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President Trump’s Cuba Policy 101

Image via Brookings

Here are the basics of the President’s new approach to Cuba.

Justified or not, it seems anything President Trump touches, says or does is immediately labelled as horrible, selfish and wrong.  But is that always the case?  Or does it even matter what he does?  Let’s keep this in mind as we focus in on Trump’s new policy regarding our relationship with Cuba.

On June 16th of this year, President Trump stepped up to the podium in Miami and stated, “With God’s help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve!” He then went on to address the pain and suffering Cubans have faced and still face under the Castro regime. He acknowledged multiple people in the audience who were horribly treated in Cuba under “Communist” rule.  

Trump went on to say: “The exiles and dissidence here today witnessed communism destroy a nation, just as communism has destroyed every single nation where it has ever been tried.  But we will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer.”  President Trump acknowledged former President Obama’s policy changes with Cuba in 2016.  He stated: “The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade, does not help the Cuban people.  They only enriched the Cuban regime!”

The President went on to outline his policy changes with Cuba.  But, regarding, what he said about only enriching the Cuban regime, was that true?  What did Trump really change?  Let’s break it all down, 101 style.


The policy changes in 2016 allowed American’s to travel to Cuba for 12 different reasons.  But what most people do not know is that you still were not allowed to simply travel there as a tourist.  That never changed.  The reason included education purposes, journalistic activities, family visits and religious reasons.  So what is different?

President Trump did not eliminate all travel to Cuba.  He is still allowing Americans to travel there for education purposes.  You just need to be truthful about it and now apply through the Treasury Department and go with a licensed tour group.  Also, Cuban-Americans are still allowed to go visit their families.  And travelers will only have to self-certify, under a general license, that they are traveling to Cuba for a legitimate reason.  

Airlines loaded up the schedules with trips to Cuba, in 2016 but have since downsized that schedule as flights were not filling up.  The demand just was not there as expected.  But airlines will still be able to fly there. The same is true for cruise ships. 

In short, the new policy changes merely altered the reasons why someone can travel to Cuba.  It does not prohibit flights or cruise ships from visiting the island. 


60% of the Cuban economy is controlled by its communist government.  A government, mind you, that citizens have no say or vote in.  

Cuba has a government agency called the Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (GAESA), which owns the best hotels, most retail chains, car rental companies, and new tourism complexes.  GAESA is a family run arm of the government with Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Raul Castro’s son-in-law running the show.  

Simply put, you do not make money without going through the GAESA.  So let me ask, knowing that this horrible dictatorship is still in power, do you want to bring the Cuban government mass wealth and even more control over the nation’s economy?  Or should we try to reduce the money flow to the government and try instead to spend money at civilian-run locations? 

If you agree with the latter, then you are going to like what President Trump changed.  Mr. Trump’s policy change includes a restriction on Americans spending money with GAESA controlled businesses and encourages them to spend their money with privately held business owned by the Cuban people.

Many of those criticizing the Trump administration’s changes, worry that the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana will be financially harmed by these new changes.  This is a hotel was constructed in 2016 following the Obama administration’s altered Cuba policy.

The problem is that this hotel is operated by GAESA.  Anti-Trump voices will leave that last part out intentionally. As expected, the Cuban government has widely criticized President Trump for his policy changes.

In short, spend your money with the Cuban people, not the Cuban Government.  This is a goal of the Trump administration’s policy changes.


When President Obama made the changes in 2016, it had been over 50 years since the United States had an embassy in Cuba.  President Trump agrees, and he is not changing anything on that front for now.  While his opponents paint a different picture for political reasons, the President wants a strong relationship with Cuba.  He just does not want a strong, one-sided relationship with this communist regime.  He wants to work with the people in a free Cuba.  

In short, nothing has changed, and the embassy in Cuba will remain.

If you are wondering about the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that historically allowed Cuban migrants to stay in the United States if they make it to American shores, that policy will remain as it was under President Obama. Mr. Obama had banned that policy in 2016, and that ban remains under Mr. Trump’s changes.

In summary, some things changed, and some things did not.  Travel is still allowed, just under stricter rules. Visitors are being encouraged to spend their money with the people and not with the government.  Even the embassy remains.  In 2016, many argued that Obama did not demand enough before signing these policy changes.  Many demanded to know why many of our prisoners were not released.  Others wondered when Cuba would return a cop killer, who fled to Cuba to escape punishment for murder. 

Today, those voices are praising Mr. Trump for demanding that Cuba do all of this and more.    

The critics will stay the course. But it’s important to see beyond the headlines and television commentators and understand what actually changed as a result of the President’s new policy on Cuba.  

Nick Wukoson sought the Republican nomination to represent Florida's 18th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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