support of the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Wednesday announced new limits on the amount of money Cuban Americans can send to relatives on the island at $1,000 per person every three months.

In addition, the administration will impose new "regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba," Bolton said in a speech in Miami to a Bay of Pigs veterans group on the 58th anniversary of the failed CIA-orchestrated invasion of the island in 1961.

The announcement followed one by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the administration will allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign businesses using property seized during the 1959 Cuban revolution. The policy shift means lawsuits can be filed beginning May 2.

The U.S. government has already certified nearly 6,000 claims valued at more than $8 billion, including actual value and interest.

The decision likely will hinder Cuba's efforts to encourage foreign investment to the Caribbean island. The move is part of Trump's broader campaign to crack down on socialist Latin American countries Cuba and Nicaragua, and to oust Maduro, whose grip on power depends largely on support from Cuba, along with Russia and China.

"For years now, the Cuban regime has suffocated Venezuela's independence and directly contributed to the current crisis for its own gain and survival," Bolton said. "At this moment, Havana continues to prop up Maduro and help him sustain the brutal suffering of the Venezuelan people."

"As President Trump has said, Maduro is quite simply a 'Cuban puppet,''' Bolton said.

The European Union has warned it will protect the interests of European companies or people conducting business in Cuba who may be affected by any lawsuits. Spain, which has large investments on the island, has asked the EU to challenge the U.S. decision, a senior government official said.

European countries have long expressed concern about lifting waivers on the law, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, and threatened to challenge the move at the World Trade Organization. The act codified all U.S. sanctions against Cuba into law 23 years ago, but was waived by every U.S. president since then, due to opposition from the international community and the desire to avoid trade disputes and potential lawsuits.

"Allowing these lawsuits marks another own goal in President [Donald] Trump's Cuba policy," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, which lobbies for the normalization of U.S. ties with the communist island. "This doesn't punish the Cuban government; it lets them off the hook."

Williams told VOA that American and European companies, which had permission to do business with Cuba, will be the ones hurt by the action, and Washington should negotiate for direct compensation from the Cuban government for property confiscation.

"The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal, contrary to international law and I also consider it immoral," the EU ambassador to Cuba, Alberto Navarro, said in Havana.

A six-decade old economic embargo of Cuba by the United States remains in effect.

During the Obama administration, there were initiatives by Washington to calm the rough waters across the 150 kilometers (93 miles) separating Florida and Cuba, but the Trump administration has reverted to a Cold War-era approach toward Havana.

"It is ironic that President Trump would make this fringe decision after the Trump Organization worked for years to open a Trump Hotel and golf course in Cuba," Williams told VOA. "We have 60 years of history that shows we need to try something new. The Cuban and American people deserve better."

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Upping Pressure on Cuba, Trump Admin to Allow Lawsuits Against Companies Using Confiscated Property

The Trump administration is moving to allow lawsuits in U.S. courts against any company or entity doing business in Cuba using property seized in the 1959 revolution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday.

The move is meant to choke off foreign investment in Cuba as the administration seeks to tighten economic pressure on the government there in a repeal of President Barack Obama's opening to Cuba and an effort to punish Cuba for its support of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

"Sadly, Cuba's most prominent export these days is not cigars or rum, it's oppression. Detente with the regime has failed. Cozying up to Cuban dictators will always be a black mark on this great nation's long record of defending human rights," Pompeo said in a clear swipe at the Obama administration.

Lawsuits can begin starting May 2. The lawsuits were originally authorized under a 1996 law known as Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, but Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama had extended six-month waivers for 23 years because the lawsuits were seen as disruptive, likely ineffective, and particularly damaging to U.S. allies in Europe.

But Pompeo signaled this move was coming by shortening those waivers in recent months and then in March allowing lawsuits against businesses and entities with ties to Cuba's security and intelligence services. Now, lawsuits against any business or entity will be allowed, with no exemptions -- including for American companies. The European Union issued a statement last week to urge the administration not to move forward with the move, threatening lawsuits against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization and to allow counter suits in European courts if it did.

"European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on property that was stolen from Americans post-revolution," Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Kimberly Breier told reporters.

The U.S. has certified 6,000 claims by Americans for confiscated property seized by the Castro regime that were worth $2 billion in total at the time they were confiscated, according to the Department of Justice's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. Those properties could be worth $8 billion with interest now, although a 1996 estimate found that there could be up to 200,000 more claims that have not been certified, potentially worth tens of billions of dollars.

