Florida members of Congress are falling along party lines with the news that the Trump administration is banning cruise ships traveling from the United States to Cuba, which had become the most popular way for Americans to travel to the Caribbean island.
Cruise travel from the U.S. to Cuba began in 2016 when the Obama administration lifted some travel restrictions while easing relations between the two countries. But the Trump White House calls Cuba a “troika of tyranny” along with Nicaragua and Venezuela. Banning cruise ships, with their large numbers of visitors to the island, is a way to cut off revenue to the Cuban government, according to National Security Advisor John Bolton.
“The Administration has advanced the President’s Cuba policy by ending ‘veiled tourism’ to Cuba and imposing restrictions on vessels,” Bolton said. “We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime’s access to U.S. dollars.”
Both of Florida’s Republican U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, applauded the move.
“Cuba continues to be the most powerful force propping up (Venezuela President) Nicolas Maduro as he starves and kills his own people. The Cuban Regime is a willing and active participant in Maduro’s genocide,” said Scott. “The United States is right to take every action possible to cut off ties with Cuba. Money spent in Cuba goes directly to the Castro regime and helps keep Maduro and his brutal regime in power. Limiting the flow of money to Cuba is critical to freeing Venezuela and protecting the national security of the United States.”
“The Trump administration deserves tremendous credit for holding accountable the Cuban regime,” added Rubio. “The United States must use all tools available under U.S. law to counter the Cuban regime’s deceitful activities to undermine U.S. policy.”
The U.S. Commerce Department said “the Administration’s national security and foreign policy decision to restrict non-family travel to Cuba to prevent U.S. funds from enriching the Cuban regime, which continues to repress the Cuban people and provides ongoing support to the Maduro regime in Venezuela.” The Trump administration has said that Cuban support of Maduro has helped keep him in power.
The ban on cruise ship travel is part of the administration’s elimination of an Obama-era category, ‘”people-to-people,” that allowed Americans to visit the island on organized tours to promote cultural exchanges.
Recreational and pleasure crafts will also be banned, but airline travel will not. Several other categories of travel will continue to be allowed from the United States, including one that allows travel by people with relatives on the island.
Supporters of the ban say the Cuban government has benefitted from millions of dollars a year in docking fees and other payments from cruise ships arriving from the U.S.
“At this time, while the regime in Cuba is subverting democracy in Venezuela, opposing U.S’s interests in our hemisphere and oppressing the Cuban people, it is crucial that we do all we can to deny U.S. dollars to the Cuban dictatorship,” said U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, the Miami Republican.
Opponents of the new policy say banning cruise ships – Cuba is one of the most-requested destinations for cruise ships leaving South Florida – will cause great harm to the Sunshine State.
“Banning U.S. cruise lines and most Americans from traveling to Cuba hurts Florida’s economy and is a major step backwards for U.S.-Cuba policy,” two Democratic congressmen, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Kathy Castor of Tampa, said in a joint statement. “The American people are our best ambassadors for spreading democracy and freedom. By rolling back President Obama’s policies, we push an island nation.
“Americans can travel to Moscow, Beijing, virtually anywhere in the world, but not Havana? It doesn’t make sense.”
The decision comes at the beginning of the high season for cruise lines based in Miami. While those who booked travel before the ban went into effect June 5 will be allowed to continue with their plans, cruise lines said they were caught completely by surprise and are scrambling to make changes.
“As a result, we have ceased all calls to the country (Cuba) and are modifying previously scheduled sailings as appropriate. We thank our guest and travel partners for their patience as we navigate this unexpected, last-minute change,” Norwegian Cruise Line said on Twitter.
Osman López-Barraza is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.