On June 16, President Donald J. Trump announced a new Cuba policy, promising to cancel what he called President Obama’s “one sided deal with Cuba.” Trump rolled out the policy with great fanfare, giving a speech to a large crowd of Cuban-Americans in the heart of Little Havana, Miami. He cited human rights abuses and a continued anti-democratic government as part of his reasoning for rolling back Obama’s policies, which focused on opening up relations between the two countries.
While Trump had strong words for Castro’s government during his speech, the policy announced on November 8 by the Treasury department leaves intact most of what Obama had put in place. The Trump Cuba policy is more of a shift in tone than a change in actual policy.
Here’s what you need to know about the policy:
1) You can still travel to Cuba.
Cuban-Americans and non-Cuban Americans alike are still able to travel to Cuba under the new Trump policy. Yes, it did get a little more challenging for non-Cuban-Americans to travel, but, the truth is, people were traveling to Cuba before Obama changed the policy, and people can keep traveling to Cuba under Trump’s new one. The same 12 authorized categories that people could travel to Cuba under before are still in place.
Americans can still travel to Cuba independently, without the need of hiring a tour group, under the “support for the Cuban people” travel category box they can check-off before their flight to the island. You have to do is make sure your trip has a full time schedule of activities that enhances contact with the Cuban people. For instance by focusing on supporting the Cuban private sector and staying at an Airbnb-type home. By engaging with individuals and parts of Cuba’s civil society like private businesses, religious institutions and community projects you’ll engage with ordinary Cubans, support a burgeoning private sector, and seeing what Christopher Columbus described as “the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.”
2) Money from the U.S. should go to Cubans, not Castro.
Traveling to Cuba is about much more than two brothers, it’s about the hopes and future for 11 million people. The intent of the new policy is to direct money that comes from travelers and the U.S. business sector to the Cuban people, not the Cuban government. The new policy prevents financial transactions, those for travel included, with Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and its affiliates, like the Armed Forces Business Enterprise Group (GAESA) and the travel company GAVIOTA with a few key exceptions.
Private enterprise is thriving in places like Havana, Vinales and Trinidad. And, it’s growing strongly across the island. In a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, over half of respondents say an immediate family member owns a business, and 7 in 10 would like to start one.
To make sure the money you spend goes to the Cuban people, you can stay in privately owned Cuban bed and breakfasts, called ‘casa particulares’, which are easy to book on AirBnB. Eat at private restaurants called ‘paladares’ (see the Cuban version of Open Table at Alamesa). You can also exchange your money in Euros or Canadian dollars or with local money exchangers.
The Cuban people are overwhelmingly welcoming to U.S. travelers and they’re overwhelmingly supportive of further opening and engagement. In a 2016 Univision poll, a near-unanimous majority – 97 percent – say a better relationship with the United States would benefit Cuba.
3) The U.S. will not publicly support lifting the embargo on Cuba.
The new policy promises that the U.S. will no longer publicly support lifting the embargo on Cuba as long as there still is no transition government in the country This means that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the Secretary of State and any other prominent diplomatic figures will not work to support lifting the embargo on Cuba in any international forum until a transition government is established on the island that the U.S. believes meets the standards of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD Act). In effect, moving into a diplomatic holding pattern for the foreseeable future.
4) The embassies in Washington D.C. and Havana will stay open.
While Trump claims that his policy shifts away from Obama’s policy of opening up relations between the two, the embassies in both the U.S. and Cuba will stay open, leaving with them the potential for dialogue and collaboration. Trump has also asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to convene a task force to expand internet access on the island as part of the new policy, so the countries have plans to continue to work together in the near future.
5) Immigration is shifting direction.
By upholding the removal of the “wet foot dry foot” policy and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, the new Cuba measures cement the removal of two programs that encouraged defections to the U.S. By all accounts that has almost eliminated political refugees from Cuba to the U.S., in April of 2017 the U.S. Coast Guard reported the first month with no Cuban rafters in 7 years.
At the same time, Cuba has made it easier for U.S. citizens to repatriate to Cuba with over 13,000 returning since 2014. Under a “no weight limit” and “tax free” policy, many are returning with shipping containers full of construction supplies to help family members start private businesses like casa particulares or paladars. And, they’re bringing millions of U.S. dollars with them as capital. It’s an important and fundamental shift — Cuban Americans are seeing a future in building a new Cuba.
While President Trump touted his new Cuba policy as a step in the right direction for the Cuban people and America’s continued commitment to spreading democracy, the reality of the policy doesn’t change much from the previous administration. Don’t let the new policy deter friends and family from planning a trip to find out everything the island has to offer and learn about the unique people that live there.