MIAMI – The United States moved to further punish the Cuban government for its support of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro by imposing new sanctions Tuesday, including prohibiting cruises to the island.
According to a new Department of Commerce rule, “private and corporate aircraft, cruise ships, sailboats, fishing boats, and other similar aircraft and vessels generally will be prohibited from going to Cuba.”
A Commerce spokesperson confirmed that as of Wednesday, “cruise ships, as well as recreational and pleasure vessels, are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba.”
The four largest cruise companies in the world – Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, and MSC Cruises – all based in South Florida, have ships scheduled to sail to Cuba this year. The Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Sky, Empress of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, MSC Armonia, Carnival Sensation and Carnival Paradise are set to dock at ports in Cuba this month. The cruise lines did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the new restrictions.
The announcement implements some of the new policies announced by national security adviser John Bolton in Miami last April. Bolton said the U.S. would limit non-family travel to Cuba and cap remittances to the island.
Only cargo vessels transporting authorized items will be allowed to go to Cuba. Commercial airlines flying to the island won’t be affected by the new ruling.
Additionally, the Treasury Department is eliminating “people to people” educational travel to Cuba, a category created under President Barack Obama to allow Americans to visit the island on organized thematic tours that promoted cultural exchanges between the two countries.
The change also includes a “grandfathering” provision to authorize trips when travelers had already booked a flight or a hotel before June 5.
According to official Cuban figures, more than 600,000 Americans traveled to the island in 2018, mostly on cruises. That figure does not include another half a million Cuban Americans who visited their families on the island last year.
Critics of Obama’s engagement policies with Cuba said cruises to Cuba and “people to people” travel amounted to tourism, which is forbidden by the U.S. embargo. The Trump administration has shown increasing irritation with the alleged presence of Cuban security and intelligence agents in Venezuela. Several U.S. officials have said Cuban support has been critical in maintaining Maduro, whom the U.S. no longer recognizes as the legitimate president, in power.
“The new rules on Cuba are overdue,” said John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. “Why should the United States allow the flow of tourist dollars to Havana while thousands of Cuban soldiers repress Venezuelans? The ‘people to people’ travel was designed to circumvent the law which bans tourism to the island.”
But organizations that have promoted those exchanges believe the administration policies will further hurt the Cuban people.
“Today’s news is especially damaging for the Cuban people, particularly the burgeoning Cuban private sector, who rely on American travelers to support their businesses and families,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. “The Cuban people should not be used as political pawns. They are human beings. Continuing a 60-year failed embargo policy that punishes the Cuban people for the sins of their government is morally and strategically wrong.”
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