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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 15, 2020

Trump has largely kept promise to reverse Obama’s Cuba policy

By restricting travel by Americans and commercial activity with Cuba, President Donald Trump has made significant strides toward his promise to reverse his predecessor President Barack Obama's Cuba policy.

The Trump administration made it harder for Americans to visit the island by getting rid of the "people to people" group travel, preventing cruise ships from stopping in Cuba and restricting U.S. airlines and charter flights from flying to any city other than Havana. 

Trump's team also increased financial and banking restrictions against the Cuban regime and increased restrictions regarding shipping to Cuba. The administration refused to name a U.S. ambassador to Cuba. (The U.S. Embassy in Havana is led by  someone in a "Chargé d-Affaires" role instead.) The administration also ordered Marriott to close its hotel in Havana by August.

"In overall policy direction, there has been a complete reversal, with the tone changing from engagement to isolation and confrontation. In implementation, there has been a substantial, though not complete, reversal," said Pedro A. Freyre, chair of the Akerman law firm's international practice in Miami.

A number of regulatory changes implemented by Obama do remain in place, including that the U.S. still has an embassy in Havana (but it withdrew most of its staff).

There is one issue in which both administrations seem to agree: immigration. 

In January 2017, the Obama administration terminated the automatic granting of parole to Cubans, ending a policy of welcoming Cuban refugees in effect since the early 1960s. The Trump administration has not reversed this change, which aligns with its own general immigration policy objectives, said Sebastián A. Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Although some of the changes implemented by the Obama administration survived, "it can be argued that the Trump administration has effectively reversed the vast majority of the Obama Cuba policy changes implemented between 2014 and 2016," Arcos said.

Some observers have criticized the administration's actions related to Cuba, arguing that it will cause harm to Cuban citizens. But our role here is to fact-check whether Trump fulfilled his promise, not judge his promise. Multiple experts told us that Trump has made major strides in reversing Obama's Cuba policy. We rate this Promise Kept.

Our Sources

U.S. Department of Treasury, Cuba sanctions, Accessed June 2020

U.S. State Department, Cuba restricted list, Accessed June 2020

Federal Register, Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, Oct. 20, 2017

Latin America Working Group, Trump's changes to Cuba policy, Accessed June 2020

USA Today, Trump administration orders Marriott to shutter Cuba hotel by end of August, June 5, 2020

New York Times op ed by Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, Trump Doubles Down on Failed Cuba Policy, July 24, 2019

State Department press office, Statement to PolitiFact, June 11, 2020

Email interview, Pedro A. Freyre, Chair, International Practice Akerman LLP, June 17, 2020

Email interview, Ted Henken, Latin American studies professor at Baruch College, June 2020

Email interview, Sebastián A. Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, June 17, 2020


Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman June 7, 2019

Trump travel restrictions continue rollback of Obama’s Cuba policy

The Trump administration halted two common ways Americans travel to Cuba.

Americans will no longer be able to visit the island through "people to people" group travel, and cruise ships will no longer be allowed to stop in Cuba.

These developments are another step toward President Donald Trump's campaign promise to reverse Barack Obama's Cuba policy of restoring diplomatic ties and loosening travel restrictions. This is one of 100 promises we are tracking on our Trump-O-Meter.

Part of the motivation for the Trump administration to reduce ties, as explained in this statement from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin June 4, is the Cuban government's support of the embattled regime of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro. (Trump has recognized Juan Guaidó as the president.)

The new changes are far more restrictive than Trump's previous effort to limit non-family travel to Cuba. In 2017, his administration added restrictions on financial transactions with entities linked to the Cuban military, as well as some limitations on travel. 

Obama had loosened the rules to make "people-to-people" trips possible. Beyonce and Jay Z's trip under this category in 2013 sparked controversy (and a rap song), although the Treasury Department concluded it didn't violate any sanctions.

Cruises, reported to be the most popular way for Americans to travel to Cuba, will no longer be able to get a certain type of license to spend time in Cuban ports.

There are still other ways that Americans can travel to Cuba, including family visits, journalistic activity, professional research and professional meetings, and humanitarian projects.

Some experts said that those who work in the Cuban private sector, or American travel operators, will take a hit in the short term, but what Trump has done is not a total reversal of Obama's policy.

