How Trump's Cuba policy impacts US travelers
BY MELANIE ZANONA - 06/18/17 08:00 AM EDT 72
Americans may need to rethink their travel plans to Cuba in the wake of
President Trump's effort to crack down on the communist regime.
The White House announced a slew of new restrictions on Friday aimed at
tightening travel and commercial ties between the U.S. and Cuba, which
comes after a nearly five-month policy review of former President
Obama's historic opening with the island nation.
Trump didn't fully reverse the rapprochement with Cuba. But the
significant policy shift will curtail Americans' ability to travel
freely to Cuba, even as numerous U.S. airlines, hotels and travel sites
like AirBnb have begun offering services there.
Here's how Trump's new Cuba policy impacts U.S. visitors.
Legal types of travel
One of the biggest changes is what constitutes a legal form of travel to
Under Trump's new restrictions, Americans will only be able to visit
Cuba as part of a tour group if they want to go to the island for
Obama allowed U.S. visitors to travel to the country under 12 different
license categories, including for educational purposes, religious
reasons, journalistic activities and family visits. There was also a
general license. Tourism was still prohibited, however.
Trump is eliminating the so-called people-to-people trips, a
sub-category of education that enables Americans to design their own
trips and go to Cuba on their own. That method has been one of the more
popular ways that U.S. travelers have been seeing the island since Obama
announced his changes.
White House officials also said it's the category most ripe for abuse,
with Americans using it to skirt the tourism ban.
Visitors will still be able to self-certify under a general license that
they are traveling to Cuba for one of the remaining legitimate
reasons. And Cuban-Americans will be able to continue to visit their
family in Cuba and send them remittances, according to a fact sheet.
But those going for educational purposes will now need to apply with the
Treasury Department and go with a licensed tour group – a process than
can be far more lengthy and expensive, according to anti-embargo advocates.
"By requiring Americans to travel in tour groups, the administration is
not only making it more expensive for everyday Americans to travel to
the island, but pushing them away from staying in private homes – which
are unable to accommodate large tour groups – and into state run
hotels," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba.
Another major crux of Trump's Cuba policy is prohibiting any financial
transactions that benefit the Cuban military's business arm, Grupo de
Administración Empresarial (GAESA), in an effort to restrict the flow of
money to the oppressive elements of Raúl Castro's regime.
That means Americans will be largely restricted in where they can spend
their money, given the Cuban government's control of a large swath of
the travel and tourist economy, including hotels, restaurants and other
GAESA currently operates the Four Points by Sheraton Havana, one of the
first U.S. hotels to open on the island in decades.
The administration hopes that the ban on financial transactions with
companies linked to the Cuban military will help funnel more money
towards free and private Cuban businesses.
White House officials also noted that Americans can still bring back
Cuban cigars from their trips.
U.S. visitors may face more questioning from authorities when they
return home from Cuba.
Part of Trump's policy focuses on enforcing the existing ban on tourism,
which means travelers can expect to see stepped up enforcement, either
from customs agents at the airport or through audits later on.
"Our policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law," Trump said during
his speech in Miami, unveiling the new policy. "We will enforce the ban
All visitors are required to maintain full schedules while in Cuba and
keep detailed logs for five years – something that has been rarely checked.
The White House is now directing the Treasury Department to conduct
regular audits of travelers and calling on the Inspector General to keep
tabs on the agency's effort.
Those who are caught violating Cuban sanctions could face civil or
criminal penalties, with individual civil fines that could reach up to
$65,000 per violation, according to the Treasury Department.
Commercial flights, which resumed between the U.S. and Cuba for the
first time in over 50 years last summer, will be allowed to continue
uninterrupted under Trump's Cuba policy.
Seven U.S. airlines now fly nonstop to Cuba, following an intense effort
to win a direct flight route to the island last year.
But facing lower than expected travel demand, a number of carriers have
already begun to scale back their Cuba operations.
If demand continues to decline once people-to-people trips are banned,
and with tour groups more likely to book charter flights, travelers may
see higher ticker prices and less commercial flight options.
"There was already a sense that there were way too many flights. I do
think you're likely to see a fewer number of flights and higher fares,"
said Andrew Keller, a partner at Hogan Lovells focusing on international
trade and investment. "You may well see more of the airlines pulling
out, if it's just not worth it."
The Treasury and Commerce departments will now have 30 days to start
drafting new rules that fulfill Trump's directive, but "then the process
takes as long as it takes," said one senior official.
That means that travelers who have already scheduled a trip to Cuba can
still move ahead with their plans, as long as the new regulations have
not taken effect yet.
In writing new rules, the Treasury Department is expected to spell out
exactly what will happen to people who book trips before the new rules,
but travel after their release.
Source: How Trump's Cuba policy impacts US travelers | TheHill -