Donald Trump announces new Cuba restrictions: ‘We will not be silenced in the face of communist oppression’
President Donald Trump has announced that his administration will be tightening regulations on Cuba in order to help the Cuban people.
“We will not be silenced in the face of communist oppression any longer”, Mr Trump said in front of an excited crowd in the Little Havana neighbourhood of Cuba.
The President pledged to help the people of Cuba, and ensure that American money spent in Cuba will go to the Cuban people instead of the Cuban government. He characterised the administration of Raul Castro as a “brutal, brutal regime”, and spoke a flourish in describing brutal crackdown and imprisonment of religious worshippers in Cuba. Mr Trump described Cuba as a major security threat to the United States, saying that the country had shipped weapons to North Korea while allowing “cop killers” to seek refuge within its borders.
“Effective immediately, I am cancelling the last Administration’s completely one sided deal with Cuba”, Mr Trump said.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a one-time political foe who engaged in a heated primary run against the President last year for the Republican nomination, praised the President’s efforts to reform policy toward Cuba. Mr Rubio flew down to Miami with the President on Air Force One, and is said to have played a leading role in advising the White House on the new policies.
The policy change changes won’t result in many immediate changes, and isn’t intended to impact current diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Instead, Mr Trump has instructed his government to begin reviewing how they might change policy in order to meet the administration’s goals. Those policy reviews will focus on how to best eliminate individual travel to Cuba that the White House says is being abused (technically tourism to Cuba is not currently legal), and on how to ensure that American money spent in Cuba or on Cuban goods gets into the hands of the Cuban people and not the government.
The new policies won’t change family travel allowances, and will leave other forms of travel to Cuba open, including trips for journalistic purposes. The new policies won’t affect the current wet foot dry foot policy that seeks to shelter Cubans who land on American soil seeking refuge.
Commercial flights will not be stopped from servicing Havana, nor will cruise lines.
Mr Trump has long promised to pull back on his predecessor’s landmark Cuba policy changes, and secured the endorsement in 2016 of the Bay of Pigs Veteran Association in Miami for that pledge. Senior White House officials said during a conference call before the President’s announcement that his promise to the group to hold the Cuban government accountable was a major factor in his decision in February to instruct his staff to begin reviewing the policy.
Critics of the President’s decision, however, note that the US has a friendly relationship with other countries with poor civil rights records, including Saudi Arabia, where Mr Trump travelled to during his first foreign trip in office.
Former President Barack Obama’s 2015 announcement that travel restrictions to Cuba would be loosened resulted in a flash of excitement from Americans who were eager to travel to Havana to get a glimpse of a country that sits just 100 miles off the coast of Florida, but has been behind a veil for American tourists. Since then, however, interest in travelling to the country has waned somewhat in the US, with roughly 76 percent of Americans saying they aren’t planning on a trip there this year compared to 70 percent last year.
Critics say that Mr Trump’s plans won’t actually push the Cuban government to strive for better human rights record, and will likely hurt the Cuban people. That’s because many Cubans are self employed in retail and other services that serve tourists.
Sarah Stephens, an expert on US-Cuba policy who works to secure diplomatic changes like the ones made by the Obama administration, told the Independent that the lack of substance in Mr Trump’s changes doesn’t amount to substantial policy, and is instead a political ploy to secure conservative Cuban votes in Florida.
“This is not a serious policy. This is a policy that has no achievable goal, it imagines no process, and it offers no end game”, she said. “By choosing to make the announcement before the diehards in Miami, the White House isn’t even looking for window dressing, but admitting that this is simply about their game of politics.”