Passengers wait for transportation after returning from a cruise to Cuba at the Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Wednesday. Associated Press
The Trump administration clamped down on US tourist visits to Cuba on Tuesday, aiming to cut the flow of dollars to a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.
The move could constitute a heavy hit on Cuba, which saw more than a quarter-million US visitors in the first four months of 2019, almost double the figure from a year earlier.
“The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro,” the State Department said in a news release.
“Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region.” White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the aim was to end what the administration considers “veiled tourism” to Cuba.
“We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime’s access to US dollars,” Bolton said on Twitter.
The Cuban government condemned the move, which could cost the country’s economy tens of millions of dollars a year in lost income.
“They seek to stifle the economy and damage the standard of living of Cubans to wrest political concessions,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a tweeted statement.
“They’ll fail again.”
Carnival Corp said on Wednesday its cruises will no longer sail to Cuba following the Trump administration’s ban on US travel to the Caribbean island.
“Due to changes in US policy, the company will no longer be permitted to sail to Cuba effective immediately,” Carnival said.
Royal Caribbean Cruises said on Tuesday its ships sailing on Wednesday and Thursday would no longer stop in Cuba, while Norwegian Cruise Line said it was monitoring the situation.
Carnival said the guests currently aboard its Carnival Sensation cruise that set sail on June 3, would now stop in Mexican island Cozumel on Thursday instead of Havana, adding that the guests would receive a $100 onboard credit for the inconvenience.
Carnival has three cruise lines that sail to Cuba.
“We are working as quickly as possible to secure alternative itineraries for the remainder of our Cuba voyages and expect to have information for sailings further out in the next 2-3 days,” Carnival said.
American tourism in Cuba took off after then-president Barack Obama moved to ease the half-century trade embargo against the communist government in 2014 − even though continuing restrictions kept visits nominally in the realm of cultural and artistic exchanges and business dealings.
Cuba and the US restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-president Raul Castro. Weeks later, the ban was lifted on US commercial ship visits, opening the door for the Caribbean cruise ship industry to expand stops in Cuba.
But President Donald Trump came into office attacking the Obama opening, and within months began tightening relations, first by banning individual visits and limiting commercial interactions.
The State Department tied the new ban directly to Havana’s support for Maduro − whose embattled regime faces a direct challenge from US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared acting president of Venezuela.
“Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island,” the State Department said.
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the US agencies which arranges visits to Cuba, accused the Trump administration of playing politics by trying to appease conservative anti-Havana Cuban immigrants in Florida, an important election swing state where they carry significant political weight.
“This political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections is so unfortunate for the millions of Cubans that will feel the crunch from less US visitors,” said Laverty.