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Trump Administration Orders Halt To Cruises To Cuba And 'People-To-People' Exchanges


It's just gotten harder for Americans to travel to Cuba. The Trump administration announced new restrictions today to prevent U.S. citizens from going to the island on cruise ships or on people-to-people exchanges. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that the administration sees those things as veiled tourism that supports Cuba's Communist leaders.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Many popular hotels and restaurants in Cuba are run by the military and intelligence services, and the State Department says it wants to make sure that American travelers are not lining the pockets of the very same people who are, quote, "repressing the Cuban people and supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela." But the new restrictions on travel could also hurt budding Cuban businesspeople, says Collin Laverty, who runs an organization called Cuba Educational Travel.

COLLIN LAVERTY: It's very clear that Americans are getting off the beaten track. They're eating at private restaurants. They're taking private taxis, staying at bed and breakfasts and really empowering the Cuban people. Does the Cuban government benefit - certainly to some extent. But do millions of Cuban households benefit - yes. Really they're the ones who are going to suffer from these changes.

KELEMEN: According to the new rules, Americans can no longer go to Cuba on cruise ships and yachts, and the U.S. is eliminating one category of travel, people-to-people visits. If you have any travel plans already, you are grandfathered in. And Laverty says there are other categories still available, including religious trips and humanitarian projects.

LAVERTY: And so there are still a number of ways to legally travel. And so, you know, I recommend that folks don't cross it off the list. Just be practical about it. Think about it. Plan, and we'll still figure out a way to get down there.

KELEMEN: When the Obama administration restored diplomatic ties to Cuba, it expanded the opportunities of travel. But as John Kavulich of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council points out, U.S. businesses didn't get as much as they hoped out of this diplomatic opening.

JOHN KAVULICH: U.S. companies have unfortunately wanted to do far more in Cuba than Cuba has permitted them to do. And that's one of the tragedies of where we are today.

KELEMEN: With few American companies invested in Cuba, Kavulich says it's easier for the Trump administration to make these and other changes to the Obama-era policies.

KAVULICH: The structure of U.S. policy during the last three years of the Obama administration and its dealings with the Castro administration was built of cardboard. And the Trump administration today threw water on that cardboard. And when cardboard gets wet, it collapses. And that's exactly what happened today.

KELEMEN: U.S. tourism to Cuba is still illegal, and it was during the Obama administration even as the U.S. tried to promote more travel to the island. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.