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Travel to Cuba gets much harder Thursday under new Trump rules

Also, Americans are barred from transacting business with 180 entities that have ties to Cuban military, security or intelligence agencies.

By
Ed Adamczyk
A Cuban flag is raised at its new embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Wednesday, the Trump administration announced new policy restrictions involving U.S. travel to the island will become effective on Thursday. File Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI/Pool
A Cuban flag is raised at its new embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Wednesday, the Trump administration announced new policy restrictions involving U.S. travel to the island will become effective on Thursday. File Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI/Pool | License Photo

Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Tougher, more restrictive regulations on American travel to Cuba will be formally imposed this week, the U.S. Department of State announced Wednesday.

The crackdown was first announced in a policy directive by President Donald Trump this summer during a visit to Miami. The changes, detailed Wednesday, aim to negate much of former President Barack Obama's large-scale efforts to normalize diplomacy with the Caribbean island nation after more than a half-century of icy relations.

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In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, administration officials said Americans will be forbidden from engaging in business with 180 entities identified by the State Department as having ties to Cuban military, security or intelligence agencies.

Hotels, stores, marinas, tourist agencies, industries are also on the list -- including government-owned rum makers Ron Caney and Ron Varadero. The Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana, famous for its connection to American novelist Ernest Hemingway, is also on the banned list.

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The policy mandates that all American travel to Cuba must be sponsored by a U.S.-approved Cuban travel agency -- one that can be sanctioned, if necessary. Also, a representative of a sponsoring organization must accompany U.S. travelers. The order restricts "people-to-people" visas, which in the past have made traveling to Cuba -- located just 100 miles south of U.S. shores -- relatively simple.

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The new regulations take effect Thursday.

Further, the department said U.S. companies will not be allowed to invest in the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone -- a district being built that the island considers a crucial fixture in its future economy. The zone, and two companies that run its container terminal, are on the State Department list.

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The U.S. Treasury, State and Commerce Departments spent the last few months since Trump's announcement preparing the regulations.

"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 Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

The regulations permit continuance of airline and cruise travel and existing business relationships.

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The new rules stress that U.S. commerce should concentrate on private sector businesses in Cuba, and not those with government ties. It is meant to divert business from GAESA, a Cuban military conglomerate that's expanded into the Cuban economy. The organization has holdings in Cuba's hotel, rental car, taxi and tour bus, convenience store and port logistics industries.

The administration's policy change comes 20 months after Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in nearly a century to visit the island -- part of numerous efforts his administration made to thaw relations between the United States and Cuba. The 1961 trade embargo, however, which effectively bars most trade between the two nations, remains active.

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The new policy changes will be posted to the Federal Register.

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