Door to Cuba closes a bit
U.S. commerce on the island is restricted, but the embassy in Havana stays open.
President Trump gestures as he signs policy changes in Miami on Friday to reinstate some restrictions on travel.
MIAMI — President Trump on Friday rolled back some, but not all, of his predecessor’s historic opening to Cuba, making it more difficult to travel to and do business with the Communistruled island.
In a speech in Miami’s Little Havana, Trump said Cuban rulers were profiting from better relations with Washington but that ordinary Cuban citizens continued to be repressed.
Trump said he was “completely canceling” the “terrible and misguided deal” that President Obama forged in secret negotiations in 2014 with Pope Francis and other international leaders.
“We will not be silent in the face of Communist oppression any longer,” Trump said. “Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”
The actual order Trump signed, however, was more modest than that sweeping rhetoric might suggest. His directive left key elements of Obama’s overtures open: He did not close the U.S. embassy in Havana, nor did he completely block commerce.
Cuba’s leaders on Friday night criticized Trump’s “hostile rhetoric” and called his actions a return to “the coercive methods of the past.”
A government statement suggested Trump was influenced not by opinion polls, which favor improved U.S.Cuban relations, but by a minority of Cuban Americans. However, the Cuban leaders did not threaten retaliatory measures. They said they would be willing to continue negotiating with the U.S., so long as it was via “respectful dialogue.”
In addition, the new restrictions will not take place immediately and are not expected to force businesses to unwind existing deals, an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters in a briefing Thursday.
John Kavulich, director of the Cuba Trade Organization, which tracks business with the island, said businesses will have 90 days to make deals.
“The starter pistol has been fired,” he said.
The restrictions drew objections from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said in a statement that Trump’s moves “actually limit the possibility for positive change on the island.”
The main goal of the new regulations is to keep money out of the hands of Cuba’s military and intelligence services and “empower the Cuban people,” a White House official said.
The new rules include prohibitions on Americans spending money on businesses controlled by the military, which has a wide reach in the Cuban economy. That change would affect some proposed hotel projects in which Cuban entities controlled by the military would be partners.
In addition, rules on American travel to Cuba will be tightened, limiting casual tourism.
But airlines will continue to be able to fly to Havana, and cruise ships will still dock at the island.
Trump’s speech, before an audience that included veterans of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion — an effort by CIA-backed Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government — was heavy with Cold War rhetoric.
It amounted to an effort to partially return to the status quo from before December 2014, when President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they were reopening diplomatic ties after a half-century of hostility.
The timing and location of Trump’s announcement raised some eyebrows. He came to Miami as his vice president and three Cabinet secretaries were hosting leaders of Mexico and Central America in a two-day conference on immigration and regional prosperity.
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton denied that the timing was aimed at Latin American leaders.
“There’s nothing intentional about the timing. It’s not a slap in the face,” he told reporters.
But even among Cuban Americans here, some were dismayed.
“We need communication,” said Arsencio Acevedo, 48, who has lived in Miami for nearly 30 years. “It is communication that helps us all connect. Cut that off, and you cut off everything.”
PRESIDENT TRUMP called President Obama’s historic overtures a “terrible and misguided deal.” Rules on American travel to Cuba will be tightened.