President Trump released new restrictions on the ability of U.S. citizens to travel to and do business in Cuba Wednesday, partially rolling back the looser travel rules President Obama ushered in as part of his diplomatic and commercial thaw with Havana.
The new rules, which take effect Thursday, bar Americans from doing business with dozens of military- and state-owned entities, including hotels, villas, tour companies, marinas, stores, and others. The Treasury Department Wednesday released the list of businesses, along with the new regulations.
"We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The long-awaited regulations follow President Trump's changes to the Cuba sanctions program, which were announced in June during an event in Miami's Little Havana.
During that event, Trump issued a harsh rebuke of Obama's dealings with the Castro regime and pledged to put the interests of the Cuban people first and work to end repression on the island.
"Effectively immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba," he said in June.
Administration officials on Wednesday told reporters that the timing of the regulation announcement was not related to escalated tensions between the U.S. and Cuban governments over a series of mysterious sonic attacks against U.S. diplomats on the island.
In response to the attacks, the Trump administration sent more than half of its staff in Havana back to the United States and forced the Cuban government to recall roughly the same amount of its staff back to Havana.
On Wednesday, the departments of Commerce, Treasury, and State issued the formal regulations rolling back some of the Obama administration's Cuba travel rules.
While the new Trump policy still allows cruise ships and flights by U.S. airlines to Cuba, it would now place new limits on "people-to-people" visas that Americans have used in recent years to easily book their own individual travel online.
Instead, the U.S. government will again require the travelers to participate in an educational tour accompanied by a U.S. tour guide who is licensed to ensure that Americans are not violating U.S. sanctions and doing business with prohibited Cuban military and government entities during their stay.
Trump administration officials, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, said the administration planned to continue enforcing the sanctions as they previously had before Obama's normalization process loosened the rules.
They said there are no plans at the moment to hire additional government employees to monitor and enforce the rules. Americans who break the rules face heavy fines and potential criminal prosecutions for more serious violations.
Americans can still travel to Cuba via a cruise line and buy cigars and rum to take back with them to the U.S., as long as those purchases were not from Cuban military- or state-owned stores or entities, and the travel was booked through an approved tour guide, officials said.