Speed Reads

Cuba (Menos) Libre

Trump is about to reverse some of Obama's Cuba rapprochement, largely hitting tourism

If you are an American who was planning to visit Cuba under former President Barack Obama's relaxed travel rules, it looks like you missed your window, at least for a few years. On Friday, President Trump will travel to Miami to unveil a rollback of many of Obama's Cuba policies, part of a historic rapprochement Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced in December 2014. Trump's policy directive will crack down on American travel to Cuba and prohibit U.S. companies and individuals from conducting business with any entities owned by Cuba's military, which controls much of the economy through civilian-run holding companies, particularly tourism and hotels.

Tourist travel to Cuba is officially prohibited under the U.S. embargo, which only Congress can lift, but Obama had relaxed the rules, allowing Americans to visit under the 12 authorized categories and essentially trusting the travelers to self-police. Under Trump's directive, travelers will have to visit with a tour by a recognized U.S. organization and the Treasury Department will be required to conduct regular audits of U.S. travel.

The rules on commerce with military-owned entities won't apply to ports or airports, meaning cruise ships and air travel won't be affected, but they will "undercut efforts by the U.S. hotel industry" to expand into Cuba, especially Marriott's Starwood Hotels and Resorts business, The Washington Post notes. Trump's own hotel and resort business, which has expressed interest in the Cuba market, can't pursue any foreign deals while Trump is president, thanks to an ethics pledge, the Post says, and "according to one industry expert, a presidential directive restricting efforts there by Starwood or other hotel chains would, in effect, neutralize a chief rival's ability to gain an early advantage."

Trump's directive is being cheered by Cuban-American hardliners, including some members of Congress, though it won't totally reverse Obama's rapprochement: The U.S. and Cuban embassies will stay open in Havana and Washington, respectively; the "wet foot, dry foot" policy will still be defunct; and Cuban-Americans can still travel and send money to Cuba, for example. "You can't put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent," a senior White House official said Thursday. Business and human rights groups oppose the changes, and a months-long review by the Trump administration had ended with a recommendation to stick with Obama's policy.