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Do Trump's Cuba Regulations Promote – Or Punish – Cuban Entrepreneurs?

A privately owned bed-and-breakfast in Havana.
A privately owned bed-and-breakfast in Havana.

Last June, President Donald Trump pledged to make it harder for Americans to visit Cuba and do business with the communist island. On Wednesday his administration released its new Cuba regulations – and ironically, private Cuban entrepreneurs may get hit worst.

The new rules don’t significantly roll back former President Barack Obama’s 2014 normalization of relations with Cuba. But they do ban Americans from doing business with scores of companies with ties to Cuba’s military or security apparatus.

Perhaps most important, they eliminate the individual people-to-people licenses that made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. Now they may only go as part of U.S.-based tour groups. A big question is whether those groups will book rooms in privately owned Cuban lodgings.

"It's going to have a direct impact on the owners of bed-and-breakfasts in Cuba that have benefited so much from American visitors," said Collin Laverty, who heads Cuba Educational Travel, which helps Americans book visits to Cuba – often through room-sharing services like Airbnb.

"So I think we’ll see entities like Airbnb react to these new regulations and come up with solutions,” Laverty said from Havana.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the new rules will prod Cuba’s communist regime to allow “greater political and economic freedom.” But normalization advocates like Laverty say the regulations may instead undermine the growing social and economic independence of regular Cubans.

“They talk about supporting entrepreneurs and the private sector," said Laverty. "These regulations are going to do exactly the opposite.”

President Trump argues that under normalization the U.S. has given too many concessions to Cuba and gotten too few in return.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.
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