Fulfilling his campaign promise to reverse the previous Obama administration's re-engagement with Havana, U.S. President Donald Trump has outlined his hardline Cuba policy.
In a speech at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Trump said he will cancel his predecessor's "completely one-sided deal with Cuba."
“Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America. We don’t want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba,” Trump said, pledging that U.S. sanctions would not be lifted until Cuba frees political prisoners and holds free elections.
In a statement released Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the policy changes "actually limit the possibility for positive change on the island and risk ceding growth opportunities to other countries.”
“We remain committed to working with all relevant parties to remove that antiquated policies that hinder the empowerment of the American and Cuban people,” the statement added.
Under the changes, Washington will tighten rules on individual U.S. citizens travelling to Cuba.
Travellers going there for non-academic educational purposes will again be required to visit with organized tour groups run by U.S. companies.
Self-directed, individual travel will be prohibited.
“The previous administration’s easing of restriction on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people, they only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump said.
There will be no change to current regulations on which items can be brought back from Cuba, including the rum and cigars produced by state-run enterprises.
The new policy also bans most U.S. business deals with the military-linked Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, GAESA, while still allowing airlines and cruise ships to continue services.
Despite the changes, the U.S. will maintain diplomatic relations with the Cuban government.
The U.S. Embassy in Havana, which reopened in August 2015, will remain open in the hope that the two countries can forge “a much stronger and better path.”
“We will respect Cuban sovereignty, but we will never turn our backs on the Cuban people. That will not happen,” Trump said.
Washington's policy reversal has been pushed by right-wing Republicans including the Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, who appeared with Trump during Friday's announcement.
But their other fellow members of the Congress from both parties have criticized the policy reverse immediately after Trump’s announcement.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who co-sponsored the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act with 54 other senators, said in a statement: “Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people.”
Democratic Senator Mark Warner said Trump’s decision sent a wrong message to the world about American leadership.
“We must never stop pressing the Cuban government on democracy and human rights, but further restricting economic and cultural engagement between our two nations betrays the spirit of cooperation that will ultimately help empower the Cuban people to choose their own destiny,” Warner said.
None of the changes will be effective until the the Treasury and Commerce Departments issue new regulations, which could take months.