June 17, 2017 at 9:26 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Trump reinstates travel, trade restrictions with Cuba

President Trump on June 16, 2017, announced the U.S. will reinstate travel and trade restrictions with Cuba. His announcement does not completely roll back the normalization of relations that then-President Obama announced in 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Trump on Friday announced the reinstatement of travel and trade restrictions with Cuba.

The directive Trump signed at a theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood that is named after the leader of a group of Cuban exiles who participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 bans individual “people-to-people” trips to the Communist island. It also says Americans who travel to Cuba on organized trips must “engage in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”

The directive requires Americans who travel to Cuba to “keep full and accurate records of all transactions related to authorized travel” for at least five years. It allows the Treasury Department to audit them.

The Associated Press reported the directive also prohibits U.S. financial transactions with hotels, restaurants, stores and other entities the Cuban military owns.

“Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America,” said Trump. “We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.”

The directive also mandates Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to “initiate a process to adjust current regulations regarding transactions with Cuba” within 30 days.

Trump last month traveled to Saudi Arabia, which is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. The Trump administration signed an agreement that includes $110 billion for a “Saudi-funded defense purchase.”

Trump in April praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s highly controversial crackdown on drugs. Trump has not publicly commented on the ongoing crackdown of gay men in Chechnya.

Cuban government: Trump announcement favors ‘extreme minority’ in Fla.

Trump signed the directive more than two years after then-President Obama announced the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba.

The directive notes the administration’s support of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, even though media reports indicate Trump’s company and four of his associates violated it in 1998 and in late 2012 or early 2013.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana that reopened in 2015 will not close. American airlines and cruise ships will still be able to serve the Communist island.

A cruise ship docked in Havana on May 16, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The directive also does not reinstate the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed any Cuban who reached U.S. soil without a visa to remain in the country and become legal residents after a year.

“The outcome of the last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement,” said Trump. “Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”

Trump also said the directive was the fulfillment of a promise that he made during his presidential campaign.

“Last year, I promised to be a voice against repression in our region — remember, tremendous oppression — and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people,” he said.

“You heard that pledge,” added Trump to applause. “You went out and you voted. And here I am like I promised — like I promised.” 

Vice President Pence, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta are among those who joined Trump at Friday’s announcement.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) are among those who have criticized Trump’s directive. Others maintain it will harm Cuba’s growing private sector that is increasingly dependent upon tourism.

The Cuban government in a statement said Trump’s speech was “laden with hostile rhetoric that harkens back to the times of open confrontation with our country.” It also reiterated its call for an end to the embargo that has been in place since 1962.

“The American president, once again poorly advised, makes decisions that favor the political interests of an extreme minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida,” reads the statement.

Cubans ‘do not trust’ the Trump administration

Opponents of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba routinely point out the country’s human rights record.

Independent activists who publicly criticize Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, say authorities routinely harass and detain them. They have told the Washington Blade in recent interviews in Cuba and the U.S. the government’s crackdown against them has increased since the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Maykel González, a gay journalist and activist from Sagua la Grande, a small city that is located in the province of Villa Clara, says authorities detained him for three days last October while reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in eastern Cuba.

Nelson Gandulla, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, told the Washington Blade last month he was prevented from traveling to Havana to meet with Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer and other U.S. advocates. A police officer pulled over this reporter roughly an hour after interviewing Gandulla at his home in the city of Cienfuegos and checked his press visa and other documents.

Nelson Gandulla, Cuba, Cuban Federation fro LGBTI Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights President Nelson Gandulla speaks exclusively to the Washington Blade at his home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 16, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Damian Pardo, a Cuban American LGBT activist who founded SAVE, a Miami-based advocacy group, noted to the Blade on Friday that critics of the Cuban government on the island who “supported engagement are now advocating for harsher measures against the regime.”

“The enforcement of the 12 categories will hinder travel by Americans who value travel and resent any regulation concerning a private citizen’s perceived right to travel,” he said, referring to the 12 categories under which Americans can legally travel to Cuba. “But it will also force a carrot and stick paradigm in U.S.-Cuba relations where unrestricted travel is a ‘goodie’ for negotiation and continued human rights abuses will be met with a loss of incentives.” 

Victor Manuel Dueñas is an independent activist in the town of Santo Domingo who is among those behind a campaign that urges Cuban lawmakers to discuss whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

He told the Blade on Friday that many LGBT Cubans had hoped gay Americans would have bolstered Cuba’s growing tourism industry. Dueñas said most Cubans “do not trust the current U.S. administration much.”

Corriente Martiana, an organization that works independently of the Cuban government, in an open letter to Trump on June 1 wrote “changes in Cuba must come from its own people and not from abroad.” Ignacio Estrada, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS who now lives in Miami, made a similar point to the Blade on Friday.

“[Trump’s] words will not put an end to the Cuban dictatorship,” said Estrada, who is married to Wendy Iriepa, a transgender woman who once worked for the National Center for Sexual Education. “Those who will be applauding him are not those who will be living nor suffering the consequences that the isolation of a nation could have.”

Mariela Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, leads an LGBT march through Havana on May 13, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • It’s interesting that the Blade, along with the rest of the media, never reported that a large part of what Obama did was to fund the Cuban military and its repression of the Cuban people. Most of the “private” companies in Cuba are owned by the Cuban military elite – just as so many “private” companies in Russia are owned by former KGB.

    The pink washing of Cuba’s fascistic “state capitalism” by the gay media is so shameful that it discredits all of your reporting.

  • Mark Hatchett

    The rest of the world has been trading and engaging with Cuba for decades. Has this made a difference in the lives of the Cuban people? NO! Just like in all communist/socialist countries those in the ruling class live like kings and the people do without. Cuba and Venezuela are perfect examples.

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