United States administration publishes new Cuba travel restrictions

Passengers deplane from Jet Blue flight 387 in Santa Clara Cuba

Passengers deplane from Jet Blue flight 387 in Santa Clara Cuba

President Donald Trump's administration is imposing new travel and commerce restrictions on Cuba aimed at limiting Americans from doing business with entities connected to Havana's military, intelligence and security services.

But the administration said it would still allow commercial transactions and most travel arrangements that have already been made before the changes to continue.

The State Department is also publishing a list of dozens of hotels, shops and other businesses that it says are linked to Cuba's military.

The new rules "are meant to steer economic activities away from the Cuban military, intelligence and security services ... and encourage the government to move toward greater economic freedom" for the Cuban people, according to a senior administration official, one of several authorized by the White House to brief reporters on the changes on condition of anonymity.

The new restrictions represent a partial rollback of Obama-era policy changes, which loosened restrictions on trade and travel between the USA and Cuba.

Among the specific changes outlined by the Treasury Department are restrictions on travel to Cuba for educational or cultural exchange groups, which will now be permitted only for sponsored groups in the United States, and with the participation of representatives from those groups.

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A view of the US and Cuban flags prior to the signing of agreements between the Port of Cleveland and the Cuban Maritime authorities in Havana, Cuba, October 6, 2017. Before Obama's opening, travel by many Americans was similarly restricted to such organized trips.

Travellers need to be able to show a "full-time schedule" with activities that support Cuban people and show "meaningful interaction", going beyond merely staying in rooms in private homes, eating in private restaurants, or shopping in private stores, an official told reporters on a conference call.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said the regulations were unfair to Cuba, coming as Trump was being "feted in Beijing" by a Communist government "in a country to which Americans can travel freely".

"The hypocrisy of the White House ideologues is glaring".

The State Department has said those actions were in response to severe health problems experienced by two dozen American diplomats in Cuba, which it said were the result of unspecified "attacks" on US personnel. The Commerce Department will simplify and expand a license that allows American companies to export certain consumer products to Cuba without asking for special permission from the US government. Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open, The Associated Press reported.

Groups that advocate for greater engagement with Cuba were dismayed by the administration's announcement, arguing that the new rules would only serve to harm the island's burgeoning private sector economy.

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