U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday thrust the U.S. and Cuba back on a path toward open hostility with a blistering denunciation of the island’s communist government, clamping down on some commerce and travel but left intact many new avenues President Barack Obama had opened, the Associated Press reported.
Some of the changes – which will not go into effect until new documents laying out details are issued – could have an impact on some Cayman-related businesses.
In his message delivered in Miami’s Little Havana, Mr. Trump challenged Cuba to negotiate better agreements for Americans, Cubans and those whose identities lie somewhere in between. Diplomatic relations, restored only two years ago, will remain intact. But, in a shift from Obama’s approach, Mr. Trump said trade and other penalties would stay in place until a long list of prerequisites was met.
Declaring former President Obama’s pact with Castro a “completely one-sided deal,” Mr. Trump said he was canceling it. In practice, however, many recent changes to boost ties to Cuba will stay as they are.
Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open. U.S. airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island. The “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil but was terminated under Obama, will remain terminated. Remittances from people in America to Cubans won’t be cut off.
But individual “people-to-people” trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Mr. Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the U.S. government will police other trips to ensure travelers are pursuing a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”
The policy bans most financial transactions with a yet-unreleased list of entities associated with Cuba’s military and state security, including a conglomerate that dominates much of Cuba’s economy, such as many hotels, state-run restaurants and tour buses.
John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, told the Cayman Compass that the announcement is likely to trigger a race by U.S. investors to expand their Cuba operations as rapidly as possible before the changes go into effect.
Mr. Kavulich said the proposed restriction “were more than companies would have liked to see, but less than they were afraid of.”
Cayman entrepreneur John Felder said Friday that Mr. Trump’s proposed policy changes are unlikely to affect his Florida-based Premier Automotive Export subsidiary, which in March shipped the first U.S.-built car to Havana since 1959 under the terms of a four-year U.S. Department of Commerce license.
Mr. Felder said his U.S. license would likely remain unaffected, enabling shipments to embassies and to private enterprises on the island.
Starwood-Marriott, which operates the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort and The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, last year acquired three Havana properties, the first venture by an American hospitality company in Cuba in 58 years.
The deals include the Hotel Inglaterra, built in 1875, the Hotel Quinta Avenida, now a Four Points by Sheraton, and the Hotel Santa Isabel.
The Sheraton property is managed by the Starwood chain and owned by Grupo Hotelero Gaviota, part of the Cuban military conglomerate known as GAESA.
“If you’re a U.S. traveler in Cuba and you buy a bottle of water in the supermarket or a souvenir in a store, or you rent a car or a hotel room, it’s very likely that you’re putting money into the pockets of the military-run GAESA, which experts say controls nearly 60 percent of the Cuban economy,” The Miami Herald reported.
Marriott International Global Communications and Public Affairs spokeswoman Felicia McLemore said, “We are still analyzing the policy directive issued by the president … its full effect on our current and planned operations in Cuba may depend on related forthcoming regulations.
“We have invested significant resources establishing a presence in Cuba. As Cuba moves to reform its economy in the post-Castro era, American businesses should be present to lead by example. We will continue to urge the Trump administration and Congress to recognize and utilize travel as a strategic tool in efforts to improve relations with Cuba, allowing us to be part of a promising future, as opposed to reverting to the policies of the past.”
Mr. Kavulich could not say how U.S. visitors might know which hotels are operated by the Cuban military.
The U.S. State Department on Friday promised to publish within 90 days “a list of entities with which direct transactions generally will not be permitted.