Making good on a campaign pledge, President Donald Trump on Friday announced in Miami a significant rollback of former President Barack Obama’s accord with Cuba by clearly banning tourist travel to the island, restating the importance of the 56-year-old trade embargo with the island and instituting a broad prohibition on financial transactions with companies significantly controlled by the Cuban government’s military.
For U.S.-based companies such as the Marriott-owned Starwood Hotels, the Trump policy could mean the cancellation of its special U.S. government license – obtained last year under the Obama administration – allowing it to sign a deal with Cuba giving it management over a historic Havana hotel. The directive instructs the Secretary of the Treasury to consult with the Commerce Department to promulgate new rules 90 days after the presidential policy directive is issued Friday. While tourism to Cuba is banned by federal law, the Obama administration had been allowing people to travel to Cuba and spend money as part of “people to people” educational trips for visitors who plan a full itinerary of educational exchange activities, though there had been little to no enforcement of these requirements. The Trump administration is stepping up requirements on those sorts of trips, requiring a full-time schedule of activities that “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that the travel must result in a meaningful interaction between the traveller” and Cubans, according to the draft.
Travellers to Cuba will have to keep detailed records of all their financial transactions in the country for five years to make available to the Treasury Department if requested. Anyone who travels to Cuba, however, might be able to stay at an Airbnb or eat at an independent restaurant, although that interpretation is not clearly spelled out in the draft order. But those who go to the island under a U.S. license will need to keep strict notes proving they’re complying with the new executive order – or face fines.