Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

How will President Trump change Obama's Cuba policy?

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to roll back parts of President Barack Obama's improvement of relations with Cuba, siding with hawks who oppose detente and rejecting demands from U.S. businesses that see the island as a ripe potential market.

The decision follows an interagency administration review of Obama's initiative and would be a return to some polices that date to the Cold War.

The review is believed to have been completed some time ago, with White House officials waiting for the best time to release it. Trump could make the announcement Friday in Miami, the Miami Herald has reported.

The action could dull a boom in tourism by Americans to Cuba and hurt a burgeoning cottage industry of private enterprise on the socialist-ruled island.

The Tampa Bay area — home to the third-largest Cuban-American population in the United States — has made full use of the Obama policy changes:

• There are cruises from Port Tampa Bay to Havana, and daily commercial flights now link Cuba and Tampa International Airport.

• The Florida Aquarium has forged a partnership with the National Aquarium in Havana on finding ways to restore dying coral reefs in the Caribbean; cultural exchanges with the island nation involve interests from both Tampa and St. Petersburg; local universities are involved in educational opportunities in Cuba.

• Parishioners of St. Lawrence Catholic Church of Tampa raised $95,000 to construct the first new Roman Catholic Church in Cuba in nearly 60 years.

• Perhaps most importantly to those locals in favor of normalized relations with Cuba — especially Cuban-Americans — has been the opportunity to reconnect with the nation whose immigrants helped to establish the city of Tampa, its culture and its cigar rolling industry that when allowed to use Cuban tobacco was the largest in the world.

Some Trump supporters argue, however, that President Raúl Castro has not improved human rights or expanded political freedoms and does not deserve better relations with the United States.

Human rights is "something that's very strong to him. It's one of the reasons that he's reviewing the Cuba policy," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a recent briefing.

Two Cuban-American Republican lawmakers from Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have lobbied Trump against Cuba. Proponents of continued dialogue and trade, including farm states, businesses, the tourism industry and even a group of retired military officers, have similarly lobbied Congress.

Two years before he left office, Obama revealed the results of what had been a long series of secret negotiations: The United States and Cuba were renewing diplomatic relations after half a century of hostility.

In the months that followed, American entrepreneurs, tourists and congressional delegations beat a path to the shores of the island that was for so long largely forbidden.

U.S. hotel chains signed deals, and airlines and cruise ships scheduled dozens of tours to Havana and other Cuban cities. Chicken, grain and other agricultural producers in Louisiana, Kansas and other farm states exported tons of products to the island nation.

Cuba and the United States reopened embassies in each other's capital, which had been closed in 1961.

Ordinary Cubans, long denied access to the Internet, suddenly were able to go online. Castro allowed Cubans to travel out of the country more easily, and an estimated 20 percent of the economy is now in private hands for the first time since Fidel Castro consolidated control after the 1959 revolution.

Obama did not end the U.S. embargo imposed on Cuba in 1960. Only Congress can do that, and Trump's actions would stop the momentum to repeal the embargo.

Trump is not expected to reverse all of the Cuba openings, according to people familiar with the review process. He is not likely to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana, nor would he reimpose restrictions on the remittances that Cuban Americans in the United States send to their families in Cuba, which would anger a large Florida voter base.

He would probably also leave in place Obama's ending of the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" special immigration status only for Cubans. Obama scrapped the policy in January, saying that normalized relations meant Cubans should follow the same rules as other migrants and refugees.

Trump would likely revert to pre-Obama restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba. The new policy allows Americans who are making educational or cultural trips to Cuba to initiate their own travel there without special permission from the U.S. government and without a licensed tour company.

Reversing it, or intensifying enforcement to require travelers to show evidence that their trips are legal, would probably slow the recent influx of American tourism to Cuba to a trickle, leaving airlines that have started direct flights there with fewer customers to serve.

Trump could also restore limits on the amount of rum and cigars that American travelers can bring home.

And the president is weighing an increase in funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development for programs that promote democracy in Cuba, initiatives that the Castro government has long condemned as covert efforts to overthrow it.

Leading Cuban dissidents say the situation for human rights has worsened. José Daniel Ferrer García, head of Cuba's largest opposition group, said harassment and arrests of dissidents have increased in the past year.

"The United States must continue to be the first defender of those who lack rights and freedoms in the world," Ferrer wrote in an open letter to Trump. He called for sanctions against the Castro regime.

Rubio, one of the chief hard-liners on Cuba, said recently, "I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the Cuban people's aspirations for economic and political liberty."

As the White House labored in March to corral Republican votes for an unpopular health care overhaul measure, Diaz-Balart asked for assurances from Trump that he would hold to the hard line on Cuba he laid out in his campaign. Diaz-Balart supported the measure and has played an influential role in shaping the new Cuba policy.

"It is my duty to advocate for the issues that are important to my constituents, and I will not apologize for using every available avenue to effectively resolve them," he said in a statement.

Among the measures the Trump administration is considering are proposals pressed by Rubio and Diaz-Balart to block transactions between American companies and firms that have ties to the Cuban military. Such a restriction could have far-reaching consequences for existing deals, such as the one struck by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to manage hotels in Cuba.

"This is a return to the old playbook of creating ambiguity and uncertainty so that nobody knows what is permissible and what isn't, and it would add another level of legal exposure to doing business in Cuba," said Robert L. Muse, a Washington lawyer who specializes in U.S. law regarding Cuba. "It would add one more obstacle to the obstacle course, which is already pretty complex."

Times staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed to this report, which contains information from the New York Times.