Trump announces plans to dilute key US-Cuba deal

‘We do not want US dollars to prop up regime that represses and exploits people of Cuba’

Ana Lacayo and Barbara Jimino, both of Miami, show their support for US president Donald Trump near the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Florida. Photograph: Bernie Woodall/Reuters

Ana Lacayo and Barbara Jimino, both of Miami, show their support for US president Donald Trump near the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Florida. Photograph: Bernie Woodall/Reuters

 

US president Donald Trump announced measures intended to row back from the landmark US-Cuba deal struck by his predecessor Barack Obama, including tightening the rules for US citizens visiting the communist country.

At a highly charged speech in Miami on Friday, surrounded by Cuban exiles and critics of the Castro regime, Mr Trump denounced the agreement reached by his predecessor in late 2014 as “terrible and misguided”.

“I am announcing today a new policy just as a promised during the campaign [which will] seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and the American people,” he said, to cheering crowds.

“We do not want US dollars to prop up a regime that represses and exploits the people of Cuba.”

Despite the cold war rhetoric of his speech, Mr Trump’s proposed shift in US policy on Cuba is likely to keep the main elements of the Obama policy in place.

Among the main changes is a tightening of the rules allowing American citizens to visit Cuba.

While technically US citizens were not permitted to travel to Cuba as tourists under the Obama deal, they have been permitted to visit the country for educational, cultural or business activities over the past two years. Mr Trump is now tightening those rules to ensure that those travelling to the country do so with a proper tour group.

In terms of business ties, Mr Trump’s announcement did not go as far as some supporters of the deal and business leaders had feared.

Not affected

US airlines and cruise ships travelling to the island will not be affected by the new measures. But US companies will be prohibited from doing business with companies controlled by the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a conglomerate essentially controlled by the military which is involved in almost sectors of the economy. This could have a significant knock-on effect on US investment into the country.

The embassies in Havana and Washington, which opened last year after half a century of diplomatic standoff, will also remain open, though Mr Trump will not nominate a US ambassador to Cuba. Cuban-Americans will still be allowed to visit relatives in Cuba under the deal.

Mr Trump delivered his speech at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, named after the leader of the CIA-backed group which tried to overthrow Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

The president used much of his speech to denounce the Castro regime and communism, as he paid tributes to individual Cuban-Americans who had escaped the country.

Pointing out that Cuba continued to be run by people “who killed tens of thousands of their own people”, he said that “for nearly six decades the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination”,

‘Speak the truth’

He thanked Cuban dissidents and exiles in Miami who “speak the truth” about the “true and brutal nature of the Castro regime”.

 Mr Trump’s change in Cuba policy were informed by discussions with members of Congress, including senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American and staunch opponent of the agreement struck by Mr Obama in late 2014, and Mario Diaz-Balart, also from Florida. Mr Trump thanked his one-time rival for the Republican primary nomination from the stage, describing Mr Rubio as a “tough guy” and a friend.

White House officials said the shift in US policy aimed to hold the Cuban regime accountable for oppression and human rights abuses ignored under the Obama policy.

The new policies are expected to be introduced after 90 days. Democrats criticised the move, with congressman Richard Neal denouncing the policy change as “an ill-advised move that reverts to the failed policies of the past”.