By Marjorie Cohn, Truthout, June 6, 2019
[Note: Effective June 5, 2019, the Trump administration has issued an additional set of travel and transit regulations. Three summaries of these are the 2019 update on travel to Cuba , Interested in legal Travel to Cuba? , and Trumps New Travel Restrictions Harm Both US and Cuban People posts on this site.]
Escalating his policy to economically strangle Cuba, Donald Trump has imposed new restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. persons. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will no longer allow the popular “people-to-people” educational travel and they will deny licenses to cruise ships, the most common way people visit Cuba.
“While this further escalation of the Trump administration’s economic war on Cuba is very harmful to the people of Cuba and its private sector, it also directly impacts U.S. people,” Art Heitzer, chairperson of the National Lawyers Guild Cuba Subcommittee, told Truthout. “It will limit their freedom to travel, disrupting the lives and jobs of many Cuban-Americans in south Florida.”
Ironically, it is the voters in south Florida — many of them expatriated Cubans — whom Trump seeks to please with his shameful Cuba policy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has long been angling for regime change in Cuba. The New York Times called Rubio “a virtual secretary of state for Latin America.” Early in his presidency, Trump told administration officials that his strategy on Cuba was to “Make Rubio happy.”
In an unprecedented move last month, Trump, egged on by Rubio, decided to allow potentially thousands of lawsuits that will depress tourism and investment in Cuba.
When announcing the administration’s new restrictions on travel to Cuba, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “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 U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
But it is the Cuban people who will suffer from restrictions on tourism, which is critical to Cuba’s economy. This is an extension of the economic embargo the United States has maintained against Cuba since the Cuban Revolution. A secret State Department memo written in 1960 proposed making life so miserable for the Cuban people, they would overthrow the new Castro government. The memo advocated “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” The economic blockade continues to hurt the Cuban people although it has failed in its goal to overthrow the Cuban government.Last month, Trump, egged on by Rubio, decided to allow potentially thousands of lawsuits that will depress tourism and investment in Cuba.
Mnuchin also claimed, “Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.”
In fact, it is the U.S. government that is fomenting instability in Latin America. Team Trump is trying to illegally change Venezuela’s regime. The U.S. government blames Cuba for their own failed attempts to overthrow the Nicolás Maduro government in Venezuela.
Trump threatened Cuba with “a full and complete” embargo if it didn’t “immediately” stop supporting the Maduro government. But Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez stated at a news conference, “This is vulgar calumny. Cuba does not have troops nor military forces nor does it participate in military or security operations of the sister Republic of Venezuela.” Rodriguez’s denial was confirmed by the CIA, which concluded that Cuba’s assistance is much less critical to Venezuela than U.S. officials had claimed, according to The New York Times.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration continues to escalate its economic warfare against Cuba. Now it has eliminated the people-to-people travel license, and prohibited cruise ships and private aircraft from traveling to Cuba, effective June 5, 2019.
New Rules End Person-to-Person Educational Travel License
Congress has established 12 categories of people who can lawfully travel to Cuba under a general license. They include the following:
- Family visits;
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
- Journalistic activity;
- Professional research and professional meetings;
- Educational activities;
- Religious activities;
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
- Support for the Cuban people;
- Humanitarian projects;
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials;
- Certain authorized export transactions.
Only Congress can omit or add to any of these 12 categories. But different presidential administrations redefine what is permitted under each category. Trump’s newly announced policy narrows the purview of one of these categories. Now “people-to-people” travel will not be licensed under the category of “educational activities.”The ban on cruises will be devastating to the travel industry and the Cuban people.
General licenses had been allowed for travel that facilitated “people-to-people” contact between U.S. and Cuban people. The Treasury Department defines a “people-to-people” license as “an authorization, subject to conditions, for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba on an individual basis or under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact.”
Trump’s new policy “kills the people-to people category, which is the most common way for the average American to travel to Cuba,” according to Collin Laverty, head of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the biggest companies in the United States that handles travel to Cuba.
Passenger and Recreational Vessels and Private Aircraft Can’t Travel to Cuba
Under the new rules, passenger and recreational vessels (including cruises ships, fishing boats, sailboats and yachts) and private and corporate aircraft will no longer be licensed to visit Cuba. Most peoplewho travel to Cuba arrive on cruise ships.
From January to April of 2019, 142,000 Americans stopped in Cuba while on cruises, compared to 114,000 who traveled by airplane. The ban on cruises will be “devastating to the travel industry and the Cuban people,” said Tom Popper, president of the travel company insightCuba. Cruise Lines International Association, a cruise industry group, estimates that the new prohibition will affect approximately 800,000 passenger bookings.
Private and corporate aircraft will not be permitted to travel from the U.S. to Cuba. But commercial flights will still be allowed.
The Trump regime has threatened more sanctions against Cuba. It is not clear whether they will impose additional travel restrictions.
