U.S. sets new restrictions on business ties and travel to Cuba

"We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people", said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

President Donald Trump's administration is imposing new travel and commerce restrictions on Cuba aimed at limiting Americans from doing business with entities connected to Havana's military, intelligence and security services.

There was no immediate response to the new regulations from the Cuban government.

Obama said at the time of the detente he reached with Cuban President Raul Castro that he was trying a new approach to Cuba because decades of efforts by Washington to force change by isolating the island had not worked.

The tighter regulations were met with criticism by Senator Patrick Leahy, who said they are "what one would expect of a paranoid totalitarian government, not a democracy like ours".

Although the amount of trade under the Obama changes has not expanded as much as anticipated, a number of USA business and agricultural entities have sought contracts in Cuba.

"The hypocrisy of the White House ideologues is glaring". Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American, said the list failed to go far enough because it omitted companies like Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan that have ties to the Cuban government.

"They talk about supporting entrepreneurs and the private sector", said Laverty.

In turn, they are allowing some license-free exports to the Cuban private sector.

"He is putting us in serious danger by frightening away American visitors looking to rent our properties", said Norma Hernandez, who rents out rooms on Airbnb and who said her business flourished over the past year thanks to a surge in USA visitors.

The list of entities that Americans can not do business with includes a special development zone at Cuba's Mariel port, which Cuba hopes to develop into a major Caribbean industrial and shipping hub with tax and customs breaks.

But the administration said it would still allow commercial transactions and most travel arrangements that have already been made before the changes to continue.

The National Foreign Trade Council, a business lobby group in Washington, called the Mariel restriction "counterproductive" because it would hurt a Cuban government initiative that could potentially benefit Cuban workers.

In a statement, the group Engage Cuba - which advocates for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba - said the regulations "create a more convoluted, confusing and counterproductive approach to Cuba policy". Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open, The Associated Press reported.

New restrictions mean that American tourists will need to primarily book a trip with organized tour groups in order to visit the country.

The administration's policy change comes 20 months after Obama became the first sitting US president in almost a century to visit the island - part of numerous efforts his administration made to thaw relations between the United States and Cuba.

  • Rogelio Becker