On Friday, June 16, President Trump announced policy changes towards Cuba while speaking in Miami. Trump’s new policy directive reverses many of the Obama administration’s policies with Cuba.
Trump directive calls for an effective ban of individual tourist travel to Cuba, as well as an absolute prohibition on U.S. companies conducting any business with entities controlled by GAESA, a state-run organization that has strong ties to the Castro family and military regime that operates in a majority of the Cuban economy.
The second part of Trump’s policy change will prohibit financial dealing with Cuba’s military and commercial wing, GAESA, which is known to exercise substantial control over the Cuban economy. GAESA, the “Business Administration Group,” operates state-owned companies that account for at least half the business revenue produced in Cuba, including 40 percent of foreign currency earnings from tourism and imports and is headed by Raul Castro’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodriguez.
Trump’s announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which will be issued in the next several months.
In response to inquiries about the rationale for this policy change, a White House official said “we want this relationship to be one in which we can encourage the Cuban people through economic interaction, and that process … has been started. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent… It’s not that [Trump] is opposed to any deal with Cuba, he’s opposed to a bad deal with Cuba.”
Trump said that the Havana embassy that was established under the Obama administration as well as the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. will remain open, “in the hope that our countries can forge a much stronger and better path.”
It has been reported in the press that this policy reversal undercuts efforts by the US hotel industry, Trump’s competitors, to ease the sanctions towards Cuba. It is another reminder of the President’s dual roles, public and private, as a result of his decision to retain his ownership stake in his companies. This week both the Maryland Attorney General and DC Attorney General filed a lawsuit that Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his business empire, and from inside the White House, “calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system.” The suit alleges that Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits US officials from taking anything of value from foreign leaders.
The author was part of an ABA delegation that visited Cuba a couple years ago. It is a country with friendly people, many of whom have ties to friends or family in the United States. They seek friendship with the United States and an end to the sanctions. This new policy directive is a step backward to the new relationship that the Obama Administration sought to establish.