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Trump Seeks Limited Changes to Obama Cuba Policy

President Donald Trump will reshape U.S.-Cuba policy in Miami on Friday, reinstituting some travel restrictions and blocking business with Cuba's military.
Image: President Trump delivers statement following a shooting at a Congressional Republicans baseball practice, at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump delivers a statement at the White House after a shooting at a congressional Republicans baseball practice on Wednesday.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will reshape the United States' Cuba policy with a speech in Miami on Friday, reinstituting some travel restrictions to the island and seeking to block business with the country's military.

The move marks yet another departure from a signature policy of the Obama administration, which ended a decades-long freeze of diplomatic ties with Cuba in 2014.

The president's policy change seeks to restrict the flow of money to "oppressive elements of the Cuba regime" by ending individual people-to-people travel designations, a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.

Eliminating that category — in which individuals can travel to Cuba alone and not as part of an organized tour group, which has the "highest risk of potential abuse," an official said — still leaves 11 other categories under which Americans can visit Cuba legally.

On the campaign trail, Trump told the Daily Caller that Obama's diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba was "fine," though he said he would have struck a better deal.

Florida was a key state in Trump's stunning Electoral College victory in 2016, and the Cuban-American community is politically influential in the state.

Trump will also direct the secretaries of Treasury and Commerce to provide regulations that prohibit direct financial transactions with Cuban military intelligence and security services.

While some hotels will be encompassed by those restrictions, there will be exemptions — among them lodging options such as Airbnb, according to senior White House officials.

The overall goal of the policy changes, officials said, is to "steer money away from the Cuban military and toward the Cuban people."

Flights and cruise ships from the United States will not be restricted.

Related: Cuban-Americans Eagerly Await News of Trump's Changes

Trump's new directives do not reinstitute the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that was ended by former President Barack Obama before leaving office earlier this year. The "wet foot, dry foot" policy had allowed Cubans who arrived in the United States the ability to become permanent residents.

The policy changes also do not seek to close off diplomatic ties, shutter the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Havana, or limit what Americans can bring back from Cuba, including cigars and rum.

Senior administration officials said the impetus for the changes was born from a campaign promise and the concern that the Obama-era policies were contributing to the oppression on the island.

Both Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, were vocal during the 2016 campaign about plans to "reverse" the Obama administration's policies toward Cuba, which Trump referred to as a bad deal.

But there's also the hope among some White House officials that changes will jumpstart a new round of negotiations that could lead to a deal that's more to Trump's liking.

"You can't put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent," a top White House official said, pushing back against the questions about whether the changes amount to a "half measure" and not a full reversal of Obama's Cuba policies. "And so I think this is an effort to remove what the president has called a very, very bad deal. It's not that he's not opposed to any deal, he's opposed to a bad deal with Cuba."

Related: Inside Cuba's Military Cyber Command

Among the conditions that would have to be met in order to further Trump administration negotiations are the holding of free and fair elections, as well as the freeing of political prisoners in Cuba, the administration officials said.

It is notable, however, that Trump's administration is taking a stand against Cuba's human rights abuses when it has made a habit of glossing over the same concerns with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.

Asked why Cuba stands as one of the few examples of the White House seeking to punish human rights violations, a senior administration official said that "the president has made clear that he will look toward repressive regimes in this hemisphere."