Washington: President Donald Trump is expected to visit Miami as early as next Friday to announce a new Cuba policy that could tighten rules on trade and travel, rolling back parts of former president Barack Obama’s opening to the island, according to a US official and people familiar with the matter.
Trump’s aides are nearing completion of a review of relations with Cuba and are expected to send recommendations to his national security team and then to the president in coming days, a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Plans are in the works for Trump to roll out his new approach on 16 June in a speech in Miami, where he is expected to claim fulfillment of a campaign promise and justify it, at least in part, on human rights grounds, the sources said.
But they cautioned that a delay in the announcement is still possible if it takes longer for Trump to make a final decision.
While specific changes have not yet been finalised, sources say Trump is likely to unveil a partial rather than complete rollback of Obama’s actions, which included restoration of relations and reopening of embassies after a diplomatic breakthrough in 2014 with America’s former Cold War foe.
Among the options under consideration are banning US companies from doing business with Cuban enterprises tied to the military – which controls a large part of the communist-ruled island’s economy – and tightening rules on Americans traveling there, according to people familiar with the discussions.
With the Cuba review approaching its final stages, both sides of the issue have recently stepped up lobbying to sway Trump’s decision.
In the letter sent to Trump on Friday, seven of his fellow Republicans warned that rescinding Obama’s policies would “incentivise Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China.”
Senior officials at the National Security Council met on Friday to begin finalising a list of recommendations, the sources said.
Trump’s changes are expected to stop short of breaking diplomatic relations restored two years ago after more than five decades of hostility, administration officials say.
But divisions remain within the Trump administration over how far to go, especially given that rapprochement with Cuba has created opportunities for American companies.
Some aides have argued that Trump, a former real estate magnate who won the presidency promising to unleash US business and create jobs, would have a hard time defending any moves that close off the Cuban market.
But other advisers have contended that it is important to make good on a promise to Cuban-Americans whose support they considered significant winning Florida in the 2016 election. Miami is home to the largest Cuban-American community.
The US airline and travel industries have made clear they do not want to see reinstatement of Cuba restrictions.
“Imposing new regulations on travel to and trade with Cuba would be bad politics, bad policy, and bad for US business,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based lobbying group.
But Trump has come under heavy pressure from Cuban-American lawmakers, including Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, to roll back Obama’s rapprochement.
Rubio, a member of the Senate foreign relations and intelligence committees, is seen by Trump’s aides as an important figure to cultivate at a time when the members of his administration are under investigation over contacts with Russian officials.
Rubio and other Obama critics have argued that he gave away too much to Cuban president Raul Castro for too little in return, especially on human rights.
Trump’s aides are considering ways to make future engagement moves contingent on the Cuban government’s improvement on human rights and political freedoms, US officials say.
Such an emphasis would contrast sharply with Trump’s approach in other parts of the world where he has insisted the United States would stop lecturing other countries on the issue.
“Trump – friend of Putin, Sissi, Salman, Duterte, Erdogan – will cite human rights to justify hurting the Cuban people,” tweeted Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national security adviser and an architect of his Cuba détente policy.
Trump threatened shortly after his election in November to “terminate” Obama’s approach unless Cuba made significant concessions, something it is unlikely to do.
Obama implemented his normalisation measures through executive actions, and Trump has the power to undo much of it.