Trump modifies Obama-era Cuba policy; Raul Castro responds

In a long-expected move, the Trump administration on Friday rolled out minor refinements to former President Barack Obama’s policy reforms toward Cuba.

Labeling the previous White House’s policy “terrible and misguided,” President Trump described current policy as a benefit to Cuba’s tourism industry.  In remarks from Miami, Fla., in conjunction with the signing of the executive directive, Trump cited the Caribbean island nation’s dismal human rights record often as part of the rational for changes.

Ahead of the announcement of new policy, administration officials said the reforms revolved around human rights, applying pressure to Havana to institute political reform and allow free elections, the release of political prisoners, freedom of religious expression and the return of fugitives from U.S. justice.

The move rescinds parts of Obama’s policy, but maintains a significant portion of his historic rapprochement, which saw a restoration of full diplomatic ties in 2015.

“We now hold the cards. The previous administration eases of restrictions on travel and trade . . . only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump announced.

Under the revised policy, Trump will end individual people-to-people travel, and ban most business transactions with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, a Cuban firm with heavy ties in the Cuban economy.

Despite fears of a broader rollback in policy, Trump’s new stance does not affect remittances sent to Cuba, allows airlines and cruise ships to continue to conduct business, and the U.S. embassy in Havana to remain open.

Stung by the new strategy, which is certain to affect its economy, Cuban officials lashed out at Trump.  In a statement released by Cuban state-run media, Cuban dictator Raul Castro denounced Trump’s speech as “loaded with hostile rhetoric that recalls the times of open confrontation.”

Cuban state news also announced:  “Any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba — whether by pressure or imposition or through more subtle means — is destined to fail.”

The new policy does not take effect until the Treasury Department issues new regulations.

Watch a highlight video of the Cuba policy reform ceremony from Miami below:

 

[Roll Call] [AP] [BBC] [Photo courtesy AP via The Independent]