WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday new sanctions against Cuba, prohibiting Americans from staying in hotels on the island and buying tobacco or alcohol to bring back to the US, an attempt to convince Latino – mainly Cuban-American – voters in the key swing state of Florida to vote for him in the November election.
“Today we reaffirm our ironclad solidarity with the Cuban people and our eternal conviction that freedom will prevail over the sinister forces of communism and evil in many different forms,” the president said at a White House event with former combatants in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. “Today we declare America’s unwavering commitment to a free Cuba.”
The measure puts an even greater burden on the communist island’s tourist sector, where all hotels are linked with the Cuban government, and it leaves Americans visiting Cuba only one option for finding nightly lodging: staying in the private homes of bed-and-breakfast operators.
Up to now, Americans could stay in very few hotels in Cuba, given that the Trump administration three years ago vetoed transactions with companies controlled by the Cuban military, intelligence or security agencies, and the island’s armed forced control many of the lodging places on the island.
In a statement, the US Treasury Department said that, starting now, Americans will not be able to stay at any property that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has identified as “disproportionately (benefiting) the Cuban government, all at the expense of the Cuban people, who continue to face repression at the hands of the regime.”
The move affects 433 hotels on the island, Carrie Filipetti, the person in charge of US policy toward Cuba and Venezuela at the State Department, told reporters.
In addition, the Treasury Department prohibited Americans visiting Cuba from bringing back any alcohol or tobacco that originated in Cuba, thus cancelling a directive by former president Barack Obama that permitted Americans to bring back up to $100 worth of those products for personal consumption in their luggage.
The Trump administration also broadened the travel restrictions to Cuba, where US tourism is already prohibited, eliminating the authorization that allowed American citizens to attend or organize professional meetings or conferences in Cuba, something that now will be allowed only in exceptional circumstances as per special request.
Since he came into office in 2017, Trump has frozen the process of normalizing relations with Cuba launched by Obama, imposing limits on remittances sent back to Cuba and constricting the island’s tourist sector by banning cruise ship stops on the island and all flights from the US to any Cuban airports except for Havana.
With the Nov. 3 election approaching, in which Trump is seeking a second term and wants to retain the support of Cuban-Americans at the polls in Florida, a key swing state, he has upped his negative discourse against Havana.
Trump said on Wednesday that the US will not lift its sanctions on Cuba until all political prisoners there are released, the freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized and free elections are scheduled.
After Trump announced the new sanctions, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Twitter that the Cuban people “will never renounce their sovereignty” and will defeat the “cruel and criminal policy” of the US.
Diaz-Canel had said on Tuesday in his address before the United Nations General Assembly that “The government of the United States is not hiding its intention to apply new and harsher aggressive measures against Cuba in the coming months.”