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Average Cubans likely hurt by Trump’s return to stricter rules

June 16, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
President Trump announced renewed restrictions on business in and travel to Cuba, partially reversing course on former President Obama’s re-engagement with the island nation. John Yang speaks with Alan Gomez of USA TODAY about what’s at stake for average Cubans who depend on tourism.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, President Trump took steps to roll back some parts of the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba, which began two-and-a-half years ago.

John Yang reports now on what’s out and what stays in effect.

JOHN YANG: President Trump made the announcement in Miami’s Little Havana before an enthusiastic crowd in a packed auditorium.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHN YANG: While the president’s action falls short of canceling, he said it fulfills a campaign promise to undo President Obama’s re-engagement with Cuba.

FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

JOHN YANG: In December 2014, Mr. Obama restored diplomatic ties with the island nation, after more than 50 years of hostility. In March 2016, he became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly a century.

President Trump says his focus is halting the flow of U.S. dollars to the communist government.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America. We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.

JOHN YANG: The new policy bans transactions with enterprises, including hotels and other tourist-related businesses, ultimately owned by the Cuban military.

Mr. Trump is also reinstating a rule that restricts individual travel, and requires most visits to Cuba to be in group tours organized by American companies. But the policy continues direct commercial flights between the two countries.

The administration will also maintain the U.S. Embassy in Havana, but still with no ambassador.

In Havana today, Cubans reacted.

MAN (through interpreter): Trump’s words simply seem a bit ambiguous. If the governments want the best for both the Cuban and American people, they have to look out for the common things that exist between the two.

WOMAN (through interpreter): If definitely feels like a huge setback in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. We will see what happens, but, right now, I think it’s like going back to the Cold War.

JOHN YANG: None of the changes will take effect until the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments issue new regulations, which could take months.

For more on the revised policy, and how it’s being understood in Cuba, we turn to Alan Gomez of USA Today, who joins us from Havana.

Alan, thanks for being with us.

We heard in the tape piece a little smattering of some reaction from the streets of Havana, but I know you have been out reporting today. What are you hearing from average Cubans in Havana about this change?

ALAN GOMEZ, USA Today: I mean, it’s been a level of confusion, of sadness, of disgust, of anger.

You know, just imagine. These people have lived here for decades without any interaction with the United States, with the U.S. just treating them as an enemy and closing off to them. Then, two-and-a-half years ago, they get this opening, and they talk about this period, already in the past tense, as this glorious period where they were able to have more Americans down here, interact with them more, and visit the U.S. more.

And now Trump has taken it not all away, but has really cut that back significantly. So, yes, there’s a lot of anger here right now and a lot of confusion over why it’s being done.

JOHN YANG: How have they talked about how their lives have changed, what difference this past two years has been to them?

ALAN GOMEZ: Well, understand, Cuba, the state-run economy, you only get a certain salary from the government. You only get certain benefits from the government.

So what they rely on so heavily across the board is tourism. And what it’s done is infused a whole lot of Americans down here over these past two-and-a-half years. So you think about everybody from private restaurant owners, to private taxies, to tour guides, all these people that interact with Americans, they’re all the ones that are getting that benefit directly.

President Trump talked a lot today about how all of the money that’s been going down over these last couple of years is going straight to the Cuban government. But I can tell you, from being down here quite a bit over the last couple of years and talking to folks today, that they are saying that, no, they get a lot of it.

Yes, of course some of it goes to the government, but they’re upset that, to punish the Cuban government, they’re the ones that are getting hurt as well.

JOHN YANG: How will they get hurt? How will life change for them under these changed rules?

ALAN GOMEZ: Well, it’s a combination of things.

It’s, quite simply, fewer American tourists are going to be able to make the trip because of the way that the Trump administration is going to change the visa system. It is going to be a lot harder for American tourists now to get to the U.S.

Right now, if you’re an American and want to come down to Cuba, hop online, you can figure out your trip, and you can pretty much get your visa at the airport counter on your way down here.

Now they are going to go back to the old way, where you have to apply beforehand to the federal government, get approval to go down. And so the people down here in Cuba are just expecting that that torrent of American visitors is going to dry up.

And then there’s another aspect. There are just all these private business owners that have had a lot of interaction in the last few years, going to the United States, working with U.S. businesspeople, getting training in the United States and bringing those lessons back to Cuba. And so they’re worried that that is going to be limited as well.

JOHN YANG: Alan, in the less than a minute we have left, I want to ask you about a development on your regular beat, which is immigration.

The Trump administration announced last night that they were going to keep the program that protects from deportation undocumented immigrants who came as children. The president during the campaign said he was going do away with that, he was going to change that Obama policy.

What do you make of this, deciding to keep this?

ALAN GOMEZ: What the president did was pretty much eliminate a program that would have protected their parents from deportation.

That program, there’s no immediate effect of that, because all — that program had been on hold in the courts for some time now. But what it does is, it means that those parents are never going to get any sort of legal status under this president.

And, more than that, it means that those children that have been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, now they are worried that they are going to have that taken away from them.

JOHN YANG: Although, in the president’s announcement, or the administration announcement last night, they specifically said that that program would remain, would remain in place.

Alan Gomez of USA Today from Havana, Cuba, thanks for joining us.

ALAN GOMEZ: Thank you.

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