Trump Administration Bans Self-Directed Travel to Cuba
The door to Cuba is now being shut to a select group of Americans following the announcement of new travel restrictions by President Donald Trump. Surrounded by cheering Cuban dissidents in Little Havana, Florida, Trump bombastically declared on June 16, 2017, that he will end eased travel restrictions to Cuba made possible under the Obama era.“We will enforce the ban on tourism,” Trump said. “We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future. A country of great potential.”
While a lot remains the same in the new policy, the most affected group of travelers are “self-directed” or solo travelers who are not with a tourist group. Solo travelers are one of the fastest growing segments in the travel industry right now, according to a recent Lonely Planet survey. The new travel restrictions will undoubtedly take place shortly after the U.S. State Department can digest the policy, which will likely take 30 days or more.
Pointing to a series of Castro regime misdeeds dating back to the Cuban Missile Crisis Trump declared, “We know what’s going on and we remember what happened.”
Chief among the reasons for tightening restrictions is the goal of depriving the Castro regime of U.S. tourist dollars that beef up its military, security services and intelligence agencies.
“Now we hold the cards,” said Trump. The conditions for lifting the embargo and all travel restrictions rests on the government to free all political prisoners, respect the freedom of speech and the ability to assemble peacefully, hold internationally supervised elections and legalize all political parties.
The speech was touted as a campaign promise made good. Trump’s tough talk, however, did not match the policy released on the official White House site.
In a nutshell, this is what the policy actually does:
- It keeps the embargo in place, which essentially changes nothing.
- It wags a finger in the face of the Castro regime, scolding it for its human rights violations, which is essentially just strong verbiage and not policy.
- Allows American individuals and entities to do business with the Cuban people as long as the tourist dollars promote private and small business growth in Cuba.
- Encourages American commerce with Cuban businesses that are not connected to the government.
- Restricts “travel for non-academic purposes and limits it only to group travel.” Academic travel was allowed under the old policy.
- Bans self-directed travel (i.e. the policy that allowed travel under the Support the Cuban People provision). This is perhaps the largest and only real change.
- Cuban Americans can still to continue to visit their families, which remains the same.
Embassies in Washington and Havana will remain open. However, because of the ongoing embargo, Havana embassy officials will continue to have little bargaining power when advocating for American citizens.
It is believed the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, that was canceled by the Obama administration will not be reversed. The policy allowed Cuban nationals hitting U.S. soil to stay.
While the intent of the policy was likely written to assuage Cuban-Americans and hamper the potential military might of Cubans, it is inherently flawed.
The move to punish Cuba because it is a Communist nation with human rights violations is disingenuous. The U.S. still trades with Laos, Vietnam. and China, three of the five remaining Communist countries. When it comes to human rights violations, the United States financially supports countries that are the highest on the list of violators: Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, and Saudi Arabia. All of these countries have been cited for systemic, “overwhelming, audaciously rampant violence and sexual abuse against women” according to reports released by the United Nations.
Another sign that Trump isn’t really taking a hard line against Cuba is a look at who he is giving a hall pass to. Instead of barring businesses like Sprint, Airbnb, cruise lines and airlines from doing business with Cuba, he kept that door open. But, if the goal is to block all U.S. dollars from getting into Castro’s coffers, then why allow tens of thousands of Americans to go to Cuba? When tourists hit the ground and shop in Old Havana, they will continue to make their deposit in any one of dozens of government-owned shops. So whose hands does that put the proverbial cards in now?
It appears that those who really want to go, will anyways. All you have to do is compare the statistics. In 2013, when travel to Cuba was limited to diplomats, scholars, and journalists, more than 92,348 Americans visited the island nation, not including Cuban-Americans. That number rose to 161,233 in 2015 after a full year of reduced restrictions, according to the United Nations World Tourist Organization (UNWTO).
Under Obama-era policies enacted in 2014, there were 12 reasons to travel to Cuba, some of which include: Official travel for government business, journalistic activity, professional research, educational activities, religious activities, humanitarian projects, private foundation, research or educational institutes, visits to close relatives.
Before direct U.S. to Cuba flights began, American travelers would go through either Canada or Mexico to apply for a visa. One of the most common and legal reasons for solo U.S. travelers was to check the box that said, “Support for the Cuban People.”
The unofficial advice at the time from officials answering the phone at the U.S. Treasury Department and the newly re-established U.S. Embassy in Cuba was that the government would not look closely at your visa and the reasons for your travel. This laissez-faire approach is likely going to be changed in the coming months in favor of more scrutiny to traveling Americans.
It has yet to be determined if there will be backlash over the return to more Draconian measures that limit the freedom of Americans to travel wherever they want.
It is perhaps a worse sin to deprive an American of a freedom than to have never had it in the first place.
Find out why Cuba is such a unique place to travel.