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By Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, June 16 President Donald Trump on
Friday will announce plans to tighten restrictions on Americans
traveling to Cuba and clamp down on U.S. business dealings with
the island’s military, rolling back parts of former President
Barack Obama’s historic opening to Havana.
Laying out his new Cuba policy in a speech in Miami, Trump
will issue a presidential directive to reverse some of the
loosened regulations that Obama introduced after a 2014
breakthrough between the two former Cold War foes, senior White
House officials said.
Trump, taking a tougher approach against Havana after
promising to do so during the presidential campaign, will
outline stricter enforcement of a long-time ban on Americans
going to Cuba as tourists and will seek to prevent U.S. dollars
from being used to fund what the new U.S. administration sees as
a repressive military-dominated government.
But, facing pressure from U.S. business and some of his
fellow Republicans to avoid turning back the clock completely in
relations with communist-ruled Cuba, he also will leave intact
many of Obama’s steps toward normalization.
The new policy will ban most U.S. business transactions with
the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a sprawling
conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy, but make
some exceptions, including for air and sea travel, the officials
said. This will essentially shield U.S. airlines and cruise-ship
companies now serving the island.
However, Trump will stop short of closing embassies or
breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than
five decades of hostility and will not cut off recently resumed
direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights - though his more
restrictive policy seems certain to dampen new economic ties.
The administration, according to one White House official,
does not intend to “disrupt” existing business ventures such as
one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by
Marriott International Inc, to manage a Havana hotel.
Nor are there plans to reinstate limits that Obama lifted on
the amount of the island’s coveted rum and cigars that Americans
can bring home for personal use.
As a result, the changes – though far-reaching – appear to
be less sweeping than many U.S. pro-engagement advocates had
Trump will justify his partial reversal of Obama’s measures
to a large extent on human rights grounds. His aides contend
that Obama’s easing of U.S. restrictions amounted to
"appeasement" and has done nothing to advance political freedoms
in Cuba, while benefiting the Cuban government financially.
Saying that the aim was to repair what Trump has called a
“bad deal” struck by Obama, U.S. officials said the new
administration would leave the door open to improved relations
if Cuba undertakes democratic reforms such as allowing free
elections and releasing political prisoners.
International human rights groups say, however, that
reinstating a U.S. policy of isolating the island could make the
situation worse by empowering Cuban hardliners. The Cuban
government has made clear it will not be pressured into reforms
in exchange for further engagement with Washington.
“If you want Cuba to change and reform, we are doing the
opposite of what would be most likely to bring about reforms,”
said Ben Rhodes, a former Obama aide who helped negotiate
Trump’s critics have also questioned why his administration
is now singling out Cuba for its human rights record while
downplaying the issue in other parts of the world.
Trump will announce his new approach early Friday afternoon
at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana, the heart
of America’s largest Cuban-American community, whose support
aides believe helped him win Florida in the election. Republican
Senator Marco Rubio, a key player in forging the new policy, was
expected to attend along with other Cuban-American lawmakers.
Under Trump’s order, the Treasury and Commerce Departments
will be given 30 days to begin writing new regulations and they
will not take effect until they are complete. No deadline has
been set, the officials said.
Under the revised travel policy, U.S. officials say there
will be tighter enforcement to make sure Americans legally fit
the 12 authorized categories they claim to be traveling under,
which could spook many visitors, wary of receiving a hefty fine.
While tourism to Cuba is banned by U.S. law, the Obama
administration had been allowing people to travel to Cuba as
part of “people to people” educational trips for visitors, a
popular classification that a White House official said was
“ripe for abuse” by those looking for beach vacations.
Trump’s new policy will eliminate such self-certified visits
by individuals while still allowing them to be done as group
tours, and also retaining some individual travel under other
authorized categories such as religious, artistic and
journalistic activities, officials said.
In a contentious internal debate, some aides argued that
Trump, a former real estate magnate who won the presidency
promising to unleash U.S. business and create jobs, would have a
hard time defending any moves that close off the Cuban market.
But other advisers have contended that it is important to
make good on a campaign promise to Cuban-Americans.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle
in Washington, Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by