Trump Administration Halts Cruises to Cuba Under New Rules

June 4, 2019 by Dan McCue

The Trump administration put an end to the most popular way to travel from the United States to Cuba, Tuesday banning cruise ships from calling on ports in the communist nation.

The ban goes into effect Wednesday, when the change in regulation is published in the Federal Register.

Regular cruises to Cuba began in May 2016 during a warming of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba during the Obama administration.

But the Trump administration decided to take a much harder line. On June 16, 2017, the president signed a national security memorandum titled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.”

Its aim, the White House said, was to channel economic activities away from the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.

“Cuba remains communist, and the United States, under the previous administration, made too many concessions to one of our historically most aggressive adversaries,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a written statement.
“The Trump Administration recognizes the threat Cuba’s government poses in the region, and the Commerce Department is acting to limit commercial activity that provides revenue for the Cuban regime,” Ross said. “Holding other countries accountable remains a focus for this Administration and we will remain vigilant.”
The policy changes rolled out Tuesday also end a heavily-used category of educational travel.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is curtailing its authorization for so-called “group people-to-people” educational traveling, the most common way for the average American to travel to Cuba.
It is allowing such trips only for individuals who have already completed at least one travel-related transaction, such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation prior to Tuesday.
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security is also amending its Export Administration Regulations effective immediately to make passenger and recreational vessels and private and corporate aircraft ineligible for license exception and to establish a general policy of denial for license applications involving those vessels and aircraft intended for trips to Cuba.

“Consequently, private and corporate aircraft, cruise ships, sailboats, fishing boats, and other similar aircraft and vessels generally will be prohibited from going to Cuba,” the department said.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who declared Cuba part of a “troika of tyranny” along with Nicaragua and Venezuela as he outlined new sanctions in November, said the new policy is intended to deny the Cuban government access to U.S. dollars.

“The Administration has advanced the President’s Cuba policy by ending ‘veiled tourism’ to Cuba and imposing restrictions on vessels,” Bolton said in a tweet that suggested additional actions are forthcoming.

“Cuba has continued to prop up the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela and will be held responsible for this ongoing man-made crisis.  President Trump has made it clear that we stand with the Cuban and Venezuelan people as they fight for freedom,” Bolton said in a second tweet.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the measures are a response to what it calls Cuba’s “destabilizing role” in the Western Hemisphere, including support for the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

“This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime,” Mnuchin said. “These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”

Cruise ships have provided an important economic lifeline to Cuba.

According to the Associated Press, cruises brought 142,721 tourists to Cuba in the first four months of the year, a more than 300 percent increase over the same period last year.

Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement that it is closely monitoring the developing situation and consulting with lawyers and trade experts.

“We will communicate to our guests and travel partners as additional information becomes available,” the cruise line said.

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