"Implementing Title III in full means a chance at justice for Cuban Americans who have long sought relief for Fidel Castro and his lackeys seizing property without compensation," Pompeo said, referring to the section of the 1996 law that allowed for lawsuits.

But the lawsuits could also backfire, according to some critics, because it means those European or even American companies would have to now pay compensation, instead of the Cuban government.

"This doesn’t punish the Cuban government; it lets them off the hook," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations that lobbies for the end of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. "This decision punishes the Cuban people and American companies -- companies who were given permission by the U.S. government to do business and are now having the rug pulled from underneath them."

National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected to announce further penalties against Cuba during an address to the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association in Miami to mark the 58th anniversary of the failed effort to topple Fidel Castro's government. Those could include new sanctions against senior Cuban officials or restrictions on U.S. trade with or remittances to Cuba, with Breier saying, "You're going to see quite a bit more from us, and this is the beginning of a new process on this."

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Cuban-Americans In D.C. Hesitate To Support Trump’s Cuba Policy

Alex Simpkins’s mother’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1930s. For years, Simpkins says, the family has been curious about the fate of some items the Communist government might have confiscated from them.

“It had come up in conversation,” Simpkins said. “We were aware that the Cuban government —in government buildings and museums — still had possession of several of our great-uncle’s paintings.”

Simpkins’s great-uncle, Esteban Valderrama, was a famous Cuban painter of the early 1900s. Valderrama is best known for his portraits of the revolutionary leader Jose Marti and an unofficial portrait of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Simpkins family owns a portrait by Esteban Valderrama of Simpkins’s mother, Diana Valderrama, as well as a framed photo of a portrait of his great-grandmother, Esther Taus.

Simpkins and his family now may have a way to get the paintings still in Cuba back. The Trump administration announced a policy Wednesday that would allow Cuban-American immigrants to sue the Cuban government for property confiscated from them after the start of Fidel Castro’s regime in 1959.

But Simpkins says he’s hesitant to jump into a lawsuit.

“If this is purely a political act, I want no part of it,” Simpkins said. “If this is truly an effort to right the wrongs of the past of what Castro did to a lot of people, I could get behind that.”

James William, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based advocacy group that trying to lift the U.S. embargo on the island nation, says Trump is using the policy to garner support from conservative Cuban-Americans in southern Florida, a key battleground in the 2020 presidential election.

“The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations,” William wrote in a statement. “Which President Trump just threw off the table.”

The policy comes from Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act which strengthens the embargo on Cuba. Since the implementation of the Act under President Bill Clinton’s administration, no president has upheld Title III.

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Trump to Allow U.S. Lawsuits Over Seized Property in Cuba

The Trump administration will allow U.S. citizens to file lawsuits over property confiscated in Cuba during the 1959 revolution, a move that reverses two decades of policy and will create new tensions with allies whose companies do business there.

The administration plans to announce Wednesday that the U.S. will begin enforcing a provision of a 1996 law known as the Helms-Burton Act that allows Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s regime to sue companies that have used their former property on the island. Like his predecessors, President Donald Trump had previously waived the provision, Title III, because enforcing it could result in a flood of litigation against foreign companies.

But Trump has sought to reverse a decision by former President Barack Obama’s administration to ease a trade embargo with Cuba. He also wants to punish Cuba over its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has managed to stay in power despite massive U.S. sanctions and a move by the Trump administration to recognize Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.

Earlier this month, Trump blocked an agreement under which Cuban baseball players returned some of their signing bonus to the country’s baseball federation. The deal, signed with the Major League Baseball Association, had been meant to allow Cubans to travel to the U.S. freely rather than having to defect and find their way to American soil on their own.

Governments in Europe and Canada have repeatedly expressed concern over the possible fallout if the administration begins enforcing Title III. The fear is that European companies in joint ventures with Cuban entities -- to operate a hotel, for example -- could face a lawsuit if seized property is involved.

A group that advocates ending the trade embargo on Cuba said in a statement that U.S. companies also will be affected. “This decision punishes the Cuban people and American companies -- companies who were given permission by the U.S. government to do business and are now having the rug pulled from underneath them,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba.

