What does Trump’s new Cuba policy mean for travel to island?
MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and DAVID KOENIG,Associated Press • June 17,
HAVANA (AP) — Here’s what’s changing with President Donald Trump’s new
policy on travel to Cuba, announced Friday:
Before former President Barack Obama launched detente with Cuba in
December 2014, most Americans without family ties to Cuba traveled to
the island on expensive guided tours dedicated to full-time “meaningful
interaction” with the Cuban people and — in principle at least —
avoiding activities that could be considered tourism, which is illegal
under U.S. law.
“People-to-people” tour companies needed special licenses from the U.S.
Treasury Department and were regularly audited and faced steep fines or
loss of licenses for allowing travelers to engage in tourism.
In Cuba, U.S. tour companies were required to contract guides, tour
buses and hotel rooms from the Cuban government, meaning U.S. travelers
were effectively under the constant supervision of the government. As a
result, they were often presented with activities and talks favoring
Cuba government positions on domestic and international issues.
Obama eliminated the tour requirement, allowing Americans to travel to
Cuba on individual “people-to-people” trips that were in reality
indistinguishable from travel to any other country in the world.
Travelers were legally required to maintain logs of their full-time
“people-to-people” schedules but the Obama administration made clear it
would not enforce the requirement.
Online lodging booker Airbnb was allowed into Cuba, and commercial
flights between the U.S. and Cuba resumed after more than half a
century. As a result, U.S. travel to Cuba roughly tripled by the time
Obama left office. U.S. travelers are engaging in what amounts to
illegal tourism, but they are also pumping hundreds of millions of
dollars into the restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts that are driving the
growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.
TRUMP’S ROLLBACK, AND WHAT IT MEANS
Trump will re-impose the requirement that “people-to-people” travelers
can only come to Cuba with heavily regulated tour groups. Many Cuban
entrepreneurs fear this will stifle the American travel that has allowed
so many of them to flourish since the start of detente.
The policy will also ban most American financial transactions with the
military-linked conglomerate that dominates much of the Cuban economy,
including dozens of hotels, along with state-run restaurants and tour buses.
This will almost certainly make all American travel to the island a
complicated maze of avoiding payments to military-linked monopolies
ranging from hotels to gas stations to convenience stores.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who claims credit for writing the Trump policy along
with a fellow Cuban-American and Florida Republican, Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart, tweeted Friday that individual American travelers will
still be able to go to Cuba for the purpose of supporting the Cuban
people, a category that includes helping human rights organizations and
non-governmental groups meant to strengthen democracy and civil society.
WHEN DOES IT TAKE EFFECT?
The new realities of U.S. travel to Cuba will be determined by the
regulations that federal agencies will produce as a result of the new
policy. A presidential memorandum gives the government 90 days before it
even starts to rewrite Cuba travel regulations, meaning it could be many
months before it’s clear what the change means for American travelers.
The Treasury Department said individuals who bought an airline ticket or
rented a room or car before Trump’s announcement could make additional
travel-related purchases for that travel under the Obama policy, even if
their trip to Cuba takes place after the new, stricter Trump regulations
go into effect.
Of course, the mere news of the change is likely to have a chilling
effect on travel to Cuba.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
David Koenig on Twitter: http://twitter.com/airlinewriter
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