HAVANA (AP) — President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s “cancelling” his predecessor’s policy toward Cuba is a good deal less than meets the ear.
Trump’s move, announced Friday in Miami, actually leaves in place most of the important elements of President Barack Obama’s moves to open relations with the island.
And while his policy has the stated aim of helping the country’s nascent private sector, it contains a measure that could damage thousands of small-business people who host, feed and transport independent American travelers to Cuba.
Trump’s policy keeps a U.S. Embassy open in Havana and allows U.S. airlines and cruise ships to continue service to Cuba. Cuban-Americans can still send money to relatives and travel to the island without restriction. U.S. farmers can continue selling their crops to the Cuban government.
The new policy aims to starve military-linked businesses of cash by banning any U.S. payments to them. It pledges to help the entrepreneurial class that has grown since President Raul Castro enacted changes after taking office a decade ago.
“Effective immediately, I am cancelling the previous administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said. “We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of the Castro regime.” He promised “concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future.”
The policy will undoubtedly reduce the flow of cash to GAESA, the military-linked conglomerate that operates dozens of hotels and other tourism-related businesses. But those businesses host hundreds of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists a year, and do unfettered business with corporations from around the world, reducing the impact of any U.S. cutoff.
Weakening the impact further, Trump’s policy carves out exceptions in the military ban for airlines, cruise ships, agricultural sales and remittances.
The policy also allows Americans to continue patronizing state-run hotels and other businesses that are not directly linked with Cuba’s military and state-security services. And, of course, nothing prevents the Cuban government from simply moving revenue over to the military or state security, a vulnerability in the policy that the White House has not addressed.
The policy risks harming independent business people by restoring a requirement for most American travelers to visit Cuba as part of tightly regulated tour groups. The Cuban government has traditionally steered those tour groups to state-run business, meaning the majority of American travelers to Cuba will probably no longer be able to patronize private restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and taxi drivers.
Private entrepreneurs say Americans represent a disproportionate share of their revenue because they spend more than other travelers for high-end services that badly run state-operated business typically cannot provide.
Trump also demanded the return of U.S. fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a black militant convicted in 1977 of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper.
“The harboring of criminals and fugitives will end,” Trump said. “You have no choice. It will end.”
Many of the high-profile fugitives in Cuba are black or Puerto Rican militants who were offered political asylum by Fidel Castro during the 1970s and 1980s.
Cuba has repeatedly said it will not renege on the promise of the former president, who died in November.
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