White House's latest Cuba crackdown is baffling

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The Norwegian Sky cruise ship in Havana. Cruising is a popular way for Americans to visit Cuba.
The Norwegian Sky cruise ship in Havana. Cruising is a popular way for Americans to visit Cuba.

The Trump administration caused confusion among travelers and travel suppliers yesterday by saying it would restrict nonfamily travel to Cuba but giving no further details on what that would entail.  

Speaking in Miami, national security advisor John Bolton said the Treasury Department "will implement further regulatory changes to restrict nonfamily travel to Cuba."

"These new measures will help steer American dollars away from the Cuban regime or its military and security services who control the tourism industry in Cuba," Bolton added. 

What that means is not clear, said Collin Laverty, president of Cuban Educational Travel. 

"He mentioned changes to nonfamily travel but doesn't specify if that is all other categories, some of the other categories and exactly how they will be amended," he said. "I've been talking to a lot of members of congress and they're not sure either."

Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, called Bolton's statement "entirely nonspecific."

"For travelers wanting to book travel to Cuba or those already scheduled for travel, today's announcement provides no change," he said. "People continue to book trips at InsightCuba and numerous other companies, and all existing trips remain as scheduled."

Cultural Cuba owner and founder David Lee called the nonspecific decree "so typical with this administration's announcements."

"The important thing is that agents and travelers not panic," he said. "The U.S. government cannot implement new restrictions without a timeline, all those with currently booked trips will not be affected, nor will those who book prior to the implementation timeline being announced. This will take months."

"In other words -- those people with Cuba on the bucket list should book legal trips ASAP."

Travel to Cuba currently must fall under one of 12 categories of authorized travel: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation or transmission of information or information materials; and certain export transactions.

It is not clear if those 12 categories will be altered. 

ASTA voiced concern about the larger part of Bolton's speech, the implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, an act that would allow federal lawsuits seeking compensation for properties confiscated by the Cuban government after 1959. Previous administrations had suspended Title III of the act.  

The Society cited potential disruption to the recent increase in legal travel to Cuba from the U.S, "especially as it relates to the operations of our cruise line, airline and hotel partners on the island."

In March, the Society sent a letter to Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) expressing concerns about the impact of the activation of Title III. 

Citing research from Phocuswright, ASTA said U.S. agencies sold 44% of airline tickets purchased by consumers and more than two-thirds of all cruises, the primary methods of transportation to Cuba.

"It follows then that policy changes that increase legal and financial uncertainty into travel suppliers' business operations risk harm not only to those companies, but to a broad swath of U.S. travel advisors as well," the Society wrote.

According to ASTA, travel agencies employ more than 10,000 in Florida.

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