For years, Americans have been able to travel to Cuba by going with organized travel groups in what is known as “people-to-people travel.”
Not anymore though. President Trump announced Tuesday that he is now blocking that way for Americans to visit the island, as well as banning U.S. cruise ships from stopping in Cuba. Commercial flights from the U.S. will still be allowed from Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Eleven other categories of travel are still allowed, including cultural exchanges with university groups, religious activities, public performances, journalism, and official U.S. government business.
A spokesman for the White House National Security Council told CNN that the new restrictions are part of Trump’s commitment to holding “the Cuban regime accountable for its direct destabilizing role in the hemisphere and contribution to the repression of the people of Venezuela.”
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa is among the few Democrats who have been speaking out on the issue. In 2013, she became the first Florida member of Congress to call for ending the economic boycott against Cuba. Tuesday, she blasted the Trump administration’s new announcement, saying it won’t really hurt the Cuban government, but will hurt Cuban entrepreneurs, families and Americans traveling to the island.
“Since the U.S. re-established diplomatic ties with Cuba, thousands of Americans, including many families from my own community, have visited the island,” Castor said in a written statement. “These activities have not only opened new economic opportunities for Americans and Cubans alike, they serve as an integral part of our efforts to promote the spread of democracy and ensure the security of our region. More Americans should be encouraged to travel to Cuba rather than adding burdensome restrictions on Americans, cultural exchanges and businesses. Rather than building on progress, President Trump continues an agenda that is simply focused on unraveling any advancements made during the previous administration.”
But Florida’s two GOP U.S. Senators – Marco Rubio and Rick Scott – praised Trump’s move, and both linked it to Cuba’s support to the embattled regime of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, who the U.S. no longer recognizes as the true leader of that South American country.
“As the Cuban regime continues to export its destructive communist agenda throughout our hemisphere, and to directly empower the narco-terrorist Maduro regime, the United States must use all tools available under U.S. law to counter the Cuban regime’s deceitful activities to undermine U.S. policy,” Rubio said.
“Cuba continues to be the most powerful force propping up Nicholas Maduro as he starves and kills his own people,” Scott added in his own statement. “The Cuban regime is a willing and active participant in Maduro’s genocide. The United States is right to take every action possible to cut ties off with Cuba.”
The Associated Press reports that the Cuban government began food rationing last month after the U.S. tightened sanctions on imported Venezuelan oil and other goods. The AP also reports that cruise travel generated millions of dollars a year for the Cuban government.