Pressing “pause” on a historic detente, President Donald Trump thrust the U.S. and Cuba back on a path toward open hostility Friday with a blistering denunciation of the island’s communist government.
He clamped down on some commerce and travel but left intact many new avenues President Barack Obama had opened.
Even as Trump predicted a quick end to President Raul Castro’s regime, he challenged Cuba to negotiate better agreements for Americans, Cubans and those whose identities lie somewhere in between. Diplomatic relations, restored only two years ago, will remain intact. But, in a shift from Obama’s approach, Trump said trade and other penalties would stay in place until a long list of prerequisites was met.
“America has rejected the Cuban people’s oppressors,” Trump said in Miami’s Little Havana, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to Castro’s government. “Officially, today, they are rejected.”
Declaring Obama’s pact with Castro a “completely one-sided deal,” Trump said he was canceling it. In practice, however, many recent changes to boost ties to Cuba will stay as they are. Trump cast that as a sign the U.S. still wanted to engage with Cuba in hopes of forging “a much stronger and better path.”
Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open. U.S. airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island 90 miles south of Florida. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil but was terminated under Obama, will remain terminated. Remittances from people in America to Cubans won’t be cut off.
But individual “people-to-people” trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the U.S. government will police other trips to ensure travelers are pursuing a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”
The changes won’t go into effect until new documents laying out details are issued. Once implemented Trump’s policy is expected to curtail U.S. travel by creating a maze of rules for Americans to obey. The policy bans most financial transactions with a yet-unreleased list of entities associated with Cuba’s military and state security, including a conglomerate that dominates much of Cuba’s economy, such as many hotels, state-run restaurants and tour buses.
Trump’s new policy is broadly opposed by U.S. businesses eager to invest in Cuba.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, typically supportive of GOP presidents, predicted the changes would limit prospects for “positive change on the island,” while Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican, said Trump’s policy was “misguided” and will hurt the U.S. economically.
Kansas wheat growers had an especially strong stake in opening up trade with Cuba because tropical conditions there prevent the growing of hard red winter wheat that pack grain elevators across the Sunflower State.
“While we’re disappointed about the president rolling back policies that could help Kansas wheat farmers, that doesn’t change the outcome of how important Cuban markets are to us,” said Daniel Heady, the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers’ government affairs director, who allowed Friday that he had not reviewed details of Trump’s proposal.
“This is about politics going back 60 years, and we understand that policies aren’t going to change overnight. But we’re not going to stop trying to do what’s best for our farmers.”
U.S. food producers annually account for less 10 percent of the grains and livestock that Cuba imports from around the world. A federal law requires that Cuba pay for U.S. shipments in cash in advance of receiving wheat, while the island can buy on credit from its largest wheat-trading partners, Canada and France.
For Cubans, the shift risks stifling a nascent middle class that has started to rise as Americans have flocked to the island on airlines, patronizing thousands of private bed-and-breakfasts.
“When he’s cutting back on travel, he’s hurting us, the Cuban entrepreneurs,” said Camilo Diaz, a 44-year-old waiter in a restaurant in Havana. “We’re the ones who are hurt.”
Granma, the official organ of Cuba’s Communist Party, described Trump’s declarations in real-time blog coverage Friday as “a return to imperialist rhetoric and unilateral demands.”
The Star’s Rick Montgomery contributed to this story.