- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced tougher restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba’s state-controlled sector, further rolling back President Obama’s normalization of relations with the communist country just 90 miles from U.S. shores.

The move backs up President Trump’s order in June to prevent U.S. tourism and trade from benefiting the island’s communist regime, forbidding American tourists and companies from spending money at an array of hotels, shops and other businesses tied to the military, intelligence agencies and security arms of the Castro regime.

The Treasury released a new list of entities off limits to Americans, including stores, hotels and two rum makers. The new rules also expanded the list of Cuban government officials barred from financial transactions with the U.S.

U.S. travelers will still be able to make authorized trips to Cuba, but they will have to use a U.S.-based organization and be accompanied by a U.S. representative of the group, according to Treasury. The overall purpose of the new regulations is to steer future U.S. business activity and investment to Cuba’s private sector, not to government- and military-related enterprises.

“We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

The new restrictions, which take effect Thursday, come amid a sharp dispute between Washington and Havana over the still-unexplained attacks that have harmed more than two dozen U.S. government personnel in Havana since 2016. The attacks led the Trump administration to order most of its diplomats to leave Cuba in September.

Wednesday’s move marks a return to the strict rules that existed prior to the historic move in 2015 by Mr. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to restore diplomatic relations between the former Cold War foes and ease a half-century U.S. embargo on the Cuban economy.

The Cuban government did not immediately respond, but U.S. proponents of closer U.S.-Cuba ties immediately blasted the announcement.

Jake Colvin, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, called the get-tough policy “misguided.”

“Allowing people-to-people travel only as part of organized trips will limit the contact that Americans can have with everyday Cubans on the island and take money out of the pockets of Cuban entrepreneurs and home-stay hosts,” he said.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and backer of better ties with Havana, said the Trump administration’s move was particularly egregious in light of the president’s current trip to China, where he is hoping to strike numerous business deals with the communist government. “The hypocrisy of the White House ideologues is glaring,” he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a critic of the Castro regime, praised the administration’s move but warned the White House not to let unnamed “bureaucrats in the State Department who oppose the president’s Cuban policy” undermine the new directives.

The list of off-limits entities bars American business with the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.

It also places off limits a new cargo port and special trade zone outside the city of Mariel that has been the focus of Cuba’s efforts to draw foreign investment in manufacturing and distribution.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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