President Donald J. Trump signs the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, Miami, June 16, 2017
On June 16, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his new Cuba policy in a speechin Miami, declaring that he was “canceling” President Barack Obama’s opening to Havana. Here are eight things you need to know about what Trump did—and didn’t –do.
(1) National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba (NSPM)
During President Trump’s appearance in Miami, he signed a new National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba which formalized elements of his new policy and replaced President Obama’s Presidential Directive on Cuba signed in October 2016. Obama’s directive laid out the rationale for a policy of engagement with Cuba and directed executive branch agencies to work toward its implementation. Rescinding it has no immediate practical effect, but signals that President Trump is no longer interested in a policy of normalization—something that was also clear from the confrontational tone of his Miami speech.
(2) Travel Opportunities
One of the main policy changes President Trump announced was tightening restricts on travel to Cuba and stepping up enforcement to be sure that travelers are going for a legally approved purpose. There are 12 categories of legal travel to Cuba, but the most popular one for non-Cuban Americans is “people-to-people” educational travel, offered by cruise ships and travel providers like National Geographic and Classic Journeys. President Obama legalized individual people-to-people trips, which meant travelers could go on their own and pursue a personalized itinerary. President Trump canceled that. Now, to go on a people-to-people trip, you’ll have to go in an organized group led by a licensed traveler provider, and follow a set itinerary. But you can still bring back rum and cigars.
(3) Transactions Benefiting the Cuban Military
The other major policy change President Trump announced was a ban on any direct transactions with entities that would benefit the Cuban military disproportionately. The terms “direct” and “disproportionate” haven’t been defined yet. That will happen when the Treasury Department issues the implementing regulations. This could get complicated, because a lot of enterprises in the tourism sector, including hotels, restaurants, tourist taxis, rental cars, and retail stores are controlled by the Cuban armed forces ministry. The State Department will produce a list of prohibited enterprises, which should clarify who you can do business with in Cuba and who you can’t. The good news: ports, airports, and telecommunications are exempt from the new regulations, so cruise ships, airlines, and Google are all safe. Existing contracts are exempt, too.
At first glance, Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) seems to say that remittances will be unaffected, but another section of the NSPM expands the definition of “prohibited government officials” of Cuba from a few dozen people to hundreds of thousands. That’s important because under existing regulations, Americans cannot send remittances to any Cuban who is a prohibited person. We’ll just have to wait and see how the Treasury Department sorts that out when it writes the regulations.
(5) Diplomatic Relations
Despite a very tough speech in Miami that denounced the Cuban government, President Trump did not break diplomatic relations with Havana. The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015. President Obama nominated career foreign service officer Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who was already serving in Havana as chief of the U.S. embassy, as ambassador, but he was never confirmed by the Senate. President Trump has not named an ambassador, but in his Miami speech, he indicated that he intended to keep the embassy open. So if you’re traveling to Cuba or doing business there, the embassy will still provide consular services as needed.
(6) Terrorism List
President Trump has not put Cuba back on the State Department’s list of countries that support international terrorism. Cuba was on that list until 2015, when the U.S. intelligence community concluded that it met the conditions for being removed and President Obama removed it. Since then, U.S. and Cuban law enforcement officials have been cooperating on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and cyber crime. President Trump’s NSPM mentions law enforcement as an area where engagement with Cuba serves U.S. national interest.
(7) Immigration Policy
President Trump is not restoring the wet foot/dry foot immigration policy that gave Cubans arriving in the United States a fast track to permanent residence and citizenship that no other immigrants enjoyed. President Obama ended wet foot/dry foot just before leaving office and President-elect Trump did not object at the time. Cuban immigrants are now treated no differently than immigrants from other countries. In his Miami speech, President Trump specifically said that he would not be changing that policy.
(8) Bilateral Accords
Between December 17, 2014, When President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba, and the time he left office two years later, Cuba and the United States signed almost two dozen bilateral agreements on issues of mutual interest ranging from environmental protection to commercial air service. global health, and law enforcement. President Trump has not abrogated any of those agreements, and his NSPM lists many of the fields in which agreements have been signed as fields in which the United States will continue to engage with Cuba because it is in the national interest.