US sets tighter restrictions on travel and business in Cuba

US sets tighter restrictions on travel and business in Cuba

The US has announced new restrictions which make it tougher for Americans to travel to Cuba and for firms to do business there.

Americans seeking to visit Cuba will have to navigate a complicated maze of travel, commerce and financial restrictions as part of a new policy to further isolate the island’s communist government.

Dozens of Cuban hotels, shops, tour companies and other businesses have been blacklisted due to links to Cuba’s military, intelligence or security services.

Most Americans will once again be required to travel as part of heavily regulated, organised tour groups run by US companies, rather than voyaging to Cuba on their own.

 Donald Trump is taking action to prevent US dollars from helping prop up the Cuban government (AFP/Getty Images)

The stricter rules mark a return to the tougher stance toward Cuba that existed before former President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored diplomatic relations in 2015.

They come as Donald Trump tries to show he’s taking action to prevent US dollars from helping prop up the Cuban government.

“These measures confirm there is a serious reversal in bilateral relations which has occurred as a result of the decisions taken by the government of President Donald Trump,” said Josefina Vidal, the top Cuban diplomat for North America.

Dozens of Cuban hotels, shops, tour companies and other businesses have been blacklisted (Getty Images)

Still, the policy is only a partial rollback of Obama’s changes. Cruise ship visits and direct commercial flights between the countries will still be permitted. Embassies in Washington and Havana stay open.

The rules are designed to steer US economic activity away from Cuba’s military, intelligence and security services, which dominate much of the economy through state-controlled corporations. The goal is to encourage financial support for Cuba’s growing private sector, said senior Trump administration officials, who briefed reporters on a conference call on condition they not be quoted by name.

To that end, the Treasury Department said it is expanding and simplifying a licence that allows some US exports to Cuba despite the embargo. They include tools and equipment to build or renovate privately owned buildings.

“We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The US embassy in Havana (AP)

Trump announced his new policy in June during a speech in Miami’s Little Havana neighbourhood, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to Castro’s government. The administration took several months to finalize the details of the new rules, which will take effect Thursday.

The new policy maintains several categories of travel to Cuba that are permitted despite the embargo, which carries on decades after the Cold War’s end. Americans can still travel on educational and “people to people” trips as well as visits designed to support the Cuban people by patronizing privately owned small businesses that have popped up across the island in recent years.

But those travelling to support Cuba’s people must have a daylong schedule of activities designed to expose them to Cubans and steer dollars toward citizens, such as renting rooms in private homes. Those on organised, “people to people” or educational visits must be accompanied by a representative of the US-based group organising the trip.

Vidal, the Cuban diplomat who was the public face of Cuba’s opening with the United States during the Obama administration, said the policy would harm Cuba’s economy, American citizens and US businesses. The rules were also quickly denounced by travel groups and proponents of closer US ties to the island.

“Cuba is still open for business,” said Charel van Dam of the Cuba Travel Network. “It is still possible for people to travel, but I think these announcements will serve mainly as something to scare off people who want to visit.”