President Donald Trump announced new restrictions limiting US citizens’ ability to travel to and do business in Cuba, moving to roll back his predecessor’s historic rapprochement and drawing a rare rebuke from the nation’s largest business lobbying group.
The changes Trump announced include a ban on Americans doing business with the military and intelligence-affiliated companies that control large swaths of the Cuban economy. He unveiled the new policy during a speech in Miami, where the fervently anti-Castro expatriate community helped deliver an electoral victory to Trump in the crucial battleground state.
“I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump told a cheering crowd that included veterans of the failed US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island in 1961.
Trump painted his moves as a fulfillment of his campaign promise to reverse the thaw begun under the Obama administration, saying Cuba had failed to make progress improving human rights. The move to end the decades-old US isolation of Cuba “does not help the Cuban people; they only enrich the Cuban regime,” he said.
Still, many of the changes in US policy made by President Barack Obama will remain in place, including the opening of a US Embassy in Havana and direct travel to the island via cruise ships and airliners.
The action stirred objections from the US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business lobbying organization, which has otherwise backed much of Trump’s agenda.
“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,” Myron Brilliant, the chamber’s executive vice president and head of international affairs, said in a statement emailed to reporters. Machinery manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., whose then-CEO Doug Oberhelman travelled to Cuba last year to lay groundwork for sales in the country, also signaled displeasure with Trump’s action.
“Caterpillar believes that engagement with Cuba continues to represent a strong opportunity – not just for American businesses, but to serve as a powerful tool for change,” the company said in a statement emailed to reporters that avoided direct criticism of the president.
Trump was joined on the trip by vocal critics of Obama’s attempt to resume more normal relations with the communist nation. Senator Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American Republican who represents Florida, travelled on Air Force One to the event with Trump, alongside Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican who is the son of Cuban refugees. Trump tweeted a picture of the two lawmakers working to develop the new Cuba policy, part of what the White House said was extensive consultations with Capitol Hill.
Still, the president’s moves are not designed to massively disrupt existing commercial ties that have grown between the US and Cuba since the Obama administration moved to restore diplomatic ties in late 2014. After his remarks, Trump signed an order directing the Treasury Department to make the changes.
The new rules restricting financial dealings with Cuban companies with links to the country’s military and intelligence services could stall future American development on the island. Grupo de Administracion Empresarial SA, known as GAESA, a state-run, military-affiliated conglomerate, owns almost all of the retail chains in Cuba and 57 of the mainly foreign-run hotels on the island.