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Donald Trump

Trump rolls back some of Obama’s Cuba policies, leaving many of them in place

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 3:53am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 3:53am

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered tighter restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba and a clampdown on US business dealings with the Caribbean island’s military, saying he was cancelling former President Barack Obama’s “terrible and misguided deal” with Havana.

Laying out his new Cuba policy in a speech in Miami, Trump signed a presidential directive to roll back parts of Obama’s historic opening to the Communist-ruled country after a 2014 diplomatic breakthrough between the two former Cold War foes.

But Trump left in place many of Obama’s changes, including the reopened US embassy in Havana, even as he sought to show he was making good on a campaign promise to take a tougher line against Cuba, especially over its human rights record.

“We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Miami’s Cuban-American enclave of Little Havana, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who helped forge the new restrictions on Cuba.

“Effective immediately, I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump declared as he made a full-throated verbal assault on the government of Cuban President Raul Castro.

Trump’s revised approach calls for stricter enforcement of a long-time ban on Americans going to Cuba as tourists, and seeks to prevent US dollars from being used to fund what the Trump administration sees as a repressive military-dominated government.

But facing pressure from US businesses and even some fellow Republicans to avoid turning back the clock completely in relations with Cuba, the president chose to leave intact some of his Democratic predecessor’s steps toward normalisation.

The new policy bans most US business transactions with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, a Cuban conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy. But it but makes some exceptions, including for air and sea travel, according to US officials. This will essentially shield American airlines and cruise lines serving the island.

“We do not want US dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba,” Trump said, pledging that US sanctions would not be lifted until Cuba frees political prisoners and holds free elections.

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However, Trump stopped short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostilities. He will not cut off recently resumed direct US-Cuba commercial flights or cruise-ship travel, though his more restrictive policy seems certain to dampen new economic ties overall.

The administration, according to one White House official, has no intention of “disrupting” existing business ventures such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by Marriott International, to manage a historic Havana hotel.

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Nor does Trump plan to reinstate limits that Obama lifted on the amount of the island’s coveted rum and cigars that Americans can bring home for personal use.

While the changes are far-reaching, they appear to be less sweeping than many US pro-engagement advocates had feared.

Still, it will be the latest attempt by Trump to overturn parts of Obama’s presidential legacy. He has already pulled the United States out of a major international climate treaty and is trying to scrap his predecessor’s landmark health care programme.

The Cuban government had no immediate comment, but ordinary Cubans said they were crestfallen to be returning to an era of frostier relations with the United States with potential economic fallout for them.

“It’s going to really hurt me because the majority of my clients are from the United States,” said Enrique Montoto, 61, who rents rooms on US online home-rental marketplace Airbnb, which expanded into Cuba in 2015.

Trump announced his new approach at the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little Havana, the heart of the United States’ Cuban-American and Cuban exile community. The venue is named after a leader of the failed US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 against Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government.