Cubans brace for worst as Trump takes aim at Obama opening

What about Cuban-Americans? A 2016 poll by Florida International University among Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County found that 63 percent opposed the continuation of the embargo and 57 percent supported expanding economic relations between USA companies and the island.

Trump will end that practice for so called "people to people" travel, which has created a loophole that allows nearly anyone to travel to the island legally senior White House officials said. Yet Trump is politically indebted to conservative Cuban exiles in Miami who supported him in the past presidential election.

Trump plans to preserve some of the policy changes made by Obama. One of the options being considered by the Trump administration is banning USA companies from doing business with Cuban enterprises tied to the military, which controls a large part of the Communist-ruled island's economy, the people have said.

In an interview this week with TV Martí, the US government-funded broadcaster to Cuba, Diaz-Balart said he was sure Trump would announce "a real change" in relations.

US visitors also will be prohibited from staying in any hotels doing business with the Cuban military, including the Four Points Sheraton, which Starwood took over from the military in a deal the Obama administration approved.

So-called "people to people" trips, which enable American travelers to visit Cuba for educational purposes on their own as opposed to with a tour group, will be eliminated under the new USA policy. The rules also require a daylong schedule of activities created to expose the travelers to ordinary Cubans.

Among the new restrictions likely to impact Americans, Trump will prohibit individual educational trips to Cuba. Just between January and May 2017, US travelers to Cuba who were not of Cuban origin was 284,565, while the number of Cuban Americans was 166,455.

"My administration's policy will be guided by key United States national security interests and solidarity with the Cuban people", the draft of the eight-page Presidential Policy Directive said, according to the website. The volume of US exports to Cuba-especially poultry, rice, corn, wheat, and soy-currently allowed under the USA embargo could also plummet, since the Cuban government monopolizes import and export trade on the island.

Amongst things not expected to be affected by Trump's new policy: the embassy in Havana will remain an embassy, remittances will still be allowed to be sent to Cuba and agricultural and medical business will still be allowed. The rules will take effect when the Treasury Department has the regulations ready. That means that any USA traveler now booked on a flight to Cuba in the next few weeks, or even months, could go ahead and make the trip.

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Critics say Obama didn't exact concessions from the Cuban government on human rights and democratic reforms.

Tillerson said the shift in relations comes, in part, because "Cuba has failed to improve its human rights record".

Relations between the two countries were frozen following the communist revolution of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on 1961. It spent subsequent decades trying to either overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island, including toughening an economic embargo first imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This week, Sopo and other CubaOne members wrote an open letter to Trump outlining a series of recommended initiatives focused on family-centered policy and open travel.

That directive could undercut efforts by the USA hotel industry, which hopes to use the Starwood deal as a template as it continues to push Congress to lift the ongoing US embargo completely.

The son of a Cuban immigrant, Rubio opposed Obama's re-engagement with Cuba, saying Obama was making concessions to an "odious regime".

The stated objective of the new policy is to cut down on human rights abuses.

The White House has not yet released details of Trump's "recalibration" of United States policy towards Cuba, but the president is widely expected to fulfil a pledge made on a campaign visit to Miami in September to follow a harder line to put pressure on Havana over human rights.

  • Ismael Montgomery