The US government has toughened the terms for Americans traveling to Cuba and doing business in the country. It makes good on a pledge made by President Donald Trump to roll back Obama's Cuban détente policy.
The new US restrictions include a ban on Americans doing business with 180 Cuban government entities, holding companies and tourism companies. They cover 83 state-owned hotels, including those run by military-linked chains Gaviota and Habaguanex, as well as the city's new luxury shopping mall.
US travelers will also need to be able to show a "full-time schedule" with activities that support Cuban people and show "meaningful interaction," a US official told reporters.
The White House said it is keen to support small, private enterprises that have sprung up under President Raul Castro's reforms to the largely state-controlled economy.
According to the new regulations, US travelers will still be able to make authorized trips to Cuba with a US-based organization and accompanied by a US representative of the group, but it will be harder for them to travel to the island on their own.
The rules take effect on Thursday and are aimed at preventing the military, intelligence and security arms of Cuba's government from benefiting from American tourism and trade, the White House said.
US President Donald Trump called for a tightening of restrictions in June, citing claims that the Cuban government still oppressed its people and that former US President Barack Obama had made too many concessions in his 2014 diplomatic breakthrough.
Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, the Cuban economy has suffered from the loss of a vital economic sponsor and trade partner.
Almost, but still cigars
The policy is only a partial rollback of Obama's changes, with cruise ship visits and direct commercial flights between the countries still permitted and embassies in Washington and Havana staying open.
Americans can also still travel on educational and "people to people" trips, and bringing home limited quantities of rum and Cuban cigars is still allowed, officials said.
Critics from left and right
The new rules have been criticized as lax by Republican leaders and as counterproductive by those wanting to continue Obama's détente.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American, said the list failed to go far enough because it left out companies like Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan with ties to the Cuban government.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said the regulations were unfair to Cuba, coming as Trump was being "feted in Beijing" by a Communist government "in a country to which Americans can travel freely."
"The hypocrisy of the White House ideologues is glaring," Leahy said in a statement.
"These measures confirm there is a serious reversal in bilateral relations which has occurred as a result of the decisions taken by the government of President Donald Trump," Josefina Vidal, the highest Cuban diplomat for North America, said later on Wednesday.
Vidal, who was the public face of Cuba's opening with the US, said the policy would harm Cuba's economy, US citizens and businesses.
The rules were also denounced by travel groups.
"Cuba is still open for business," said Charel van Dam of the Cuba Travel Network. "It is still possible for people to travel, but I think these announcements will serve mainly as something to scare off people who want to visit."
jbh/sms (Reuters, AP)