The Trump administration on Tuesday ended the most popular forms of US travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a heavily used category of educational travel in an attempt to cut off cash to the island's communist government. Cruise travel from the US to Cuba began in May 2016 during President Barack Obama's opening with the island.
It has become the most popular form of US leisure travel to the island, bringing 142,721 people in the first four months of the year, a more than 300% increase over the same period last year. For travellers confused about the thicket of federal regulations governing travel to Cuba, cruises offered a simple, one-stop, guaranteed-legal way to travel. That now appears to be over.
"Cruise ships, as well as recreational and pleasure vessels, are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow," the Commerce Department said in a statement to The Associated Press. The new restrictions are part of a broader effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to roll back the Obama-era efforts to restore normal relations between the United States and Cuba, which drew sharp criticism from the more hardline elements of the Cuban-American community and their allies in Congress.
Treasury said the sanctions would take effect on Wednesday after they are published in the Federal Register. US national security adviser John Bolton, who declared Cuba part of a "troika of tyranny " along with Nicaragua and Venezuela as he outlined plans for sanctions in November, said the new policy is intended to deny the Cuban government a vital source of revenue.
"The Administration has advanced the President's Cuba policy by ending 'veiled tourism' to Cuba and imposing restrictions on vessels," Bolton said on Twitter. "We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to U.S. dollars." The Cuban government imposed food rationing last month as a result of tightened U.S. sanctions and a drop in subsidized oil and other aid from Venezuela. For the Cuban government, cruise travel generated many millions of dollars a year in docking fees and payments for on-shore excursions, although those figures were never made public. Cuba also has become the most-requested destination for many South Florida-based cruise lines.
"The Trump administration deserves tremendous credit for holding accountable the Cuban regime," Florida Republican Sen Marco Rubio said. "The United States must use all tools available under U.S. law to counter the Cuban regime's deceitful activities to undermine U.S. policy."
The new restrictions take effect Wednesday, but the government said it will allow anyone who has already paid for the trip to go ahead with it. But the process of going forward for passengers isn't clear.
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