Trump administration bans educational and recreational travel to Cuba

Yamil Lage  AFP  Getty Images
Tourists ride on an old American car serving as a taxi in Havana Cuba

Yamil Lage AFP Getty Images Tourists ride on an old American car serving as a taxi in Havana Cuba

That set of restrictions also came with a limit on the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send to their relatives on the island and came as part of a larger policy regarding stricter regulations on relations with Latin America (specifically Venezuela and Nicaragua).

"This affects all of us", said William Martinez, 58, a Cuban-born American who lived in Florida for 46 years but returned five years ago to drive a classic auto for tourists. The cruise lines did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the new restrictions.

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational travel, one of the USA agencies which arranges visits to Cuba, accused the Trump administration of playing politics by trying to appease the conservative anti-Havana Cuban immigrants in Florida, an important election swing state where they carry significant political weight.

"This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime", Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, referring to the historic opening in relations during the Obama administration. Marco Rubio, who has been advising the administration on Cuba policy.

"Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes", Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. "USA national security adviser John Bolton, who declared Cuba part of a 'troika of tyranny" along with Nicaragua and Venezuela as he outlined new sanctions in November, said the new policy is meant to deny the Cuban government a vital source of revenue.

"Cuba is the only country we are not allowed to go to".

It is unclear exactly how the rules, which takes effect on Wednesday, will impact travel to the island nation.

The Treasury banned group educational travel and cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways USA tourists visit the Caribbean island.

According to the Treasury Department, there is a "grandfathering provision" for Americans who have already booked a trip to Cuba before June 5, 2019.

Along with the cruise ships, the US will also now ban most private planes and boats from stopping in the island.

Cruises have become more popular than flights for leisure travelers to Cuba - almost 30,000 more came by cruise ship than flights this year. The Trump administration has shown increasing irritation with the alleged presence of Cuban security and intelligence agents in Venezuela.

The State Department tied the new ban directly to Havana's support for Maduro - whose embattled regime faces a direct challenge from US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared acting president of Venezuela.

"The new rules on Cuba are overdue", said John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. "Cuba remains communist, and the United States, under the previous administration, made too many concessions to one of our historically most aggressive adversaries", he said. "The Cuban people should not be used as political pawns".

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