Under new restrictions announced by the Trump administration, US travelers to Cuba will now have to be escorted by a certified tour guide who will prevent them from patronizing scores of restaurants and hotels on the island.
The regulations unveiled on Wednesday, further chip away at diplomatic ties to Havana forged by President Obama.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member of the State Department Appropriations subcommittee, described the move as “reminiscent of the Cold War and what one would expect of a paranoid totalitarian government.”
The departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury collaborated on the new rules, which are ostensibly aimed at restricting funding to the Cuban military.
“We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed.
The State Department drew up a list of 180 entities, including resorts, rum factories, marinas, and shops purportedly owned by the military. Under the announced regulations, American travelers to Cuba will now have to arrange the accompaniment of a licensed guide who will prevent patronage to the restricted businesses.
“Nobody supports the Cuban military, a decrepit institution that is no match for a single US battalion,” Sen. Leahy said in a statement. “Far from promoting human rights in Cuba, these new regulations will hurt fledgling entrepreneurs and the rest of the Cuban people by discouraging Americans from traveling there.”
Leahy also criticized the timing of the diplomatic rollbacks, which were announced as President Trump is in Beijing meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“On a day when President Trump and members of his Cabinet are feted in Beijing by the world’s most repressive, nuclear-armed communist government, in a country to which Americans can travel freely,” Leahy said, “his Treasury Department releases onerous and petty restrictions on what private American citizens can do in Cuba—an impoverished neighbor that poses not the slightest threat to the United States.”
The new rules are set to take effect on Thursday, although previously arranged travel plans will be grandfathered in without the restrictions.