Reversing yet another policy move by Barack Obama, President Trump plans to re-institute restrictions on travel to Cuba and US business dealings with entities tied to the Cuban military and intelligence services, officials said Thursday.
While tourism to Cuba is banned by USA 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.
While not a full reversal of Obama's historic Cuba rapprochement, Trump's recast USA policy hews closer to the hard line espoused by Cuban-American Republicans who derided Obama's 2014 policy as a capitulation.
The administration will consider benchmarks - free elections, the release of political prisoners and direct pay for Cuban workers - as progress that could eventually lead to the easing of the restrictions, according to the senior administration officials.
Trump's new directives do not reinstitute the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that was ended by former President Barack Obama before leaving office earlier this year.
Polls suggest most Americans support the liberalized policy towards Cuba pushed by the Obama administration.
American tourist travel was never technically speaking legal, and the White House says that they are generally making changes to travel categories so that it will be harder to abuse loopholes to go do things like hang out on Cuban beaches.
Marriot International, an American multinational diversified hospitality company, who has a hotel set up in Cuba and is on its way to building another, showed major concerns over Trump's decision to restrict travel to the island country.
The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro's revolution.
"U.S. private sector engagement can be a positive force for the kind of change we all wish to see in Cuba", said Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and head of global affairs. Plus, Julia Sweig, senior research fellow at the University of Texas and the author of several books, including "Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know", explains the complicated history of the U.S. -Cuba relationship.
In addition to retaining the embassy in Havana, the Trump policy would keep Obama's immigration changes in place.
Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks, along with seven other conservative organizations, sent Trump an open letter Thursday pressing him not to unravel Obama's policies that expanded travel to and trade with Cuba. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart say more sanctions are needed. Some were persuaded. Ramon Sanchez, head of the Cuban-American democracy movement, explains his change in attitude. These policy changes will take effect once new regulations are issued.
Rubio was very vocal about Obama normalizing relations with Cuba and went as far as to block the President's pick for ambassadors who were part of that agenda.