US moves to bar American tourists from visiting Cuba

A man traveling to Cuba asks a question at the ticket counter before loading his baggage at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP)
Updated 05 June 2019
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US moves to bar American tourists from visiting Cuba

  • White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the aim was to end what the administration considers "veiled tourism" to Cuba
  • Cuba and the US restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-president Raul Castro

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Tuesday ended the most popular forms of US travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a heavily used category of educational travel in an attempt to cut off cash to the island’s communist government.
Cruise travel from the US to Cuba began in May 2016 during President Barack Obama’s opening with the island. It has become the most popular form of US leisure travel to the island, bringing 142,721 people in the first four months of the year, a more than 300% increase over the same period last year. For travelers confused about the thicket of federal regulations governing travel to Cuba, cruises offered a simple, one-stop, guaranteed-legal way to travel.
That now appears to be over.
“Cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the US on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow,” the Commerce Department said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The new restrictions are part of a broader effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to roll back the Obama-era efforts to restore normal relations between the United States and Cuba, which drew sharp criticism from the more hard-line elements of the Cuban-American community and their allies in Congress.
Treasury said the sanctions would take effect on Wednesday after they are published in the Federal Register.
US national security adviser John Bolton, who declared Cuba part of a “troika of tyranny ” along with Nicaragua and Venezuela as he outlined plans for sanctions in November, said the new policy is intended to deny the Cuban government a vital source of revenue.
“The Administration has advanced the President’s Cuba policy by ending ‘veiled tourism’ to Cuba and imposing restrictions on vessels,” Bolton said on Twitter. “We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime’s access to US dollars.”
The Cuban government imposed food rationing last month as a result of tightened US sanctions and a drop in subsidized oil and other aid from Venezuela. For the Cuban government, cruise travel generated many millions of dollars a year in docking fees and payments for on-shore excursions, although those figures were never made public. Cuba also has become the most-requested destination for many South Florida-based cruise lines.
“The Trump administration deserves tremendous credit for holding accountable the Cuban regime,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. “The United States must use all tools available under US law to counter the Cuban regime’s deceitful activities to undermine US policy.”
The new restrictions take effect Wednesday, but the government said it will allow anyone who has already paid for the trip to go ahead with it. But the process going forward for passengers isn’t clear.
Cruise companies appeared to be caught off guard, with several, including Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean, urging ticketed passengers to be patient in response to queries on social media.
Finally, more than nine hours after the Treasury announcement, Royal Caribbean said it was canceling the Cuba stops on its June 5 and 6 cruises and would issue further guidance on future trips as soon as it was practical.
“We expect to know more within the next 24 hours and will communicate any changes as soon as we are able. In the meantime, we are adjusting the itineraries of our June 5 and June 6 sailings, which will no longer stop in Cuba. We are communicating with our guests about those changes,” Royal Caribbean said in a notice posted to its website.
Cruise lines carrying passengers booked before Tuesday had been hoping that they could request specific federal permits to complete their trips to Cuba, said Pedro Freyre, a Miami-based attorney who represents Carnival and three other major cruise lines.
“For now, it’s prohibited unless the cruise lines requests a specific license,” Freyre said. He said cruise lines had been trying to determine “if there’s any opening there to at least complete trips that have been booked and passengers that have made travel plans.”
Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement that it was scrutinizing the new rules and consulting with lawyers and trade experts.
“We are closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba,” Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement. “We will communicate to our guests and travel partners as additional information becomes available.”
Shore excursions from cruise ships tend to be organized by the cruise lines in cooperation with Cuban government tour agency Havanatur. A smaller number hire private tour guides or drivers of restored classic cars who wait outside Havana’s cruise docks.
“This affects all of us,” said William Mártinez, 58, a Cuban-born American who lived in Florida for 46 years but returned five years ago to drive a classic car for tourists. “It’s inhuman, the sanctions that they’re putting on Cuba.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the measures are a response to what it calls Cuba’s “destabilizing role” in the Western Hemisphere, including support for the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
“This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime,” Mnuchin said. “These actions will help to keep US dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
Along with the cruise ships, the US will also now ban most private planes and boats from stopping in the island.
Cruises have become more popular than flights for leisure travelers to Cuba — nearly 30,000 more came by cruise ship than flights this year. The figures exclude Cuban-born Americans visiting family on the island.
“I’ve been dying to come to Cuba forever, to see the cars, the buildings,” said Maria Garcia, a 46-year-old teacher from Puerto Rico who arrived in Havana Tuesday morning on a Norwegian cruise line. “I could do it with this cruise ... Trump needs to understand that people should come to this country, to enjoy and get to know its culture, just like we would do in any other part of the world.”
Commercial airline flights appear to be unaffected by the new measures and travel for university groups, academic research, journalism and professional meetings will continue to be allowed.
Collin Laverty, head of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the largest Cuba travel companies in the US, called the new measures “political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections.”
“It’s also terrible for US companies that are providing employment and paying taxes in the US and creating an economic footprint on the island,” he said.


