Americans lament Cuba becoming "forbidden island" again

Pauline Gross
June 18, 2017

During a speech in Little Havana, the epicenter of a Cuban exile community that enthusiastically supported him in last year's election, Trump said he was keeping a campaign promise to roll back the policy of engagement begun by President Barack Obama in 2014, which he said had empowered the communist government in Cuba and enriched the country's repressive military.

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered tighter restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and a clampdown on USA business dealings with the Castro regime.

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.

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However, according to a White House statement released during Trump's speech, the policy changes "will not take effect until those (U.S.) Departments have finalized their new regulations".

Cuba's 1,470-word statement Friday night labeled Trump a hypocrite for calling on Cuba to improve human rights, saying the USA government "is threatening more limits on health care that would leave 23 million people without insurance. and marginalizes immigrants and refugees, particular those from Islamic countries".

Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open and USA airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island 90 miles south of Florida.

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"America has rejected the Cuban people's oppressors", Trump said in Miami's Little Havana, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to Castro's government.

"Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing US law". Trump also directed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to convene a task force on expanding Internet access on the island and reiterated the United States' opposition to efforts in the United Nations to lift the Cuban embargo until more is done to honor human rights. Less than a year later, the U.S. Embassy in Havana re-opened, and Obama paid a historic visit to Havana in 2016.

Worldwide human rights groups say, however, that renewed USA efforts to isolate the island could worsen the situation by empowering Cuban hard-liners.

Signing a new National Security Presidential Memorandum, Trump announced stricter application of the rules under which Americans can travel to Cuba. "It is an offence against Latin America". Trump's aides said the aim was to close off a path for Americans seeking beach vacations in a country where USA tourism is still officially banned.

As to travels, individual leisure travel, permitted by the Obama administration, will be prohibited, and Americans will be required to visit Cuba through tour groups.

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, one of the Republican Party's most vocal advocates for easing rules on U.S. dealings with Cuba, called for a vote on legislation lifting restrictions on American travel there. But the Republican leadership in Congress has long blocked such a move, and it appears unlikely to budge.

Under Trump's new directive, US individuals and companies will be prohibited from doing commerce with Cuban businesses, including the Cuban tourism sector, owned by the Cuban military. He was warmly received by Cuban-Americans and the symbolic importance of the policy wasn't lost on those in attendance at the event.

Other reports by GizPress

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