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RPT-Trump to clamp down on Cuba travel, trade, curbing Obama’s detente

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By Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, June 16
President Donald Trump on Friday will announce plans to tighten
restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and clamp down on
U.S. business dealings with the island’s military, rolling back
parts of former President Barack Obama’s historic opening to
Havana.

Laying out his new Cuba policy in a speech in Miami, Trump will
issue a presidential directive to reverse some of the loosened
regulations that Obama introduced after a 2014 breakthrough
between the two former Cold War foes, senior White House
officials said.

Trump, taking a tougher approach against Havana after promising
to do so during the presidential campaign, will outline
stricter enforcement of a long-time ban on Americans going to
Cuba as tourists and will seek to prevent U.S. dollars from
being used to fund what the new U.S. administration sees as a
repressive military-dominated government.

But, facing pressure from U.S. business and some of his fellow
Republicans to avoid turning back the clock completely in
relations with communist-ruled Cuba, he also will leave intact
many of Obama’s steps toward normalization.

The new policy will ban most U.S. business transactions with
the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a
sprawling conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy,
but make some exceptions, including for air and sea travel, the
officials said. This will essentially shield U.S. airlines and
cruise-ship companies now serving the island.

However, Trump will stop short of closing embassies or breaking
diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five
decades of hostility and will not cut off recently resumed
direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights – though his more
restrictive policy seems certain to dampen new economic ties.

The administration, according to one White House official, does
not intend to “disrupt” existing business ventures such as one
struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by
Marriott International Inc, to manage a Havana hotel.

Nor are there plans to reinstate limits that Obama lifted on
the amount of the island’s coveted rum and cigars that
Americans can bring home for personal use.

As a result, the changes – though far-reaching – appear to be
less sweeping than many U.S. pro-engagement advocates had
feared.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Trump will justify his partial reversal of Obama’s measures to
a large extent on human rights grounds. His aides contend that
Obama’s easing of U.S. restrictions amounted to “appeasement”
and has done nothing to advance political freedoms in Cuba,
while benefiting the Cuban government financially.

Saying that the aim was to repair what Trump has called a “bad
deal” struck by Obama, U.S. officials said the new
administration would leave the door open to improved relations
if Cuba undertakes democratic reforms such as allowing free
elections and releasing political prisoners.

International human rights groups say, however, that
reinstating a U.S. policy of isolating the island could make
the situation worse by empowering Cuban hardliners. The Cuban
government has made clear it will not be pressured into reforms
in exchange for further engagement with Washington.

“If you want Cuba to change and reform, we are doing the
opposite of what would be most likely to bring about reforms,”
said Ben Rhodes, a former Obama aide who helped negotiate
rapprochement.

Trump’s critics have also questioned why his administration is
now singling out Cuba for its human rights record while
downplaying the issue in other parts of the world.

Trump will announce his new approach early Friday afternoon at
the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana, the heart
of America’s largest Cuban-American community, whose support
aides believe helped him win Florida in the election.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a key player in forging the new
policy, was expected to attend along with other Cuban-American
lawmakers.

Under Trump’s order, the Treasury and Commerce Departments will
be given 30 days to begin writing new regulations and they will
not take effect until they are complete. No deadline has been
set, the officials said.

Under the revised travel policy, U.S. officials say there will
be tighter enforcement to make sure Americans legally fit the
12 authorized categories they claim to be traveling under,
which could spook many visitors, wary of receiving a hefty
fine.

While tourism to Cuba is banned by U.S. law, the Obama
administration had been allowing people to travel to Cuba as
part of “people to people” educational trips for visitors, a
popular classification that a White House official said was
“ripe for abuse” by those looking for beach vacations.

Trump’s new policy will eliminate such self-certified visits by
individuals while still allowing them to be done as group
tours, and also retaining some individual travel under other
authorized categories such as religious, artistic and
journalistic activities, officials said.

In a contentious internal debate, some aides argued that Trump,
a former real estate magnate who won the presidency promising
to unleash U.S. business and create jobs, would have a hard
time defending any moves that close off the Cuban market.

But other advisers have contended that it is important to make
good on a campaign promise to Cuban-Americans. (Additional
reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle in
Washington, Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by
Michael Perry)


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