WASHINGTON — Reversing yet another policy move by Barack Obama, President Trump plans to re-institute restrictions on travel to Cuba and U.S. business dealings with entities tied to the Cuban military and intelligence services, officials said Thursday.
Trump’s changes, to be announced during a Friday speech in Miami, are not expected to affect the re-establishment of basic diplomatic relations with Cuba, including renewed embassies in the respective country’s capitals.
“The new policy centers on the belief that the oppressed Cuban people — rather than the oppressive Castro regime’s military and its subsidiaries — should benefit from American engagement with the island,” said a Trump administration statement obtained by USA TODAY.
Supporters of Trump’s changes said they are designed to hurt Cuba’s communist government economically, and encourage people to rise up against the regime that has been in power since 1959. Obama revived diplomatic relations with Cuba in an effort to ease a half-century of tensions that marked the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Protesters who support easing restrictions on Cuba — saying that more engagement with the island is a better bet to undermine the regime — are expected to mass outside the theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood where Trump is expected to speak.
Nearly five months into office, Trump has reversed Obama on items ranging from business regulations to participation in the Paris climate change agreement.
Trump pledged to reverse Obama’s new approach to Cuba as part of last year’s presidential campaign, especially during appearances in Florida.
During a Nov. 2 appearance in Miami, Trump told supporters, “we will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal made by executive order, if we do not get the deal we want, and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve.”
Yet Trump is unlikely to undo all U.S.-Cuban ties.
In addition to keeping open embassies in Washington and Havana, the two governments are expected to continue negotiating on a variety of problems of mutual concern and some commercial U.S. flights and cruises crossing the 90 miles separating the two countries could continue.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., worked with Trump on the changes, pushing for a harder line.
“Economic practices that benefit the Cuban military at the expense of the Cuban people will soon be coming to an end,” Rubio wrote on Twitter.
Some business groups, meanwhile, lobbied the Trump administration to keep the Obama rules in place, including hotel and airline interest seeking to expand business into the island.
Marguerite Jiménez, senior associate for Cuba with the Washington Office on Latin America, called Trump’s plan “political grandstanding” that could well hurt average Cubans,
“If the Trump administration really wants to improve conditions for everyday Cubans and advance U.S. interests, ending engagement is precisely the wrong approach,” Jiménez said.
In its statement, the Trump administration said its new policy “reverses the Obama administration’s support for the communist Castro regime and its military apparatus, and instead aligns the United States with the Cuban people.”
American tourists with existing plans to travel to Cuba may not be affected. Trump’s changes would not go into effect until specific new regulations are written and put in place.
Further changes, the administration said, “will depend entirely on the Cuban government’s willingness to expand the Cuban people’s political freedom, respect their universal rights, and allow freedom of press as well as free and fair democratic elections.”