Trump Administration Left Trio of Florida Lawmakers in Dark on New Cuba Rules

Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart blame 'bureaucrats' for preventing Trump from fulfilling promised Cuba policy

Sen. Marco Rubio / Getty Images
• November 9, 2017 5:00 am


A trio of Cuban-American lawmakers representing Miami was not told in advance about long-awaited regulations restricting U.S. business and travel in Cuba, according to GOP congressional sources.

The lawmakers, Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, all Florida Republicans and strong public champions of President Trump's more limited Cuba policy, suspected they were being left out of discussions or briefings on the regulations because they would wind up not being as strong as President Trump had promised them earlier this year.

The State, Treasury, and Commerce Departments, which wrote the new rules, never briefed these members of Congress, and lawmakers ended up having to hear the new rules were coming out Wednesday morning from reporters, the sources told the Washington Free Beacon.

The lack of foreknowledge is a marked shift from months earlier, when the White House brought the lawmakers into the fold and they endorsed Trump's efforts to roll back some of the Obama administration's new détente with Havana at a June event in Miami's Little Havana.

The trio of lawmakers issued statements late Wednesday ranging from mild disappointment to strong dissatisfaction and blaming State Department "bureaucrats" from preventing Trump from going farther. They argued the new regulations preserved too many special carve-outs for certain Cuba military-controlled hotels and existing travel plans.

"The regulatory changes announced today by Treasury and Commerce begin to implement President Trump's 2017 policy for enforcing U.S. sanctions law against the Castro regime," Rubio said. "Unfortunately, however, bureaucrats in the State Department who oppose the president's Cuba policy refused to fully implement it when they omitted from the Cuba Restricted List several entities and sub-entities that are controlled by or act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services."

Rubio specifically pointed to the Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan, two hotels operated by Cuban tourism companies.

"I am confident that this effort by some in the State Department to undermine the president's directive will be addressed," he added.

In addition, the new listed of prohibited hotels and companies does not include the Four Point by Sheraton in Havana.

Marriott International was the U.S. company that stood to lose the most money if Trump included its only existing hotel in Cuba on the restricted list.

The Obama administration granted Starwood, a Marriott subsidiary, a multi-year license with the Cuban military in 2016 to operate a hotel in Havana. Other Starwood deals involve Cuban hotels operated by the Castro government, not the military, but work on those hotels has been delayed.

Ros-Lehtinen, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and its former chair, started out fairly positive about the new regulations, calling them "a positive step forward." She then pivoted to say the new Trump rules still leave "much to be desired as many of the dangerous and disastrous regulations put forth during the Obama administration unfortunately remain intact."

"The carve-outs in the regulations and the acceptance of this false narrative of a Cuban private sector are disappointing," she said. "As the administration is examining blocking the sale of planes to Iran, it should have a uniform policy against these rogue regimes."

She remains concerned that the new Cuba regulations allow businesses with existing contractual arrangements to move forward at "the expense of the Cuban people" and said, "this will only assist the tyrannical regime."

"Let me be clear: there is no truly independent private sector under a communist dictatorial regime because the regime controls all aspects of society," she said. "We also need to resolve the matter of confiscated U.S. property claims that impacts our own U.S. national interests."

Diaz-Balart argued that the regulations do not fully implement what the Trump administration previously ordered.

"It is clear that individuals in the bureaucracy who support the former administration's Cuba policy continue to undermine President Trump," he said.

"I look forward to working with the president to ensure that his policy is fully implemented, and that the regulations are entirely consistent with his intent, unlike the ones announced today. I trust that President Trump will not allow Washington bureaucrats to stand in the way of his directive to support the Cuban people's democratic aspirations."

A State Department spokesperson said officials examined a "range of sources of information and the Cuban government's own public resources and statements regarding the structure of its businesses" in determining which entities to place on the restricted list.

"The department listed those entities with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit Cuba's military, intelligence, or security services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba, consistent with U.S. national interests," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "Some entities controlled by the military, intelligence, or security services or personnel did not meet these criteria."

Still, the State Department has the ability to add additional entities to the list.

"The department intends to update the Cuba Restricted List periodically and will consider relevant information, as applicable, on a case-by-case basis," the spokesperson said.

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.

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, travelers will be required 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.

Update: This post has been updated to clarify Ros-Lehtinen's comments.