Washington takes another step back in relations with Cuba

Nov 9 by  – Washington’s announcement of new measures which restrict travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and business with certain state entities, are proof of the “serious setback” in bilateral relations that has taken place under the Trump administration, stated Josefina Vidal, director general for the United States at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 8.

According to the diplomat, the regulations announced earlier that day, and which came into force on November 9, after they were published in the U.S. Federal Register, “include a tightening of the blockade and the prohibition of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.”

On November 8, the U.S. Departments of State, the Treasury and Commerce announced the implementation of measures outlined by Trump last June 16 in Miami, where he met with the most reactionary sectors of the Cuban-American community in Florida.

The regulations follow on from the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, which outlines Washington’s new direction in its relations with Havana.

This new package of measures includes a list issued by the Department of State, featuring 179 state entities and subentities, with which direct financial transactions are prohibited.

Josefina Vidal described the list as “arbitrary,” noting that it features “a range of Cuban entities supposedly linked to the national defense and security sectors.”

The register of entities includes organizations ranging from the Ministries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and National Revolutionary Police, to enterprises, public limited companies, the Mariel Special Development Zone, the Mariel and Havana Container Terminals, dozens of hotels throughout Cuba, as well as national travel agencies and retail outlets.

“It even includes soft-drinks brands (like Tropicola and Cachito) and rums, as well as photography services like PhotoService,” stated Vidal.

Meanwhile, the State Department has noted that this list will be periodically revised and updated.

Likewise, individual “people-to-people” travel established under the Barack Obama administration will no longer be authorized.

From now on, “all people-to-people nonacademic educational travel” must “be conducted under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact,” according to a press release from the Treasury Department’s Office of Public Affairs.

Regarding the impact of the new regulations, Vidal noted that they will harm the Cuban economy, state and private sector, and U.S. citizens, who now face further restrictions on their right to freely travel to the island.

The measures will also affect U.S. businesses, who will lose out to their competitors on attractive opportunities in Cuba, according to the Cuban diplomat; who went on to highlight the unashamedly subversive nature of other actions.

In this regard she noted that the Trump administration has established specific regulations for “people-to-people” visits; which now require travelers under the Support for the Cuban People Travel category to “engage in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. Such activities must also enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities,” according to the press release.

Vidal explained that the new regulations exclude businesses and agreements established before the measures came into effect.

Just before Barack Obama’s final term in office came to an end, direct commercial flights between the two countries were reestablished, cruise lines were authorized to visit the island, and memorandums of understanding in the fields of telecommunications and hotel management were signed with U.S. companies.

“Its related to a small group of businesses,” stated Vidal, who noted that further progress was, and is, limited by the continued application of the blockade.

NEW MEASURES REJECTED
The new measures announced by Washington were widely rejected by broad sectors of U.S. society, which as polls have shown, support rapprochement between the two countries.

The United States National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), for example, described the new restrictions as counterproductive.

In a statement, NFTC Vice President, Jake Colvin, said that restricting American companies from participating in the Mariel Special Development Zone prevents Americans from engaging in activities “that could potentially benefit Cuban workers and the Cuban people.”

Meanwhile, James Williams, president of the Engage Cuba coalition, which is working to end the blockade, released a statement in which he noted that “Anyone with knowledge of how the Cuban economy works knows that these additional regulations on U.S. companies will simply make it harder to do business in Cuba.”

In the text he also explained that “these new restrictions on U.S. businesses could hinder that progress which could cost the U.S. economy billions and affect thousands of jobs.”

Meanwhile, both Democrat and Republic legislators have criticized the measures.

Taking to her Twitter account, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein stated that “Isolating the Cuban people didn’t serve our interests before, and it certainly won’t do so now.”

In a press release, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, highlighted the hypocrisy of White House ideologues, noting that Cuba doesn’t represent a threat to the United States; and describing the new restrictions as “onerous and petty,” reported PL.

“These new regulations will hurt fledgling entrepreneurs and the rest of the Cuban people by discouraging Americans from traveling there,” read the statement.

Likewise, Republican Congressman, Mark Sanford (South Carolina) posted a message on Twitter in which he stated that “The ban on travel to Cuba, which was enacted at the height of the Cold War and Communist threat, is both outdated and an unjust limitation on American freedom.”

The New York Times meanwhile, quoting Daniel P. Erikson, a White House adviser during the Obama administration, noted that “said the rules would probably confuse American visitors, who will have trouble figuring out which transactions are banned.”

A tweet by Ben Rhodes, the former advisor to Obama, and one of the main architects of his Cuba policy read: “Trump won’t restrict what kind of assault weapons Americans can buy but he will tell you what kind of soda you can buy in Cuba.”

Criticism also came from Cuban-American legislators who have based their political careers on opposing any kind of rapprochement between the two countries.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for example, described the measures as a “step forward” but went on to note that they “leave much to be desired.”

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio, one of the main figures pressuring Trump to change Obama’s Cuba policy, criticized U.S. State Department officials for failing to implement the June 16, Presidential Memorandum in full.

Furthermore, the position held by these anti-Cuban legislators contradicts growing support, even among residents of Florida, for rapprochement between the two nations.
What is more, the new measures come just a week after 191 of the United Nations’ 193 member-states voted to end the over 50-year U.S. blockade against Cuba.

(This article features the collaboration of Journalism students José Manuel Lapeira & Carlos Caparrós)

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