But it’s not clear yet if the administration intends to allow lawsuits against all companies active in Cuba, including American ones that took advantage of the Obama opening, according to Pedro Freyre, the Miami-based head of the international practice at Akerman LLP. Helms-Burton includes carve-outs for legal travel to Cuba and sectors including telecommunications.

“The carve-outs are going to be protective of existing American interests -- the presence in Cuba of the U.S. really has to do with the travel industry,” Freyre said, declining to comment on whether those carve-outs would also shield Spanish hotel firms like Melia Hotels International SA and Iberostar Group, which have partnered with Cuban companies on properties across Cuba, from potential lawsuits.

Freyre said expectations of a deluge of claims may be overblown, given reaction to the Trump administration’s partial activation of Title III at the beginning of March. “In the past month there has been the possibility of suing 200 Cuban companies and a not single lawsuit was filed.”

The U.S. State Department says there may be as many as 200,000 claims under the 1996 law, with some of the biggest held by companies including Office Depot Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Coca Cola Co. Many may not bring suits because they would effectively be targeting clients overseas.

While any lawsuit would take years to wind its way through the legal system, the impact will likely be felt almost immediately, said Peter Harrell, a fellow at the Center for New American Security, a Washington-based research group

“It’s going to be pretty long road ahead to actually winning any judgments but the Trump administration will get what it wants out of this because you’re going to see a number of European companies decide the risk isn’t worth it,” Harrell said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland discussed Helms-Burton with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on the sidelines of the NATO meeting in Washington at the beginning of April. She told her American counterpart that the government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “will defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba, if the United States enforces Title III,” according to a readout from her office.

Canadian miner Sherritt International Corp., which has been mining nickel in eastern Cuba since 1994 and also has oil-and-gas operations near Havana, declined to comment until the announcement is officially made.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton plans to deliver a speech in Miami criticizing governments in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua that he has branded a “troika of tyranny.”

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Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela Face More US Sanctions

The U.S. government on Wednesday will announce additional sanctions on Venezuela, as well as Cuba and Nicaragua, in the latest move against socialist governments in the Western Hemisphere.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has prioritized dislodging Nicolas Maduro from Caracas, and recognizing National Assembly leader Jorge Guaido as president — an action also taken by more than 50 other countries.

Ahead of a speech Wednesday in Miami by National Security Adviser John Bolton, a senior administration official is emphasizing all options remain on the table concerning Venezuela, contending that the South American country is "increasingly close to a flex point."

"We want a peaceful transition of power, but we're determined there be a transfer of power," says the senior administration official. "Let Maduro and his cronies worry about what that means."

In response to a question from VOA News about increasing impatience for tougher action by Washington among those in the Venezuelan military who have quietly switched their loyalty to Guaido, the administration official contends "maximum pressure" applied by the Trump administration in the past three months "has come close to bringing the entire government to a halt."

The official adds, "it's a mistake to say things have stalemated."

As part of the effort to dislodge Maduro, U.S. officials also are tightening pressure on Cuba.

"The real pressure at the top of the government of Venezuela today is 20,000 to 25,000 Cubans," according to the high-ranking U.S. official. "But for the Cubans and Russians it might be over now."

In addition, the Trump administration will declare on Wednesday that it will allow, for the first time, lawsuits to be filed in the United States against all foreign companies in Cuba using properties confiscated from American citizens in the 1960s by the government led by Fidel Castro.

European countries have expressed concern about the lifting of waivers on Title III of the 1996 Holmes-Burton Act and threatened to challenge the move at the World Trade Organization.

"It will have some economic effect," predicts the senior administration official, who confirms European officials, some of whom asked the U.S. not to lift the waivers, have been notified in advance the move would be taken by Washington.

"They're entitled to sue. And we're prepared to watch them fail," says the official of anticipated legal action of lifting of the waivers that could also damage Cuba's efforts to attract additional foreign investment.

"Allowing these lawsuits marks another own goal in President Trump's Cuba policy," says James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, which lobbies for the normalization of U.S. ties with the communist island. "This doesn't punish the Cuban government; it lets them off the hook."

Williams tells VOA that American and European companies, which had permission to do business with Cuba, will be the ones hurt by the action, and Washington should negotiate for direct compensation from the Cuban government for property confiscation.

"The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal, contrary to international law and I also consider it immoral," EU ambassador to Cuba Alberto Navarro said in Havana.

The Trump administration also is poised to enforce Title IV of the same congressional legislation that gives the U.S. government "authority to deny visas or pull back visas of those trafficking in confiscated property" in Cuba, explains the senior administration official.

The official discussed the impending actions with a group of reporters Tuesday at the White House, intending to draw attention to Wednesday's address by Bolton, describing it as the second chapter of the national security adviser's "Troika of Tyranny" speech, following on remarks he made last November in Miami.

Wednesday's speech is to be made to alumni of Brigade 2056, a group of Cuban exiles sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency, who failed in an attempted 1961 overthrow of the Castro government, known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

A six-decade old economic embargo of Cuba by the United States remains in effect.

During the Obama administration there were initiatives by Washington to calm the rough waters across the 150 kilometers separating Florida and Cuba, but the Trump administration has reverted to a Cold War-era approach toward Havana.

"It is ironic that President [Donald] Trump would make this fringe decision after the Trump Organization worked for years to open a Trump Hotel and golf course in Cuba," Williams tells VOA. "We have 60 years of history that shows we need to try something new. The Cuban and American people deserve better."

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In Major Shift, Trump to Allow Lawsuits Against Foreign Firms in Cuba

The Trump administration will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts for the first time against foreign companies that use properties confiscated by Communist-ruled Cuba since Fidel Castro’s revolution six decades ago, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The major policy shift, which will be announced on Wednesday, could expose U.S., European and Canadian companies to legal action and deal a blow to Cuba’s efforts to attract more foreign investment. It is also another sign of Washington’s efforts to punish Havana over its support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, will explain on Wednesday the administration’s decision in a speech in Miami and announce new sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries he has branded a “troika of tyranny,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It is unclear, however, whether such property claims will be acceptable in U.S. courts. The European Union has already warned it could lodge a challenge with the World Trade Organization.

“The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal, contrary to international law and I also consider it immoral,” EU ambassador to Cuba Alberto Navarro said in Havana. Trump threatened in January to allow a law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996, permitting Cuban-Americans and other U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property seized in decades past by the Cuban government.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the U.S. court system with a flood of lawsuits.

The complete lifting of the ban could allow billions of dollars in legal claims to move forward in U.S. courts and likely antagonize Canada and Europe, whose companies have significant business holdings in Cuba.

It could also affect some U.S. companies that began investing in the island, an old Cold War foe, since former President Barack Obama began a process of normalizing relations between the two countries from the end of 2014.

The Cuban government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the country’s National Assembly, meeting over the weekend, declared the Helms-Burton Act “illegitimate, unenforceable and without legal effect.”

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a speech on Saturday that the United States “has pushed the precarious relations with our country back to the worst level ... trying to activate the hateful Helms-Burton Law, which aims to return us in principle to ... when we were a slave nation of another empire.”

U.S.-Cuban relations have nosedived since Trump became president in early 2017. A six-decade U.S. economic embargo on Cuba has also remained officially intact.

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Trump is going ahead despite protests by Canadian and European leaders to U.S. counterparts.

The U.S. official dismissed the EU’s warning of a possible WTO challenge and a cycle of counterclaims in European courts as doomed to fail.

Among the foreign companies heavily invested in Cuba are Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp and Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA. U.S. companies, including airlines and cruise companies, have forged business deals in Cuba since the easing of restrictions under Obama.

Defending the decision, the U.S. official said allowing lawsuits would cause only a “bump” in the business world but send a message of U.S. resolve against Havana.

In addition to halting any further waivers of Title III, the administration will begin full enforcement of Helms-Burton’s Title IV, which requires the denial of U.S. visas to those involved in “trafficking” confiscated properties in Cuba.

Trump’s decision followed threats by his top aides in recent weeks to take actions against Cuba to force it to abandon Maduro, something Havana has insisted it will not do.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency.

The United States and most Western countries have backed Guaido as head of state. Maduro has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet who is seeking to foment a coup and Maduro is backed by Cuba, Russia, China and the Venezuela military.

Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela has gone down well in the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a political swing state as he looks toward his re-election campaign in 2020.

In Bolton’s speech on Wednesday, he is expected to announce further measures against Cuba. The administration is considering a range of options, including sanctions against senior Cuban military and intelligence officials over their role in Venezuela and the tightening of limits on U.S. trade with the island, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Navarro said EU companies had the obligation of not collaborating with U.S. judgments under Title III and the possibility to make counterclaims.

