MIAMI (AP) — President Donald Trump declared Friday he was restoring some travel and economic restrictions on Cuba that were lifted as part of the Obama administration's historic easing. He challenged the communist government of Raul Castro to negotiate a better deal for Cubans and Cuban-Americans.
Announcing the rollback of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening during a speech in Miami, Trump said Cuba had secured far too many concessions from the U.S. in the "misguided" deal but "now those days are over." He said penalties on Cuba would remain in place until its government releases political prisoners, stops abusing dissidents and respects freedom of expression.
"America has rejected the Cuban people's oppressors," Trump said in a crowded, sweltering auditorium. "They are rejected officially today — rejected."
Though Trump's announcement stops short of a full reversal of the Cuba rapprochement, it targets the travel and economic engagement between the countries that has blossomed in the short time since relations were restored. The goal is to halt the flow of U.S. cash to the country's military and security services in a bid to increase pressure on Cuba's government.
Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open. U.S. airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island 90 miles south of Florida. The "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil but was terminated under Obama, will remain terminated. Remittances to Cuba won't be cut off.
But individual "people-to-people" trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the U.S. government will police other such trips to ensure there's a tour group representative along making sure travelers are pursuing a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities."
Trump described his move as an effort to ramp up pressure to create a "free Cuba" after more than half a century of communism.
"I do believe that end is in the very near future," he said.
Trump's move was a direct rebuke to Obama, for whom the diplomatic opening with Cuba was a central accomplishment of his presidency. The new president's action is broadly opposed by American business groups.
"U.S. private sector engagement can be a positive force for the kind of change we all wish to see in Cuba," said Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and head of international affairs. "Unfortunately, today's moves actually limit the possibility for positive change on the island and risk ceding growth opportunities to other countries that, frankly, may not share America's interest in a free and democratic Cuba that respects human rights."
In Cuba, Granma, the official organ of the nation's Communist Party, covered Friday's speech in a real-time blog, saying "Trump's declarations are a return to imperialist rhetoric and unilateral demands, sending relations between Havana and Washington back into the freezer."
On the stage in Miami, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said the U.S. would no longer have to witness the "embarrassing spectacle" of an American president glad-handing with a dictator.
"President Trump will treat the Castro regime as a malevolent dictatorship that it is," Diaz-Balart said. "Thank you, President Trump, for keeping your commitments. You have not betrayed us — you kept your promise."
Obama announced in December 2014 that he and Cuban leader Raul Castro were restoring diplomatic ties between their countries, arguing that a new approach was needed because the policy the U.S. had pursued for decades had failed to democratize the island. Less than a year later, the U.S. Embassy in Havana re-opened.
The U.S. severed ties with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro's revolution, and spent subsequent decades trying to either overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island, including by toughening an economic embargo first imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The trade embargo remains in place under Trump. Only the U.S. Congress can lift it, and lawmakers, especially those of Cuban heritage, like Sen. Marco Rubio, another Florida Republican, have shown no interest in doing so.
Rubio staunchly opposed Obama's re-engagement with Cuba, and he lauded Trump as he took the stage.
"Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba," Rubio said.
Weissenstein reported from Havana. Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.
Fact sheet on Cuba released by the White House:
President Donald J. Trump is changing the policy of the United States toward Cuba to achieve four objectives:
1. Enhance compliance with United States lawin particular the provisions that govern the embargo of Cuba and the ban on tourism;
2. Hold the Cuban regime accountable for oppression and human rights abuses ignored under the Obama policy;
3. Further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and those of the Cuban people; and
4. Lay the groundwork for empowering the Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty.
Summary of Key Policy Changes:
The new policy channels economic activities away from the Cuban military monopoly, Grupo de Administracin Empresarial (GAESA), including most travel-related transactions, while allowing American individuals and entities to develop economic ties to the private, small business sector in Cuba. The new policy makes clear that the primary obstacle to the Cuban peoples prosperity and economic freedom is the Cuban militarys practice of controlling virtually every profitable sector of the economy. President Trumps policy changes will encourage American commerce with free Cuban businesses and pressure the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to expand the private sector.
The policy enhances travel restrictions to better enforce the statutory ban on United States tourism to Cuba. Among other changes, travel for non-academic educational purposes will be limited to group travel. The self-directed, individual travel permitted by the Obama administration will be prohibited. Cuban-Americans will be able to continue to visit their family in Cuba and send them remittances.
The policy reaffirms the United States statutory embargo of Cuba and opposes calls in the United Nations and other international forums for its termination. The policy also mandates regular reporting on Cubas progressif anytoward greater political and economic freedom.
The policy clarifies that any further improvements in the United States-Cuba relationship will depend entirely on the Cuban governments willingness to improve the lives of the Cuban people, including through promoting the rule of law, respecting human rights, and taking concrete steps to foster political and economic freedoms.
The policy memorandum directs the Treasury and Commerce Departments to begin the process of issuing new regulations within 30 days. The policy changes will not take effect until those Departments have finalized their new regulations, a process that may take several months. The Treasury Department has issued Q&As that provide additional detail on the impact of the policy changes on American travelers and businesses.