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Trump tightens limits on personal travel, business ties to Cuba

Trump tightens limits on personal travel, business ties to Cuba
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The Trump administration on Wednesday tightened travel and commercial ties to Cuba, part of its effort to roll back former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaRepublicans bail on Coffman to invest in Miami seat Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate MORE’s historic opening with Havana. 

The new rules come nearly five months after President Trump announced he would reverse Obama-era policies that loosened the decades-long trade embargo against the communist island, an attempt to fulfill a promise he made during the 2016 campaign. 
 
The changes, which take effect Thursday, restrict Americans’ ability to travel to Cuba and prevent business deals with certain entities controlled by the Cuban government and military. 
 
But the core of Obama’s policies will remain intact. 
 
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Under new Treasury Department rules, individual “people-to-people” trips — which have enabled American travelers to visit Cuba for educational purposes on their own as opposed to with a tour group — will be eliminated.
 
Such trips will no longer be approved by the U.S. government unless travelers booked a flight or hotel accommodations before Trump’s June 16 announcement. 
 
Educational group trips must be arranged through a licensed organization that is “subject to U.S. jurisdiction,” and travelers must be accompanied by a person who represents the organization and is also subject to U.S. jurisdiction. 
 
Obama, as part of his Cuba policy, opened up travel by allowing Americans to visit the country under 12 different categories.
 
Tourism to the island is still strictly prohibited, but Trump administration officials have said that people have been skirting the ban by abusing the people-to-people category and designing their own trips, instead of going with a tour group. That's why the White House announced in June it would eliminate that travel category and step up enforcement of current laws. 
 
Cubans were deeply concerned about the shift toward group travel, because that model that is far more difficult for small restaurants and private homes to accommodate than individual travelers.
 
But Trump's new rules will allow travelers to stay in private bed-and-breakfasts, like those listed on Airbnb, if they are visiting the island to support the Cuban people. Currently, the "Support for the Cuban People" travel category includes humanitarian purposes and human rights assistance.

The new regulations will now allow “renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropistas)” to count toward supporting the Cuban people. 

However, a traveler must engage in additional Support for the Cuban People activities in order to meet the requirements of a full-time schedule, other than just staying in private homes and eating in private restaurants, according to a summary sheet.

Cuba is Airbnb’s fasting growing market, with at least 22,000 rooms now listed on the travel-booking site. About 35 percent of Cuba’s Airbnb guests are American.

“Airbnb has been active in trying to make certain that it can claw back some of what it sees as a problem,” said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “Their biggest problem is the shift from individual to group travel.”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family The Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Fla.), a Cuba hard-liner who helped shape Trump’s policy, assured travelers in June that they would still be able to visit the island if it’s in support of the Cuban people and if they stay in an Airbnb.

“Individual Americans can travel to #Cuba under Support for the Cuban people category but must use privately owned lodging like AirBnB,” Rubio wrote on Twitter.

Financial restrictions on Cuba

Trump’s new Cuba policy also prohibits financial transactions that benefit the Cuban military business arm, known as the Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA). The move is designed to restrict the flow of money to the oppressive elements of Raúl Castro's government. 

The military-controlled conglomerate is involved in nearly all sectors of the economy, but tourism is its crown jewel. GAESA’s tourism affiliate, Gaviota, operates an estimated 40 percent of all the island’s hotel rooms, in addition to controlling a number of restaurants, shops, tour groups, car rentals and taxis.

The Commerce and Treasury departments were tasked with identifying all the Cuban military-linked entities that will now be off-limits to Americans under the new regulations, with a few exceptions.

The list includes 180 entities and sub-entities, including hotels, stores, tourist agencies, rum companies, beverage manufacturers and marinas.

But the new restrictions do not apply to deals that have already been inked. That's why Four Points by Sheraton Havana, which is operated by GAESA and became the first U.S. hotel to come to Cuba in more than 50 years, is not on the list of prohibited entities.

An Obama-era rule allowing Americans to bring back an unlimited amount of rum and cigars is also remaining intact. 
 
The changes come at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Havana over what the U.S. government has described as “sonic attacks” against its diplomats in Cuba.
 
The Cuban government has said it did not carry out any attacks against American representatives, but the Trump administration has said that Havana is ultimately responsible for ensuring diplomats’ safety. 
 
The unexplained incidents have prompted the U.S. to withdraw the majority of its embassy staff from Havana and eject most Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington.