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Published On: Sat, Jun 17th, 2017

USA to crackdown on Cuba tourism under policy overhaul

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President Donald Trump’s broad overhaul of US policy toward Cuba will not restrict scheduled airline flights, but will see the US government crackdown on existing travel regulations.

One goal, according to the White House, is to ensure that US travellers do not visit Cuba for leisure purposes.

“The policy enhances travel restrictions to better enforce the statutory ban on United States tourism to Cuba,” says the White House in a policy statement. “Any further improvements in the United States-Cuba relationship will depend entirely on the Cuban government’s willingness to improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

Specifically, Trump’s policy will prohibit “individual people-to-people travel” to Cuba – defined as travel for educational reasons not affiliated with a degree programme or sponsoring organisation, according to the Department of Transportation.

The categorisation of types of travel to Cuba reflects the US government’s practice of allowing travel to the island nation for only certain designated reasons.

Trump’s policy will still permit “people-to-people” travel, so long as it is part of a group, the DOT says.

“That is a category of travel that is particularly ripe for abuse,” an unnamed administration official said in documents released by the White House. “Directing the Treasury to change its regulations… is one way to ensure that the individuals who travel to Cuba to engage in a schedule of activities actually do so and aren’t sitting on the beach.”

The DOT clarifies that Trump’s policy changes “do not affect the current authority of US airlines to serve Cuba”. Also, passengers who already booked travel will not be affected.

US airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) says it is examining Trump’s policy and potential impact on US airlines.

“Airlines are reviewing the president’s directive and will continue to comply with all federal rules and regulations regarding travel to Cuba,” says the group. “We will continue working with the administration to minimise any impact on the traveling public.”

American Airlines, a leading carrier to Cuba, says it is “reviewing” Trump’s policy “to understand any potential impacts to our customers or our current service”.

“Until the new regulations are in place, the current travel policy will remain in effect,” the Oneworld carrier says. “However, future changes in regulation may affect travel initiated from today forward.”

The new policy will take effect after the US Department of the Treasury and the US Department of Commerce issue new regulations, which could take “several months”, according to the White House.

The White House says its changes broadly aim to ensure that the Cuban government and military do not benefit from recently-improved economic and travel ties between the former Cold War foes.

Relations improved under the administration of former President Barack Obama.

Speaking in Miami on 16 June, Trump criticised Obama’s policy, saying improved economic ties could prop up the Castro government. He called Obama’s agreement with Cuba a “deal with a government that spreads violence and instability in the region”.

“I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-side dead with Cuba,” he added.

President Obama’s openness to Cuba led to improved economic ties and the signing of an air services deal that restored commercial flights between the USA and Cuba after a decades-long hiatus.

US carriers jumped on the opportunity, launching dozens of new flights to Havana and several other Cuban cities.

In recent months, however, some airlines reduced Cuba capacity or outright ended flights, citing less-than-anticipated demand.

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