Tougher Trump line toward Cuba delights hardliners on island

US President Donald Trump speaks about policy changes he is making toward Cuba in Little Havana in Florida
US President Donald Trump speaks in Little Havana Florida about policy changes he is making toward Cuba

19 June, 2017

By restricting individual to Cuba, the new policy also risks cutting off a major source of income for Cuba's private business sector, which the policy is meant to support.

On Friday Trump ordered tighter restrictions on Americans traveling the Caribbean island and a crackdown on USA business dealings with the Cuban military.

The Cuban government response was restrained.

While tourism to Cuba is banned by US 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.

By delivering a speech in Miami, Trump made his policy known in the center of the Cuban-American community.

President Donald Trump's announcement of a tougher line toward Cuba has delighted hardliners on the island, who say it reveals Washington's long-held aim of imposing its will on Cuba.

"America has rejected the Cuban people's oppressors", Trump said Friday in Miami's Little Havana, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to Castro's government.

But during the 2016 race to the White House he met veterans of Brigade 2506, the units of exiled Cubans covertly trained by the Central Intelligence Agency to launch the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in a failed bid to oust then Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.

Marta Diaz, now 75, left Cuba in 1967 and time has done nothing to boring her anger towards the regime.

"We don't want USA dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba", Trump said on Friday, pledging that USA sanctions would not be lifted until Cuba releases political prisoners and holds free elections. By rescinding certain Obama-era Cuba policies, he went against the advice of Democrats, Republicans, and business interests.

"The last two years have shown that the two countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized way", it said.

Under Trump's directive, embassies in Washington and Havana will stay open, and cruises and direct flights between the USA and Cuba will be protected under an exception from the prohibition on transactions with military-controlled entities. USA airlines and cruise ships would still be allowed to service the island.

Americans like Flynn and Sivan said they would not have undertaken the trip under the new rules, which make Communist-run Cuba more like the "forbidden island", just 90 miles (145 km) from Florida. Americans will still be able to bring Cuban cigars home, too.

In his statement, Flake called for the Senate's GOP leadership to allow a vote on his legislation that he said would eliminate "archaic restrictions" on travel to Cuba that "do not exist for travel by Americans to any other country in the world". The rules also require a daylong schedule of activities created to expose the travelers to ordinary Cubans.

"Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing US law. I do think you're likely to see a fewer number of flights and higher fares", said Andrew Keller, a partner at Hogan Lovells focusing on global trade and investment.

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Here's how Trump's new Cuba policy impacts US visitors.

Benjamin Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for Obama who led secret negotiations with Cuban officials that led to the rapprochement, said Trump's moves would undermine his stated objectives, pushing the Cubans into the arms of the Chinese and Russians, who have no restrictions on their dealings there, and emboldening hard-liners in the country who are opposed to moving toward democracy.

The veterans were again at the theater - named after one of their own - on Friday to welcome Trump and cheer as he made good on his promise to them to revise Obama's outreach strategy and demand Cuba make good on democratic reform. He will not break the diplomatic ties Obama worked so carefully to restore, nor does he plan to impose new trade sanctions.

In December 2014, Obama announced a historic deal to gradually rebuild the economic and diplomatic relationships between the two countries. "But the law is there and we can not encourage people to violate that law".

"We're not going there to support the military, we are going there to support the Cuban people and learn the culture", Martin said.

For Cubans, the shift risks stifling a nascent middle class that has started to rise as Americans have flocked to the island on airlines, patronizing thousands of private bed-and-breakfasts. "Why would you go back to a policy that has failed for 55 years?"

It drew swift condemnation from diverse quarters, from congressional Democrats and a handful of Republicans who support greater engagement with Cuba, to business-minded conservatives like the US Chamber of Commerce, which argued the move would hurt US businesses and jobs.

The Cuban government has given Trump's speech extensive coverage on official media. Cuba's government may not formally respond to Trump's speech until a speech Monday by its foreign minister.

"The Cuban regime will always find an excuse to blame the US government", she said.

The statement added that Havana will continue to work with the the matters of common interests, but will not make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence.

Cuba functioned as a virtual USA colony for much of the 20th century, and even reform-minded Cubans are highly sensitive to perceived US infringements on national sovereignty. That includes 330,000 Cuban Americans visiting relatives on the island, but numerous rest were Americans taking advantage of Obama's landmark moves to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba.

"I do believe that end is in the very near future", he said.

However, Trump avoided turning back the clock completely, leaving intact many steps toward normalization.

Trump asserted that the USA will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country's "great, great future, a country of great potential".

Moscow maintains close ties with Havana, and in March signed a deal to ship oil to Cuba for the first time in over a decade.

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