What Trump's Announcement Means for Traveling to Cuba
“We will enforce the ban on tourism,” Trump said.
President Donald Trump announced his plans to restrict certain economic and civil relations with Cuba on Friday, in a departure from his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
For Americans who had considered a trip to Cuba since the easing of restrictions, Trump's approach could make it more difficult to go.
Trump does not currently plan to close the Cuban embassy that was reopened under Obama or to return to Cold War-era approaches to Cuba, Reuters reported. He will however crack down on U.S. business transactions with the public sector of the island nation, as well as restrict travel to the region.
Obama reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana and renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in 50 years starting in 2014. By the summer of 2016, the first commercial flights to Cuba had landed on the island, and several major domestic airlines were running daily routes.
Trump's administration has expressed concern that laxity in relations with Cuba has given the Cuban government more legitimacy, while empowering Cuban militaristic powers to benefit from U.S. trade partners.
“The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump said during his speech in the neighborhood of Little Havana in Miami. “We will enforce the ban on tourism.”
Supporters of the policy, including Cuban-American and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, say that this new approach will limit funds to Cuba's military. Rubio wrote in a Facebook post that the Cuban military controlled a “significant percentage of their economy, and that these policies would curb contributions.
Opponents countered that the hardening of relations between the two countries will instead limit travel and economic development in the region.
“They know exactly what they're doing and what they're trying to do is stop travel to Cuba,” James Williams, president of a pro-Cuban lobbying group, told NPR.
Tourism to Cuba from the U.S. has long been prohibited, and people who want to visit the country need to qualify under 12 approved reasons, including education, visiting family, or carrying out humanitarian projects.
The most important change for travelers is ending the “people-to-people” travel to Cuba, one of the 12 approved types of travel. People-to-people travel, which the State Department considers educational, involves pairing up with a local Cuban to discover more about their daily life. The new policy will eliminate individual people-to-people travel and will require those looking for this experience do it through a tour operator that can provide detailed itineraries of the educational activities involved.
What This Means for Travelers
Under this new plan, all travelers to Cuba will also require greater documentation to prove that they are not simply going to Cuba for tourism.
The policy change will not affect Cuban-Americans, who were given greater freedom to visit family under the changes made by Obama.
Both government officials and industry experts noted that travelers interested in going to Cuba will need to wait and see which concrete regulations are changed.
“The message that comes out of the administration has to be smart and strategic rather than discouraging travel,” Giancarlo Sopo, director of Cuban-American tour group CubaOne, told Travel + Leisure. “The administration would be wise to encourage Americans to support Cuba's fledgling private sector.”