June 16, 2017 19:30 GMT by nytimes.com

Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-era Engagement With Cuba

Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-era Engagement With Cuba

The president said he was revoking elements of a “terrible and misguided deal” by reinstating travel restrictions, a symbolic step away from seeking better relations.

MIAMI — President Trump announced on Friday that he was reversing crucial pieces of the Obama-era policy of engagement with Cuba, arguing that he was revoking elements of a “terrible and misguided deal” by reinstating travel and commercial restrictions in a bid to force concessions from the Castro government.

During a speech at a theater in Little Havana, the epicenter of the Cuban exile community in Miami that supported him in last year’s election, Mr. Trump said he was keeping a campaign promise to roll back the détente begun by his predecessor, which he said had empowered the communist government in Cuba and enriched the military, intensifying its repression of citizens of the island nation.

“We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” Mr. Trump said at the Manuel Artime Theater, named for a former supporter of Fidel Castro who became a leader of Brigade 2506, the land forces that spearheaded the United States-led Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Mr. Trump said.

But Mr. Trump’s action fell well short of doing so. After the speech, he signed paperwork ordering the travel and commercial strictures as part of a new policy directive that essentially returned the United States and Cuba to the adversarial footing that had been in place for more than 50 years before President Barack Obama announced in 2014 that he and President Raùl Castro of Cuba had agreed to begin normalizing relations.

Americans will no longer be able to plan their own private trips to Cuba, and those who go as part of authorized educational tours will be subject to strict new rules and audits to ensure that they are not going just as tourists.

United States companies and citizens will be barred from doing business with any firm controlled by the Cuban military or its intelligence or security services, walling off crucial parts of the economy, including much of the tourist sector, from American access.

“We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba,” Mr. Trump said.

Despite such talk, the president’s policy represents a middle ground between hard-liners in Congress, including Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans who have called for a complete reversal of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy, and business leaders, human rights groups and many of Mr. Trump’s own advisers who opposed it.

The policy change allowed the president to claim credit for taking a tough stand while leaving in place many of the changes his predecessor had made, which polls have shown are broadly supported, including by most Republicans.

Under Mr. Trump’s directive, embassies in Washington and Havana will stay open and cruises and direct flights between the United States and Cuba would be protected under an exception from the prohibition on transactions with military-controlled entities.

Nor is Mr. Trump touching the ability of Cuban-Americans to travel freely to the island and send money to relatives there, or rules aimed at making it easier for American companies to do business in Cuba.

But the action was a substantial symbolic step away from seeking better relations between the two nations. Mr. Obama had argued that a decades-old policy of isolation and estrangement had allowed the Cuban government to blame its citizens’ problems on the United States without producing any meaningful improvements in their lives.

Mr. Trump is instead calling for a return to the Cold War thinking that dominated the United States government’s stance toward Cuba for a half-century, which sought to force the Cuban government to change its behavior or suffer painful economic consequences.

“America has rejected the Cuban people’s oppressors,” Mr. Trump said. “They are rejected, officially, today.”

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