US tightens Cuba sanctions, ends group travel

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Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US were restored in 2015 (EPA Image)

(AFP) — The Trump administration banned group educational travel to Cuba on Tuesday, cutting off one of the main avenues for Americans to visit the Caribbean island.

In a move to punish what it called Cuba’s “destabilising role” in the region, the US Treasury also banned the US export of boats and private airplanes to the country.

The end to group educational travel would likely deal a heavy blow to American tourism on the island, which took off after former president Barack Obama moved to ease the half-century embargo against the communist government in 2014.

“Cuba continues to play a destabilising role in the Western hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep US dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”

The Treasury move banned “group people-to-people educational travel,” a structure that allowed travel agencies to organise regular American tourists into “educational groups” who, on their visit to Cuba, would spend a certain amount of time in exchanges with Cubans.

After he came into office in January 2017 promising to reverse Obama’s thaw with Cuba, President Donald Trump banned individual visits and in a series of moves limited commercial interactions with the country.

Washington blames Cuba for propping up the besieged Venezuelan regime of President Nicolas Maduro.