Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled Tuesday that the
Trump administration plans to clamp down on business investments in Cuba by
U.S. companies, reversing a key portion of the rapprochement policy enacted by
Barack Obama during the final two years of his presidency.
The comments, made by Tillerson to the Senate Committee on
Foreign Relations, came as Trump is widely expected to unveil his Cuba policy
in a speech in Miami on Friday.
Tillerson described the increased business ties between the
former Cold War foes that have resulted from the detente as the sunny side of
the current U.S.-Cuba relationship.
"There is the dark side though, which is that Cuba has
failed to improve its human rights record," Tillerson said. "Political
opponents continue to be in prison. Dissidents continue to be jailed."
Cuba, he said, "absolutely must begin to address its
human rights challenges," if the U.S. is going to sustain that sunny side
of the relationship.
Tillerson added that under the existing U.S. trade embargo
on Cuba, it is illegal to provide financial support to the government. Business
transactions in Cuba, even with private citizens, might violate that law, he
"Are we inadvertently or directly providing financial
support to the regime? Our view is, we are," Tillerson said. "And the
question is how do we want to deal with that? How do we bring that in
compliance with longstanding statutory obligations?"
Tillerson didn't directly address issues related to the more
liberal travel restrictions to Cuba that the Obama administration enacted.
Cuba policy experts, including John Kavulich, president of
the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, don't believe Trump will go so far as
to put an end to the newly established commercial air service between the U.S.
But he thinks the administration is likely to more strictly
enforce the existing rules that allow Americans to travel to Cuba under one of
12 legal exemptions. Trump could also take additional steps to clamp down on
people-to-people exchanges, which is the exemption most commonly used by
tourists, cruise lines and tour operators.