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Trump administration sets new restrictions on Americans' business ties and travel to Cuba

Tracy Wilkinson, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration announced new rules Wednesday to make it tougher for U.S. businesses to work in Cuba and for Americans to travel to the island.

The restrictions are aimed at enacting what President Donald Trump in June described as plans to reverse the Obama administration's diplomatic opening with the communist-ruled island.

Effective Thursday, businesses will be required to obey a new set of regulations that are "intended to steer economic activity away from the Cuban military, intelligence and security services," a senior White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief reporters.

The Cuban military is deeply enmeshed in much of the island's economy, including the tourism industry.

Individuals will be prohibited from traveling to Cuba under the new rules but can continue to travel as part of groups registered with the U.S. government and following the so-called people-to-people plan, which generally requires the trip to have an educational component.

Travel by Americans to the island had exploded in the months since December 2014, when President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced that they planned to renew diplomatic ties following a half-century of Cold War-era hostility. Ties were formally restored the following year.

Advocates of better ties with Cuba reacted with anger on Wednesday, branding the new rules convoluted and confusing.

"At a time that President Trump is meeting with communist leaders in China and Vietnam, these regulations show the absolute hypocrisy and political pandering of the Trump administration on Cuba," said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, a group that arranges trips to the island.

Trump is in the midst of a five-nation tour of Asia.

The restrictions will hit especially hard at the dozens of large, big-name hotels in Cuba that are at least partially owned by the military. Americans will be banned from staying in those hotels, and U.S. tour operators prohibited from booking rooms there.

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