(Updates with details on sanctions, Cuban reaction)
By Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON, Sept 23 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday imposed new curbs on imports of Cuban rum and cigars and banned Americans from staying at properties owned by the Cuban government, as he sought to lock in the Cuban-American vote in the swing state of Florida ahead of November’s presidential election.
The moves were the latest in Trump’s effort, since taking office in January 2017, to roll back a detente with America’s old Cold War foe pursued by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Trump’s aides believe his toughened stance on Cuba has gone down well in the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a state where he and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are locked in a tight race.
“Today, as part of our continuing fight against communist oppression, I am announcing that the Treasury Department will prohibit U.S. travelers from staying at properties owned by the Cuban government,” Trump said at a White House event.
“We’re also further restricting the importation of alcohol and Cuban tobacco,” the Republican president said at the ceremony honoring Bay of Pigs veterans.
Trump’s decision deals a blow to Obama’s policy of allowing American travelers to bring back as much of Cuba’s legendary rum and cigars that they could carry in their baggage for personal use.
However, it was unclear from the Treasury statement whether the new restrictions would prohibit Americans from bringing back any amount of rum and cigars or would just impose new limits.
“The current U.S. authorities insist on the application of a sanctions policy against Cuba that has not achieved the proposed objectives in 60 years,” said a Cuban embassy official in Washington. “It is a wrong policy that is widely rejected by American society and even among Cuban Americans.”
The measures – which bar Americans from staying at hundreds of government-owned hotels and also include new restrictions on professional meetings, performances and sports competition – are intended to deny revenue to Cuban authorities, but are not expected to have any immediate impact.
The island is closed off to foreign travelers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Carrie Filipetti, deputy assistant secretary of state for Cuba and Venezuela, said the new policy “will continue even past the pandemic.”
Wednesday’s move comes as Trump and Biden are competing fiercely in Florida, which Trump won in 2016 by just 1.2 percentage points. Trump will hold a rally in Jacksonville on Thursday.
Filipetti denied the measures were timed for electoral gain, saying they had been in the works for some time.
“There is no nexus to any domestic issue,” she said.
In June 2019, the Trump administration imposed heavy new restrictions on travel to Cuba, saying the move aimed to further pressure the Communist government over its support for Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Earlier this year, the Trump administration ordered Marriott International to wind down hotel operations in Communist-run Cuba. Starwood Hotels, now owned by Marriott, was the first U.S. hotel company to sign a deal with Cuba since the 1959 revolution amid normalization of relations sought by Obama. (Reporting by Jeff Mason, Matt Spetalnick and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Marc Frank in Havana; Writing by Doina Chiacu, Alexandra Alper and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Tom Brown and Bernadette Baum)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.