"It's not the absolute reversal, but it goes to two very critical elements of policy," said Pedro Freyre, a Miami attorney at the Akerman law firm who represents multiple cruise lines.

Ted Henken, Latin American studies professor at Baruch College, said the only significant achievement that Obama made that Trump has not reversed is the existence of official diplomatic relations and the operating of embassies in each other's capitals.

"However, this is largely technical as both embassies now operate with skeleton staffs as a result of the diplomatic fallout following the sonic incidents in Havana," he said. (The U.S. pulled many staff from the Havana embassy after staff raised health concerns following reports of a high-pitched sound. Exactly what happened remains unclear.)

We will watch to see if the Trump administration takes any additional steps toward reversing Obama's Cuba policy. For now this promise remains at a Compromise.

Our Sources

AP, Trump administration halts cruises to Cuba under new rules, June 4, 2019

Sun Sentinel, Cruise lines scramble after Trump bans trips to Cuba, June 4, 2019

Miami Herald, U.S. bans cruises to Cuba in bid to pressure the island's government out of Venezuela, June 4, 2019

New York Times, Cracking Down on 'Veiled Tourism,' U.S. Announces Cuba Travel Restrictions, June 5, 2019

U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, Frequently asked questions related to Cuba, Jan. 4, 2019

Commerce and Treasury Departments, Commerce and Treasury Departments Implement Changes to Cuba Sanctions Rules, June 4, 2019

NPR, Doubts Rise About Evidence That U.S. Diplomats In Cuba Were Attacked, March 25, 2019

PolitiFact, Sorting the facts on Jay-Z and Beyonce's Cuba jaunt, April 12, 2013

Interview, Pedro Freyre, chair of Akerman's International Practice in Miami, June 5, 2019

Interview, Ted Henken, Latin American studies professor at Baruch College, June 4, 2019

Interview, Collin Laverty, President Cuba Educational Travel, June 5, 2019

Interview, John H. Thomas, Florida International University department chair of school of hospitality and tourism management and former maritime lawyer, June 5, 2019

Interview, Ari Schaffer, U.S. Department of Commerce spokesman, June 5, 2019

Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias January 7, 2019

Trump partially rolls back Obama's Cuba policy

President Donald Trump promised to reverse former President Barack Obama's actions to thaw relations with Cuba. Two years into his presidency, Trump has tightened U.S.-Cuba relations, but parts of what Obama did remain intact.

In a June 2017 speech in Miami, Trump laid out the policy actions his administration would take to reverse Obama's legacy on Cuba.

"The previous administration's easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime ... Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba," Trump said.

The administration has largely followed through.

The two most significant changes are restrictions on financial transactions with entities linked to the Cuban military, as well as limitations on travel.

In November 2017, the Trump administration released a list of 180 entities with whom financial transactions would be immediately prohibited. Those are entities that are affiliated or controlled by the military, intelligence or security services. The administration barred transactions with two dozen additional entities in November 2018.

The regulations still allow business with Cuban airports and seaports, allowing trade and travel to continue with permissible entities.

Trump has constrained the travel rules for Americans who want to visit Cuba, but most of Obama's travel opening remain in place, according to Ted Henken, Latin American studies professor at Baruch College.

Technically, Trump has limited travel to educational group trips, humanitarian projects and civil society assistance. Travelers need to keep records of their financial transactions and may be subject to audits by the Treasury Department.

"In practice, what that means is essentially that Americans have to frame their travel and check the box for 'assistance for the Cuban People' instead of the previously standard category 'people-to-people' travel," Henken said. "This change initially put a significant damper on the numbers and kinds of travel to Cuba from the United States, but things have picked up once again after the industry and travelers learned the new rules."

In fact, U.S.-based cruise ships, which can continue to visit Cuban ports of call, have seen significant growth in this area since 2016, according to Henken.

Trump's policy allows Cuban-Americans to visit family in Cuba and continue to send remittances. The Trump administration also won't restore the "wet foot, dry foot" immigration policy that Obama eliminated during his last days in office.

The U.S. embassy in Havana is staying open. However, the staffing has been significantly reduced due to health concerns.