“This is a fringe policy decision that has not been tested legally,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based lobbying group working to normalize relations with Cuba.

Some 5,913 claims held by U.S. companies and individuals have been certified by the U.S. Justice Department and are estimated to be worth roughly $8 billion.

Cuban law ties settlement of any claims to U.S. reparations for damages from Washington’s embargo and what it considers other acts of U.S. aggression. Cuban estimates of that damage range from $121 billion to more than $300 billion.

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People in Cuba and US Reject End of Deal with MLB, Diaz-Canel Asserts

President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Tuesday that people in Cuba and the United States reject the cancelation by US President Donald Trump of an agreement struck last December between the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Major Leagues (MLB).

Diaz-Canel reacted on his Twitter account to Trump's decision announced on Monday to end the accord that was celebrated in both countries because it stops human trafficking young Cuban baseball players had to face in their aspirations to play in the Big Show.

The Head of State echoed the position set in Washington by the Engage Cuba coalition, an initiative that favors trade and good bilateral relations, which termed the cancellation a cynical, cruel and unwarranted action.

Trump argued that the Cuban Baseball Federation is part of the Cuban Government, and that therefore trade with it is illegal under US law (blockade), an argument previously defended by Cuban-born Senator Marco Rubio, known for his aggressiveness against the island.

Trump's decision came less than 15 days after Cuba released a list of more than 30 young baseball players who were eligible to sign contracts with MLB teams.

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Washington Examiner: Trump administration reverses Obama-era policy, killing deal between MLB and Cuba

A deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation has been nixed by President Trump's administration, reversing a decision from President Barack Obama's tenure that facilitated a pipeline of Cuban talent into the U.S.

The deal helped Cuban-born players sign deals with the MLB and play in the U.S. without having to defect from the communist country. Supporters of the agreement said it helped prevent human trafficking as players wishing to play in the U.S. sometimes relied on smugglers to get out of Cuba. The MLB said as much when the deal was struck in December, citing the extreme measures Cuban players had to go through to make it to the U.S.

Under Obama, the Treasury Department concluded the Cuban Baseball Federation was not a formal entity under the Cuban government, providing cover from federal law prohibiting payments to the Cuban government.

But according to ESPN, the Treasury Department sent a letter to MLB on Friday declaring that any payment made to the Cuban Baseball Federation would be considered a payment to the Cuban government and therefore was a violation of federal trade laws.

The National Security Council said it wouldn't allow Cuba to exploit citizens working in the United States, leaving the door open for the possibility of a different deal between MLB and Cuba in the future.

"The U.S. does not support actions that would institutionalize a system by which a Cuban government entity garnishes the wages of hard-working athletes who simply seek to live and compete in a free society," NSC spokesperson Garrett Marquis said. "The administration looks forward to working with MLB to identify ways for Cuban players to have the individual freedom to benefit from their talents, and not as property of the Cuban State."

Opponents of the deal argued Cuba was taking advantage of the players and using them as economic and political pawns. One of those critics, national security adviser John Bolton, cited Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, whom the U.S. has declared the unlawful ruler of his country amid a political and economic crisis.

"Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns – selling their rights to Major League Baseball," Bolton tweeted Sunday. "America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime‘s support for Maduro in Venezuela."

The MLB Player's Association, the union that collectively bargains for MLB players, declined to comment, and the MLB simply said it stood behind the original goal of the agreement, which was to end the trafficking of players, making it safer to get to the U.S. to play baseball.

Engage Cuba, a coalition dedicated to advancing legislation to restore friendly relations with Cuba, denounced Trump's decision to tank the deal.

“The MLB deal with Cuba solved a horrible human trafficking problem," Engage Cuba president Jason Williams said. "By breaking that deal, the White House now owns this and exposes Cuban players to human rights abuses. It is a cynical, cruel and gratuitous act that is aimed at appeasing a vocal band of obstructionists bent on continuing a failed 60 year policy of isolation. The Cuban players and their families had reason for hope from this deal; that has now been extinguished."

MLB officials asked for a meeting with Trump's administration, but no meeting as been granted yet, according to ESPN.

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Washington Post: Trump administration cancels Major League Baseball deal with Cuba

The Trump administration Monday declared illegal a December deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cuban athletes to play in this country without having to defect.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the start of the 2019 baseball season and just days after the federation released the names of 34 Cuban players it said were eligible to sign with Major League Baseball. Some of those players were expected to be signed and playing this year.

