Thursday, November 9, 2017

U.S. restricts trade, travel to Cuba (Nov. 9, 2017)

The U.S. government announced new restrictions how citizens can travel to and trade with Cuba. The new rules, which take away permission for most individual travel to the island and bar citizens from staying patronizing a long list of hotels and restaurants linked to the Cuban security forces, represent a roll-back from the Obama administration's focus on normalizing relations. Most U.S. citizens will have to travel to Cuba as part of organized groups.

They are in line with U.S. President Donald Trump's promises five months ago to reverse his predecessor's policy, reports the Washington Post. The regulations aim to cut off cash from President Raul Castro's government and pressure it to move towards "greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

In recent months then the U.S. has also pulled out a significant part of it's diplomatic staff and  in the wake of alleged "sonic attacks." Cuban officials have accused the U.S. of lying about the attacks as an excuse to unravel relations. The bilateral relationship has now slumped to its lowest point since the George W Bush presidency, according to the BBC.

After Trump's June speech about Cuba, analysts noted that the changes were not nearly as profound as they could have been, and largely left in place the fundamentals of the Cuba-U.S. rapprochement. (See June 19's post.) These new regulations are in keeping with that stance, according to the Miami Herald. Nor is it clear how closely the U.S. government will enforce the new regulations that include bans on specific stores.

The new rules have been criticized for not going far enough to rollback Cuba normalization, notes the Financial Times. Marco Rubio, Republican senator for Florida, accused State Department "bureaucrats" of refusing to fully implement Trump's policy.

Though the new regulations are applicable starting today, they are not retroactive, and companies that already have contracts on the island -- including John Deere and Caterpillar -- will be allowed to proceed. A new Sheraton hotel in Havana, carried out with a Cuban military-linked entity, will also be grandfathered in, a move criticized by Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

More than 180 entities, including dozens of hotels and the new  Manzana de Gomez luxury shopping mall are on the list, reports NPR. So is the Zona Especial de Desarrollo Mariel (ZEDM).

The Post cites Engage Cuba, a national business coalition that supports lifting the embargo and expanding trade and travel, which called the new regulations a "more convoluted, confusing and counterproductive approach to Cuba policy."

News Briefs
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  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri urged the U.S. to impose a full oil embargo, and said the move would enjoy widespread support in Latin America. He made the comments in an interview with the Financial Times, which notes he is the first Latin American leader to advocate such a tough step.
  • In the meantime, Russia agreed to restructure roughly $3 billion in loans to Venezuela, a lifeline for the country on the brink of default, reports the New York Times. (See last Friday's post.)
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  • Earlier this week the prosecutor's office also announced it will press tax fraud charges against Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht, reports AFP.
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  • Upside Down World interviews eco-feminist Vidalina Morales and her struggle against mining in El Salvador. In the wake of activists' success in banning metallic mining, The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (MESA), which she leads, will focus on defending the new law. "In addition, MESA is advocating for water protection laws to protect the vulnerable water basins. There are still many communities that do not have water. MESA hopes to combat water privatization efforts. Private powerful industries are against such water protection laws in El Salvador, as they seek to profit from bottling water for sale as is currently being done."
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