In 2017, a wave of worrisome symptoms including headaches and nausea hit U.S. diplomats stationed in Havana. As a result, the State Department halved the number of U.S. personnel in Havana, forbade families from accompanying diplomatic personnel, limited the stay of U.S personnel in Cuba, and prohibited visits by U.S. officials to Cuba. In turn, the Cuban embassy in Washington reduced its staff.

The State Department also issued a travel warning that saw a decrease in travel to the island, according to Henken.

Between his policies and the health measures, Trump largely froze thawing relations with Cuba but did not go quite as far as his campaign rhetoric may have suggested, according to Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council's Latin American Center.

"The regulations that have been rolled out thus far are a partial rollback but not a complete rollback," Marczak said. "At the same time, there is the potential that more could come. That has had a chilling effect among many business and their desire to take a risk and invest in Cuba."

Trump's policies have limited activities in the realms of travel, diplomacy and business that were made possible under Obama but not enough to reverse Obama's Cuba policy as promised. We rate this as a Compromise.

Our Sources

Phone interview with Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council's Latin American Center, Jan. 4, 2018

Email interview with Geoff Thale, vice president for programs at the Washington Office on Latin America, Jan. 4, 2018

Email interview with Ted Henken, Latin American studies professor at Baruch College, Jan. 7, 2018

Washington Post, White House implements new Cuba policy restricting travel and trade, Nov. 8, 2017, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba, Nov. 9, 2017, State Department Updates the Cuba Restricted List, Nov. 14, 2018

U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Treasury, Commerce, and State Implement Changes to the Cuba Sanctions Rules, Nov. 8, 2017

The Guardian, 'Sonic attack' on US embassy in Havana could have been crickets, say scientists, Jan. 6, 2019

Miami Herald, What Trump's Cuba crackdown will look like, Nov. 8, 2017

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman June 16, 2017
Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias June 16, 2017
Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde June 16, 2017

Trump scales back Obama-era Cuba policies

Following almost three years of thawing Cuban-American relations, President Donald Trump traveled to Miami to deliver updates on his campaign promise to reverse Barack Obama's historic policy.

Speaking before supporters in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, Trump denounced the Castro government, bashed his predecessor's moves to normalize relations with the island nation, and said that sanctions against Cuba won't be lifted until all political prisoners are freed and other freedoms are respected.

"The previous administration's easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime ... Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba," Trump said June 16.

Trump is tightening U.S.-Cuba relations, but he is not completely revoking all of Obama's actions. Among things staying in place is the U.S. embassy in Havana.

Obama announced in December 2014 that the United States would begin talks with Cuba on normalizing relations after five decades of distanced communication. The embassy re-opened in August 2015. (We gave Obama a promise Kept for his campaign promise to grant Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send money to Cuba.)

Trump's policy allows Cuban-Americans to continue to send remittances and visit family in Cuba. But Trump is curtailing Obama's travel expansions.

Self-directed, individual trips will be prohibited, according to a White House fact sheet. Educational trips will be restricted to group travel. Travelers will need to keep records of their financial transactions and may be subject to audits by the Treasury Department.

Trump said he was immediately cancelling Obama's policy, but the White House fact sheet said it may take months for changes to take effect. That's because the Treasury and Commerce Departments need to issue new regulations that align with Trump's goals.

The White House fact sheet outlined four objectives under Trump's policy:

• Enhance compliance with U.S. law, particularly provisions governing the Cuban embargo and ban on tourism;

• Hold the Cuban regime accountable for oppression and human rights abuses;

• Further national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and Cuban people; and,

• Empower Cubans to develop economic and political liberty.

Trump administration officials said that it was a "readjustment" of U.S. policy toward Cuba and did not target the Cuban people, but members of the Cuban military government. Trump is seeking to put restrictions on Cuba "until they provide religious and political freedom to their people," a senior White House official said during a June 15 background briefing.

The Trump administration won't restore the "wet foot, dry foot" immigration policy that Obama eliminated during his last days in office. The policy allowed Cubans who touched U.S. soil to stay in the country. "We will keep in place the safeguards to prevent Cubans from risking their lives to unlawful travel to the United States," Trump said in Miami.

Trump's administration is now tasked with adjusting regulations to align with Trump's policy. In the meantime, we rate this promise In the Works.

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