Very good article and I only can add that the poverty, the misery, the backward way of life in Cuba is imposed upon the people by the communist dictatorship that has stolen the destiny of the island and has not loosened its grip on Cuba since 1959. The US has had 12 presidents since then and Cuba only one dictator. Yes, I know that the original dictator died but his brother is still in power. There may be a civilian “president” now, Diaz-Canel but Raul Castro is the head of the communist party of Cuba and thus the real leader. One can promote travel and think one is helping the people but when one is dealing with Cuba, everything is sucked up to the top of the food chain and that means the communists. You must be aware that a retiree in Cuba only makes 250 Cuban Pesos which is less than $11 US Dollars and that everything in Cuba is extremely expensive and that what is allowed under the ration book is not enough to last all month. I visited Cuba to see friends back in 2015 and 2016 and all I saw was sadness and despair. Yes, you see musicians playing and dancers but when these folk go home, to the buildings in the old quarter of Havana that are falling down, when they do not have running water, when the rooms are rat infested and it is impossible to sleep because of the unbearable heat, you realise that those people are not happy at all. They are all suffering.
Thank you for commenting. Re: “all I saw was sadness and despair” –this observation, true but not complete IMHO, fits perfectly and sadly with nearly 60 years of official US policy “to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” (April 6, 1960 State Dept. memo by Lester D. Mallory, Deputy Asst. Secty. of State for Inter-American Affairs, and designated “secret” for decades, at https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/d499.)
According to the U.S. government, “The embargo on Cuba is the most comprehensive set of U.S. sanctions on any country, including the other countries designated by the U.S. government to be state sponsors of terrorism… “ – GAO, Nov. 2007, https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0880.pdf
The U.S. has sadly not allowed the Cuban revolution to operate in the world market, so it could be judged based on its own merits.
Here’s a most recent example, from the Swiss, and please let me know when you see the U.S. free press share such information with the American public:“Swiss NGO MediCuba, which provides HIV, cancer and pediatric care to Cubans, found itself unable to work last month after its bank, PostFinance, halted all transfers to Cuba because of US sanctions. It was one of the last banks that processed such transactions, and foreign groups trying to operate in Cuba are left to search for another route – private institutions that charge exorbitant fees, Western Union money transfers, or even asking travelers to bring cash into the country.”
— taken from https://www.rt.com/news/470012-cuba-healthcare-harm-sanctions/
Thank you very much for your reply. Although you have well documented your statement and your belief, I am afraid that it does not adjust itself to the reality of Cuba. The Cuban government has always been able to find support, first from the USSR and now from China, Russia, Venezuela and others, including others that trade, that send tourism and that build large, luxury hotels on the island. The Cuban revolution, is nothing more than a dictatorship. Please call things what they truly are. In the US, where, since 1959, twelve presidents have presided over different administrations and from both political parties. In Cuba, for the last sixty years, only the communist party has had total and complete control of the island. They have changed the lives of all Cubans. Some because they have had to seek political exile, others because they have stayed and suffered…but suffered not because a US embargo, but because of a tyrannical regime that does not tolerate any deviation from their established communist catechism. From the beginning the so-called revolution acted against the people. During the first year more than 600 people were summarily tried in something that can only be called a ‘mock court’ and executed. And what were their crimes. Nothing. In any other country, these victims of Fidel Castro’s destructive regime, would never have faced justice of any kind, because disagreeing with the government is not a crime. So how could you say to me, for I have visited Cuba and know many Cubans here in Spain, that the reason for poverty, hunger and lack of medicines is because of the US embargo. I know that you represent a group that would like to establish normal relations between your country and Cuba, but you should be working towards that by first seeking change in the Cuban government because the embargo is against the government and as soon as that government is gone, disappeared for ever, the embargo will be lifted and normal relations between your two countries can exist. My country has relations with Cuba and so does the UE, so why are they still in such bad shape? Because of one family, the Castro family. Work to change that and your intentions will be for the real good of the country.
Thank you for your further thoughts. It is impossible to determine how much of what you have observed — “they have stayed and suffered…but suffered not because a US embargo” — is due to the deliberate and extensive U.S. policy designed precisely to bring about such suffering, hoping that would provoke a desperate population into rebellion, and how much is the result of mismanagement and other things you complain of within Cuba. We, as U.S. citizens and residents, have an obligation to work to see that our nation does not continue to impose either directions or suffering on the Cuban people. We do not put ourselves in the position of deciding how the people of Cuba should act or determine their future. You should be aware that relations with the governments of Spain, the EU, et al, does NOT mean that their corporations and banks can trade with Cuba on a level playing field. I cited just one recent example from a Swiss agency. Another recent one is how I presume Cuban ex patriates in Toronto have had $14,000 seized because they have legally bought and sold Cuban coffee in Canada. This economic blockade is very extensive, and should neither be ignored nor tolerated. Thank you, Art Heitzer