Saturday, 23 June, 2018

Tourism Spike to Cuba May Suffer as Trump Moves to Toughen Blockade

First U.S. Flight Since 1959 Lands in Cuba First U.S. Flight Since 1959 Lands in Cuba
Andrew Cummings | 16 June, 2017, 06:25

The revised Cuba policy is aimed at stopping the flow of US cash to the country's military and security services, the White House announced.

United States President Donald Trump has revamped Washington's friendly overtures towards Cuba, tightening several restrictions that were eased by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Getting to stroll through the colorful streets of Havana may soon be much harder for Americans.

From a USA business perspective, tightening sanctions on travel and trade with Cuba makes little sense. But because Cuban rules requires tour groups to have government guides and use state-run tour buses, the requirement has given the Cuban government near-total control of travelers' itineraries and funneled much of their spending to state enterprises.

The Trump administration is particularly expected to single out GAESA, the Cuban military's business wing. Likewise, Gaviota, the military-run tourism company which already makes hundreds of millions of dollars off visitors every year, has significantly increased its revenue since the sanctions loosening, and aims to double the amount of hotel rooms under its control in the next three years, spurred in large part by USA visitors to the island.

The officials said that the previous policy under Obama "was enriching Cuban military and intelligence services that contributed to oppression".

When Obama lifted the ban on Americans bringing Cuba's fabled cigars and rum home from travel overseas for personal use, many took the opportunity to light one up and sip a glass of aƱejo. Trump's new policy would not reflect the views of almost three-quarters of USA citizens. "Rubio and his wife, who was, by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba because we have very similar views on Cuba", Trump said, adding that "Cuban people" were "very good" to him in the 2016 election. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) played a "central" role in helping the administration recast the policy, one official said, while other members of Congress were instrumental as well.

Cuba Mourns Fidel Castro's Passing
Cuba Mourns Fidel Castro's Passing

Last year, the Obama administration opened up Cuba to USA travelers essentially on the honor system - allowing travelers to self-report their trip's goal.

The changes won't go into effect until regulations are issued.

"While the news comes as a step back for travel to Cuba, it is business as usual for Intrepid Travel", said Leigh Barnes, director of Intrepid Group North America.

The Obama administration's unwinding of sanctions was meant to empower the Cuban people by fostering civil society, increasing people-to-people contacts, and encouraging the development of the nascent Cuban private sector. When asked, White House officials did not say why the administration did not hold similar thinking for Saudi Arabia, which also has a history of human rights abuse.

Currently, travelers are allowed to bring up to 100 Cuban cigars, valued at no more than $800, duty-free every 31 days regardless of whether they are returning from Cuba or another country.

Detailing a new National Security Presidential Memorandum, Trump is also expected to announce stricter enforcement of rules under which Americans can travel to Cuba.

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