Greta Thunberg to Congress: ‘Don’t listen to me. Listen to the scientists’

Updated 3 sec ago

Greta Thunberg to Congress: ‘Don’t listen to me. Listen to the scientists’

  • Thunberg was one of four students invited to a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
  • She has been in Washington since last week to join US and indigenous activists to build up support for a global climate strike on Friday and pressure lawmakers to take action on climate change

WASHINGTON: Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has inspired a global movement for climate change, delivered a pointed message before a US congressional hearing on Wednesday: “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.”
The 16-year-old founder of the “Fridays For Future” weekly school walkouts to demand government climate-change action submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the hearing in lieu of testimony. It urged rapid, unprecedented changes to the way people live in order to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by 2030.
“People in general don’t seem to be aware of how severe the crisis” is, Thunberg said, urging lawmakers to “unite behind the science” and take action, pleading that people treat climate change “like the existential crisis it is.”
Thunberg was one of four students invited to a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, to provide the next generation’s views on climate change.
She has been in Washington since last week to join US and indigenous activists to build up support for a global climate strike on Friday and pressure lawmakers to take action on climate change.
Her first appearance took place in front of the White House on Friday, where she encouraged fellow young activists to keep fighting to be heard. She did not mention US President Donald Trump, a climate change denier who moved to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement early in his tenure, in her remarks.
On Wednesday, Trump announced he plans to revoke California’s ability to set its own more stringent emissions standards for vehicles — the latest move in his administration’s multipronged attack on the state’s efforts to reduce vehicle emissions that could slow the deployment of electric and more efficient vehicles.
At the hearing on Wednesday was also 21-year-old conservative climate-change advocate Benji Backer from Wisconsin. He told lawmakers that young conservatives also favor climate change action, but through an approach focused on technology and allowing the continued use of fossil fuels. “As a proud American, as a life-long conservative and as a young person, I urge you to accept climate change for the reality it is and respond accordingly. We need your leadership,” he said.
While he praised Thunberg and other climate activists for putting the issue at the forefront of politics, he said there was time to take more measured action.
In addition to meetings on Capitol Hill, Thunberg met former President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Obama described the teenager on Twitter as “already one of the planet’s greatest advocates.”
Later on Wednesday, she joined seven young Americans who have sued the US government for failing to take action on climate change on the steps of the Supreme Court. They urged political leaders and lawmakers to support their legal fight and take action to phase out the use of fossil fuels.
At the panel, Republican representatives praised the students for raising awareness about climate change but disagreed over what action the US should take.
Representative Garret Graves from Louisiana, said his state was affected by rising sea levels and that he supported the US emission reduction target enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement, but he criticized the pact for allowing emerging economies like China to continue to emit greenhouse gases.
“I think that signing on to an agreement...that allows for China to have a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030 is inappropriate,” he said.
Thunberg responded that in her home country, Sweden, people similarly criticize the United States for not taking enough action.
Another activist on the panel, 17-year-old Jamie Margolin from Seattle, called out lawmakers for taking too long to enact climate change policies.
“The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today pleading for a livable earth should not fill you with pride; it should fill you with shame,” she said.
Thunberg and the youth leaders also met with Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Thunberg is expected to make a speech on Wednesday evening in the House.