US-Cuba travel continues despite concerns with new restrictions

Travel industry waits for impact of new Trump administration restrictions

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

HAVANA, Cuba - Michelle Cohen is among the people in the U.S.-Cuba travel industry who are waiting for the U.S. Department of the Treasury to release more details about the new restrictions.

While U.S. travel regulations to Cuba have been in place since 1963, former President Barack Obama's 2015 laxed policy allowed Cohen to found I-Dared Travels, an agency that focuses on educational and humanitarian missions to Cuba.

"My clients can bring in materials that people need," said Cohen, a public school teacher in Maryland. 

Cohen wasn't alone. Carnival and Norwegian cruises and US airlines such as JetBlue, AmericanAirlines and Delta also found business opportunities that President Donald Trump's new policy could end. 

In 2017, Trump prohibited people-to-people programs and stays at state-owned hotels. On Wednesday, national security advisor John Bolton announced the Trump administration will restrict non-family travel to Cuba. 

"These new measures will help steer American dollars away from the Cuban regime or its military and security services who control the tourism industry in Cuba," Bolton said.

Aside from family visits, there are 11 other categories of authorized travel including educational, religious and humanitarian activities. Since Bolton's announcement, Cohen said she has had clients asking for details about their scheduled trips to Cuba. 

"It is a big deal ... Far too many people are being impacted personally," Cohen said. 

Insight Cuba, based out of New York, and Cuba Educational Travel, based out of Miami, weren't cancelling any trips. As of Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Department of State had not made any changes to the Aug. 23, 2018 travel advisory or published any new annoucements on the U.S. Embassy page

Cohen is also concerned about the Trump administration's restrictions on U.S. remittances to Cuba. Cutting the two sources of income for Cubans, she said, will have a domino effect on the island. It will affect the island's small private sector. 

Opposition activist Manuel Cuesta, the secretary general of the Socialist Democratic Current party, agrees with Cohen. The end of cheap oil from Venezuela and the medical services deal with Brazil are already hurting the government budget. 

Cuesta said he is concerned about the impact of Trump's new policy on remittances, which will mean a single person will be allowed to receive only about $330 a month from the U.S. 

"The Cuban government has always lived on the rhetoric of the besieged square," Cuesta said, adding that he expects the Cuban government to continue to blame all of the island's maladies on the U.S. 

U.S. FOREIGN POLICY

Copyright 2019 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.