President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Americans won’t be allowed to bring home cigars and rum from Cuba under new sanctions likely to appeal to Cuban-Americans, a crucial voting bloc in the battleground state of Florida. (Sept. 23)
Americans visiting Cuba are going to be prohibited from staying at 433 hotels that are believed to be owned or controlled by the government or “certain well-connected insiders,” the State Department announced Wednesday.
The order was taken as part of a broader effort announced by President Donald Trump to tighten restrictions on the Cuban government, a sharp reversal from the more open policies toward the island nation under President Barack Obama.
“Today we reaffirm our ironclad solidarity with the Cuban people and our eternal conviction that freedom will prevail over the sinister forces of communism and evil in many different forms,” Trump said in remarks meant to honor veterans of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, in which Cuban exiles attempted to launch an invasion of their homeland. “Today we declare America’s unwavering commitment to a free Cuba.”
The Trump administration is going to bar Americans from staying at 433 hotels in Havana that it believes are government-controlled. Here’s a city scene in Havana (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The sanctions come amid a tight race for the presidency ahead of the Nov. 3 election in the critical swing state of Florida where Cuban-Americans are an important voting bloc.
In announcing the list of hotels, the State Department said the profits from them “disproportionately benefit the Cuban government, all at the expense of the Cuban people, who continue to face repression at the hands of the regime.”
Instead, the department urged travelers to stay at casas particulares, private accommodations owned by “legitimately independent entrepreneurs.”
The order will likely encourage more Cubans to rent rooms or residences through services like Airbnb, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York.
In addition, it could entice the Cuban government to sell hotels to some of the foreign companies that currently have management contracts to run them, taking them off the list and thus making them able to book U.S. visitors again, Kavulich said.
But with the list limited the number of accommodations for Americans in Cuba, it may force airlines to cut their flight schedules there as well, he added.
The order also prohibits Americans from bringing home Cuban rum or cigars.
The Trump administration has taken several steps to isolate Cuba. In June 2019, it stopped cruise ships from visiting the island, which had been allowed since 2016 following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries two years earlier. That October, it banned flights to all Cuban cities but the capital, Havana. Earlier this summer, it ordered Marriott to close its Four Points Sheraton hotel in Havana.
Legally, U.S. travelers can still visit Cuba under specific conditions:
- Family visits
- Official U.S. government business
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and meetings
- Educational activities (like those from U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools)
- Religious activities
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
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Contributing: Jayme Deerwester and David Oliver, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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