The agreement was intended to prevent players from undertaking risky escapes from Cuba, often with paid smugglers, and having to give up their citizenship to play in the United States. Under its terms, similar to deals with foreign players from Japan and other countries, the U.S. baseball clubs would pay a fee — equivalent to 25 percent of the player signing bonus — to the federation.

In a statement, MLB Vice President Michael Teevan said, “We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba.”

A senior administration official said the payments were illegal under U.S. sanctions because the federation is part of the Cuban government. The Obama administration had “fudged” the law, and the Cuban government itself was engaged in “human trafficking,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under rules imposed by the administration.

The measure was the latest of several crackdowns that are part of President Trump’s efforts to roll back his predecessor’s opening to Cuba. Since Trump took office, he has sharply reduced the size of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, required Cubans to travel to a third country to obtain U.S. visas and restricted previously allowed travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

Relations with Cuba have tightened even further under the direction of Trump national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime critic of easing relations, and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a lobbyist for stricter restrictions who was appointed by Bolton last year as senior director for Latin America on the National Security Council.

In early March, the administration lifted a prohibition against lawsuits by American citizens, including Cuban Americans, over property expropriated by the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, which took power six decades ago.

The administration has also charged that tens of thousands of Cuban intelligence and security agents are in Venezuela, keeping President Nicolás Maduro in power and preventing the Venezuelan military from recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.

Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on two companies that transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

Former Obama administration officials reacted angrily to the charge that they had evaded the law in allowing the baseball agreement to proceed — although the terms of the deal were negotiated, finalized and approved under Trump.

“The MLB came to us,” said Benjamin Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser and the official who shepherded the Cuba opening that led to reestablishment of diplomatic relations in 2015. “They felt profound concern about the danger in terms of human trafficking that Cuban baseball players were subjected to to try to play in the major leagues.

“This is an indefensible, cruel and pointless decision that they’ve made that will be ending the lives of Cuban baseball players and achieve nothing beyond appeasing hard-line factions in Florida,” a state Trump is hoping to win in 2020, Rhodes said.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a coalition of U.S. companies and organizations that advocate lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, called the reversal “a cynical, cruel and gratuitous act that is aimed at appeasing a vocal band of obstructionists bent on continuing a failed 60-year policy of isolation. The Cuban players and their families had reason for hope from this deal; that has now been extinguished.”

League officials said when the December agreement was signed that they had been in frequent contact with Trump officials and were assured that a Treasury Department license that had authorized the deal under the Obama administration remained valid.

But even as the deal was announced, the administration signaled that it had problems with it and would be reviewing its legality.

“It was clear at the time,” and confirmed by further review, the senior administration official said, that there were “a series of material facts which apparently had been, frankly, exaggerated and fudged by the previous administration.”

The question at issue was whether the Cuban Baseball Federation is part of the Cuban government, making it ineligible under the embargo to enter into financial arrangements with a U.S. entity unless it is licensed by the Treasury Department.

Under Obama, a number of U.S. entities were allowed to make agreements with Cuba, including pharmaceutical companies engaged in research with the Cuban health system, as well as U.S. airlines and others, under a general license that remains in force.

In a letter to the Treasury Department in January, after administration officials said they were still examining the signed agreement, attorneys for Major League Baseball noted that Japan, South Korea and China had similar deals in which league payments were made to national federations.

“MLB has been in regular contact with the U.S. government throughout its multi-year effort to address human trafficking through the establishment of a safe and orderly system” for Cuban athletes to play in this country, including as recently as November, “and received assurances throughout that period that such efforts were not only consistent with U.S. law and policy, but would be welcomed as a means to address the dangerous smuggling of these Cuban baseball players.”

A list of “restricted [Cuban] entities” published by the administration Nov. 15, it noted, did not include the baseball federation. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Post.

But a letter sent to league attorneys Friday by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said the baseball deal was now prohibited.

“In light of facts recently brought to our attention, and after consultation with the U.S. Department of State,” it said, payments to the federation were not authorized because they constituted “a payment to the Cuban government.”

In a late Monday interview with Fox News, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo replied “Yep” when asked whether the move was “more effort to pinch Cuba.” Without mentioning the embargo, Pompeo said the administration was “going to do everything we can to pull [Cuba] out” of Venezuela.

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