On Tuesday, President Trump announced new restrictions on US citizens traveling to Cuba. Currently, most people reach Cuba via a cruise ship or through organized tour groups, and both methods will soon be prohibited. According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the new restrictions are the result of Cuba playing a “destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.”
Travel to Cuba has never been completely free but was allowed under organized group tours called “people-to-people” travel. Now, the restrictions already in place are getting even tighter. “Going forward,” said the State Department, “the United States will prohibit US travelers from going to Cuba under the previous ‘group people-to-people educational’ travel authorization. In addition, the United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, and private and corporate aircraft.” Commercial flights from the US, however, will continue to be allowed.
Former president Barack Obama made headlines for making US-Cuba travel easier than it had been in decades, but President Trump seems to be turning back the clock on relations between the two countries. “Cuba remains communist,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, “and the United States, under the previous administration, made too many concessions to one of our historically most aggressive adversaries.”
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is as pleased with the new restrictions as Wilbur Ross. James Williams, president of Engage Cuba (a coalition of businesses in favor of positive US-Cuba relations), says, “The federal government should not be policing where Americans go on vacation. Our core freedoms should not be held hostage by politicians for naked partisanship.”
If you’ve already booked a trip to Cuba, you will likely still be allowed to travel. The Treasury Department has said that “certain group people-to-people educational travel that previously was authorized will continue to be authorized where the traveler had already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019.”