See all Insights

President Trump Tightens Cuba Policy to Restrict Funds Going to the Castro Regime

(Washington, D.C. / June 19, 2017) President Donald Trump announced major revisions to U.S.-Cuba policy last week, reversing significant parts of President Barack Obama's 2014 agreement with President Raul Castro that began a process intended to normalize diplomatic, economic, and social ties between the U.S. and Cuba. President Trump made his announcement from Little Havana in Miami, Florida, and was accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart. Both Senator Rubio and Representative Diaz-Balart are Cuban Americans and have been strong advocates for human rights in Cuba, as well as driving forces behind the Administration’s change in policy.

In his Miami speech, President Trump fulfilled promises he made to conservative Cuban-American voters in Florida during the presidential campaign. The President used tough language in describing the Castro regime, recognized Cuban dissidents in the audience who had been imprisoned in Cuba for many years, and offered a harsh critique of the 2014 agreement with Cuba. Trump's main critique of the Obama administration's policy was that it enriched the Castro regime and failed to benefit the Cuban people. The new policy, according to the White House, aims to channel American economic activities and investment in commerce away from the Cuban military and toward the small private sector in Cuba. The new policy makes clear that the primary obstacle to the Cuban people’s prosperity and economic freedom is the Cuban military’s practice of controlling virtually every profitable sector of the economy. According to the White House, the desired result is not isolationism, but commerce with free Cuban businesses and an expansion of the Cuban private sector. President Trump also set out incentives for normalization, calling on the Castro regime to demonstrate progress by freeing political prisoners, allowing the establishment of different political parties, and holding free elections.

Implications for current American companies conducting business in Cuba will unfold as the Departments of Treasury, Commerce, and State interpret the new policy and draft regulations. Prior existing arrangements will likely be allowed to continue. The State Department will publish a list of entities with which direct transactions generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations, which will not be finalized for a few months. President Trump's changes will not affect remittance payments, the American Embassy will remain open in Havana, and President Obama's repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy will stay in place.
Scott Campbell, President of the Howard Baker Forum and Founder of the Cuba Consortium, summarized Friday's announcement by saying, "While President Trump has narrowed the permissible amount of investment in commerce with Cuba, the good news is that it was only a partial rollback of President Obama's policies and not a complete rewind. This presents a tougher situation for doing business in Cuba, but we believe there are still opportunities to negotiate on a case-by-case basis in areas such as biotechnology, insurance, infrastructure, and technology."

The Cuba Consortium is organized by The Howard Baker Forum, a bipartisan convener of public policy programs founded by the late Senator Howard Baker and designed to advance sound foreign and domestic policies. The Cuba Consortium is an assembly of companies, non-profit organizations, investors, academics, and entrepreneurs organized to track and examine the U.S.-Cuba policy. The Consortium is guided by an Advisory Board consisting of former officials, subject matter experts, and international business leaders, some of whom will offer their thoughts on President Trump's announcement in the coming days.