The Cuban government on Friday denounced U.S. President Donald Trump's new measures to tighten the blockade on the island as a setback in U.S. He clamped down on some commerce and travel but left intact many new avenues President Barack Obama had opened.
Many government officials and their supporters saw the Obama policy as an attempt to lull Cuba into complacency and undermine the foundations of a communist system based in part of near-total control of virtually every aspect of society, from animal-rights groups to the film industry. Still, Cuba said it is willing to continue "respectful dialogue" with on topics of mutual interest. But Trump vowed that trade and other penalties would stay in place until a long list of prerequisites is met.
"We don't want USA dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba", Trump said on Friday, pledging that USA sanctions would not be lifted until Cuba releases political prisoners and holds free elections. "Officially, today, they are rejected". "Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba".
While the changes are far-reaching, they appear to be less sweeping than many USA pro-engagement advocates had feared. "Through this approach, we not only trade goods, but ideas".
The Castro government said in a statement that Trump's speech "reminded the times of open confrontation with our country, announced the policy of his government towards Cuba which reverts the progress achieved in the past two years".
The lengthy statement went on to strike a conciliatory tone, saying Cuba wants to continue negotiations with the United States on a variety of subjects.
Embassies in Havana and Washington are to remain open. "When Cubans take concrete steps, we will be ready, prepared and able to return to the table to negotiate that agreement, which will be much better", he said.
Americans can still travel to the island under "educational" pretenses, under the new regulations, but they'll be held to strict rules and must record activity logs and schedules to ensure that they aren't traveling for the sake of tourism. "This will be the first time in several decades that the Cuban people will have an economic advantage over the Cuban military". And the USA government will police other trips to ensure travelers are pursuing a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities".
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One of the major changes in the policy directive is that USA travelers making educational people-to-people trips can no longer go to Cuba individually but must travel in groups accompanied by a company representative. He had advanced this Friday and Trump himself has ratified it in a speech in Miami, the capital of Cuban exiles in the United States.
At the venue where Trump announced his policy changes, the president received a warm welcome from audience members. "We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are free, all political parties are legalized and free and supervised elections are scheduled", the President said.
"More importantly, as Cuba moves to reform its economy in the post-Castro era, American businesses should be present to lead by example", Marriott's statement said.
"Trump's become the independent business people's new enemy because - even though he's said he wants to help entrepreneurs - this new policy alienates entrepreneurs from the government", said Angel Rodriguez, a 27-year-old sociologist who works with the Catholic Church in entrepreneurship-training programs.
"A backward move for (US-Cuban) relations would bring with it the collapse of many businesses" and "the suffering of all the families that depend on them", they wrote. "But it should not be expected that to that end, Cuba will make compromises to its very sovereignty", it said.
Trump, however, stopped short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostilities.
Some of those new groups came under intense pressure during detente, particularly after Obama's May 2016 visit to the island.
Weissenstein reported from Havana and Lederman from Washington.