WASHINGTON – The US government said on Tuesday that it would restrict cultural visits by American citizens to Cuba, as well as impose restrictions on private and corporate boat and airplane trips to the island, a move that represents a blow to the Caribbean nation’s economy.
The Treasury Department said in a statement that Washington would no longer allow cultural and educational trips under the group people-to-people educational travel program, which allowed thousands of Americans to visit the island after a thaw in relations started under former President Barack Obama in 2014.
“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.
The Cuban government criticized the US moves, rejecting the policy changes and saying they were bound to fail.
“I energetically reject the announcement by the United States of new sanctions against Cuba that restrict travel by Americans and harden the blockade. They seek to strangle the economy and damage the standard of living of Cubans to squeeze political concessions from us,” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said. “They will fail once more.”
Members of Miami’s large Cuban exile community welcomed the tough travel restrictions announced by Washington.
Orlando Gutierrez, the leader of one of the most active exile groups in the South Florida city, told EFE that the ban on cruise ship travel to the island was justified because it was “immoral tourism” that provided funds to “repressors.”
“We’re very happy, this is what we’ve been fighting for,” Gutierrez, president of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, said.
EFE contacted several cruise lines that offer trips from Miami to Cuba, but none of the companies have responded.
The new US measures are aimed at limiting non-family travel to the island.
While US citizens are prohibited from visiting Cuba as regular tourists, exceptions were made for individuals in 12 categories, among them government officials and members of the media, as well as people involved in religious activities or seeking medical care.
The State Department, meanwhile, said that it would ban cruise ships from visiting the island.
“The United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, and private and corporate aircraft,” the State Department said in a statement.
Commercial airline flights, however, will continue to be allowed between the United States and Cuba.
“These actions are directly linked to the tourism industry, which has strong economic ties to the Cuban security, military, and intelligence sectors in Cuba. Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island,” the State Department said.
The Treasury Department said it would also prohibit exports of “passenger and recreational vessels, and private and corporate aircraft” to Cuba.
The new restrictions will take effect on Wednesday, when they will be published in the Federal Register, the official daily of the US government and the publication of record for laws, regulations and public notices.
The Treasury Department said “these actions mark a continued commitment towards implementing the National Security Presidential Memorandum signed by the President on June 16, 2017, titled ‘Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.’”
“These policies continue to work to channel economic activities away from the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services,” the Treasury Department said.
National Security Adviser John Bolton said in an address in Miami in April that the Trump administration planned to put more pressure on Cuba.
“This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep US dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services,” Mnuchin said.