After a brief window of relatively open travel and expanded trade between the two nations, the Trump administration imposed new rules on U.S. tourists going to Cuba, including a ban on cruise ships, the most frequent method of travel for Americans visiting the island.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. will not allow group educational or cultural “people to people” trips — which made up the bulk of American tourism, as individual travel was still banned — unless they were booked prior to June 5. American cruises, private yachts, fishing vessels, and private and corporate aircraft will not be permitted to stop in Cuba either. Commercial flights from the US will still be permitted, as they “broadly support family travel and other lawful forms of travel,” according to a State Department spokesperson. In the first four months of the year, 142,721 Americans visited Cuba on cruises, compared to 114,832 who traveled by plane.
In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary Steve Mnuchin explained the administration’s new position: “Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.” The United States claimed in May that there were 20,000 Cuban soldiers currently in Venezuela supporting President Maduro, though Havana stated that number represented the medical workers it has in the country.
Mnuchin’s comment comes two months after national security adviser John Bolton said the Treasury Department would soon cut tourism and “restrict non-family travel to Cuba.” In the speech, delivered in Miami to veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Bolton also said that tour operators would not be hit. But according to one such provider who spoke with the New York Times, the cruise ban will be “devastating to the travel industry and the Cuban people.” The Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, who was responsible for reopening the Cuban embassy in D.C. in 2015, called the new restrictions “an attack on international law.”
According to the Washington Post, the rule change does not include “new restrictions on money sent by Cuban-Americans to relatives on the island.” But Bolton had mentioned such a possible change in his speech in Florida, one that would be broadly unpopular among Cuban-Americans, who in 2014 sent around $2 billion in remittances to the island country.