Cuba concerned over possible policy changes by Trump

US president’s new policy towards the island could include tightening of travel rules

Donald Trump: the US president met with Florida senator Marco Rubio, his former rival as Republican nominee for president, for dinner at the White House last week. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/EPA

Donald Trump: the US president met with Florida senator Marco Rubio, his former rival as Republican nominee for president, for dinner at the White House last week. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/EPA

 

Cuba is bracing itself for a potential shift in US policy, amid expectations that US president Donald Trump could unveil a new policy towards the island this week.

There are expectations that Mr Trump may announce new measures when he travels to Miami, Florida, where he is scheduled to deliver a speech on Friday.

Mr Trump met with Florida senator Marco Rubio, his former rival as Republican nominee for president, for dinner at the White House last week. Mr Rubio, a Cuban-American, has been a fierce opponent of former president Barack Obama’s Cuba policy which saw the reopening of diplomatic relations between the two countries for the first time in half a century.

Among the possibilities being mooted by the White House are the tightening of travel rules. While technically US citizens are not permitted to travel to Cuba for tourism purposes, they are permitted to visit relatives or for educational, cultural or business activities. Mr Trump may seek to tighten the rules to ensure that those travelling to the country are entitled to do so.

Since the diplomatic breakthrough in December 2014, there has been a three-fold increase in US visitors to Cuba, delivering a huge financial boost to a country that is heavily dependent on tourism.

Mr Trump said during the presidential campaign that he would have negotiated a better deal with Cuba than Mr Obama, who became the first sitting US president to visit Cuba in more than 50 years when he visited in March last year.

Rights violations

Addressing lawmakers in the Senate on Tuesday, secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the US must see an end to human rights violations in Cuba if it is to continue normalising relations. In comments that indicated the Trump administration’s toughening stance on the former cold war foe, Mr Tillerson told the senate foreign relations committee: “We think we have achieved very little in terms of changing the behaviour of the regime in Cuba ... and it has little incentive today to change that.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s defence secretary, James Mattis, told a senate committee on Wednesday that he had been given the authority by the president to determine troop levels in Afghanistan, as the United States continues to mull over sending more troops to the region.

The head of the Pentagon said that no decision had yet been made about sending more troops to try and turn the tide on the 16-year conflict. The chief commander in the region earlier this year said thousands more troops were needed to avoid stalemate. Approximately 8,400 US troops are stationed there alongside troops from other Nato countries.

The move by Mr Trump to delegate responsibility to his defence secretary is part of a broader trend that has seen the president give the Pentagon more authority.