Must President Donald Trump undo all humanitarian progress that was made by former President Barack Obama? It almost feels like Trump’s whole motivation is bitter vengeful spite or jealousy to take down the legacy of a much admired and respected man.
In March 2016, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928—ending a 54-year stretch of hostility between the nations. Executive action was taken to ease travel restrictions to Cuba for U.S. citizens. It was then made incredibly easy to venture to this wonderful Caribbean island, where we could all share the joys of riding in an old-timey taxi and eating boniato con mojo. During that time, I traveled to Cuba, and it simply took 15-minutes to get my visa at Newark airport. I did a story on the Havana stand-up comedy scene and met loads of nice people living under very harsh circumstances. Obama reopening relations with Cuba made it feel like the world was starting to become a better place.
But guess what? The hostility has returned—fostered by Trump.
This week, the Trump administration announced they were once again tightening sanctions against Cuba. This all began in 2017, when Trump first announced, “I am canceling Obama’s Cuba deal.”
Trump’s latest announcement will impact U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba through organized tour group and also educational and cultural trips. The president is also instigating a ban on U.S. cruise ships from stopping in the country.
One of the most effective ways to bring about cultural/political change in Cuba was the “people to people” educational travel authorization. Under this program, American group tours could travel to Cuba, as long as they planned their trip around engaging with Cuban citizens. Trump has now curtailed this type of travel to Cuba—which was meant to foster educational dialogue.
Essentially, Trump has now erected a cultural wall between Americans and the Cuban people.
From my Cuban travel experience, cultural change was already in the midst. As I was told by Havana locals, it’s very hard to keep a closed communist mindset when a new generation of Cubans have access to the internet (though extremely limited) and ideas from the outside world.
Trump’s travel ban maneuver this week came out of the blue and seems like a ploy to win the 2020 Florida vote with older Cuban-Americans who embrace hardline policies.
But believe me, if Trump could open a Trump Tower in Havana, construction would have been well under way and we wouldn’t be talking about travel restrictions. It’s no surprise that in 1998, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts hired a consulting firm to explore business opportunities in Cuba, which violated the U.S. embargo, at the time, against Cuba. Acting under Trump’s guidance, representatives from Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp. traveled to Cuba. Since the company’s business trip violated the embargo, they advised the Trump Organization to disguise their payment for consulting fees as a “charitable project.”
Yes, a travel ban implemented by Trump only makes sense if he can’t profit from it.
Meanwhile, the cruise ship ban could cost Cuba $130 million during peak cruise season. Canadians make up the largest numbers of travelers to Cuba, while Americans are second. And now, the Trump administration is apparently in the business of policing where we can vacation.