*U.S.-Cuba Relations Timeline
During 2016, his last year in office, President Barack Obama changed U.S. relations with Cuba in three important ways:
- -He issued an executive order allowing individuals to travel to Cuba under the “people-to-people” category.
- -He signed a new presidential policy toward Cuba, saying the United States would not involve itself in regime change and would respect sovereignty.
- -He ended “wet foot, dry foot,” a decades-old policy allowing Cubans who arrived in the United States without a visa to become permanent U.S. residents.
In mid-June, 2017, President Trump signed a new presidential policy which, in essence, repudiated his predecessor’s efforts. It refused to recognize the Cuban regime as legitimate and, thus, put the potential for U.S. involvement in regime change back on the agenda. It addition:
- -It included President Trump’s intentions to change the Cuban travel policy—by rolling back individual people-to-people travel and returning to the old categories of educational and people-to-people group travel.
- -The president also ordered the Secretary of State to come up with a list of Cuban entities—such as the military and security and intelligence agencies—with which Americans could no longer transact. Because of the integration of public and private sectors in Cuba, this would prohibit Americans from using specific hotels, restaurants, and businesses. Exactly whom this would affect is uncertain, as it is difficult for American tour operators to determine who is associated with these entities.
Meanwhile, other obstacles have been thrown in the path of people-to-people exchange in Cuba:
- -In early September, Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, swept across Cuba, causing flooding and mass destruction. A U.S. State Department Travel Warning, issued immediately after the hurricane, stated that no one should travel to Cuba until after the recovery. A few days later, however, the department issued a second statement, saying Havana had recovered quickly and, with the exception of the island’s North Coast, it would be fine for people to travel.
- -On Sept. 29, 2017, the Trump administration announced the withdrawal of 60 percent of staff from the U.S. Embassy in Havana due to unexplained health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats. The administration stated that, while the Cuban government was not being blamed for these incidents, it was at fault for not stopping them.
- -The U.S. State Department also issued a Travel Warning on Sept. 29, advising that no U.S. citizens should travel to Cuba because of these health dangers. Yet no tourists have experienced health problems similar those of the diplomats, and no other country—including Canada, whose diplomats were also reportedly attacked—has issued a travel warning for its citizens.
- -These actions, in effect, closed the U.S. consulate in Havana, providing no practical means for Cubans to acquire visas to travel to the United States, regardless of motive. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. expelled 60 percent of Cuban diplomats from Washington, D.C.
- -On Nov. 1, the United States voted against a U.N. resolution condemning America's economic embargo against Cuba. The resolution was otherwise approved by a vote of 191-2 in the General Assembly, with Israel casting the other “no” vote. Last year, then-President Obama's administration abstained from voting on the resolution for the first time in 25 years as a means to advance the warming of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
- -One week later, on Nov. 8, the Trump administration announced that, beginning Nov. 9, new regulations would ban U.S. citizens from engaging in individual, but not group, people-to-people travel in Cuba and from doing business with dozens of entities linked to the Cuban military and government. You’ll find a full list of those regulations here, and a government FAQ about the regulations here. You’ll also find news reports pertaining to the new regulations listed below
- -On Jan. 10, 2018, the U.S. State Department unveiled a new travel-advisory system, which rates countries from 1 to 4—1 signifying “exercise normal precautions” and 4 “do not travel.” Cuba has been given a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” rating, which, along with a 4, is the equivalent of the old Travel Warning. In addition, the State Department’s advisory website provides as the reason for this rating the “health attacks” aimed solely at U.S. Embassy employees, and only within small sections of Havana. Like the Travel Warning, this rating, which applies to the entire country, has the potential to confuse and/or mislead those U.S. citizens considering a trip to Cuba. For a full explanation of the State Department’s system, go here.
- -The State Department announced, on March 4, 2018, that it would not re-staff the U.S. Embassy in Havana to the level prior to the 60-percent reduction in late September 2017, but would instead apply a “new permanent staffing plan” in which the embassy continues “to operate with the minimum personnel necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions.” The department was complying with a deadline demanding that, six months after a reduction in embassy staff, it must decide whether to re-staff or reassign embassy employees elsewhere. Citing “health attacks affecting U.S. Embassy Havana employees” as the reason for changing the staffing plan, the State Department also decided to leave the travel advisory for Cuba at 3, or “reconsider travel.”
*Timeline information provided primarily by Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, Inc., and co-coordinator of RESPECT, a U.S. professional association of tour operators, travel agents, non-profits, and other travel providers with 160 members dedicated to promoting responsible and ethical travel to Cuba. Additional information provided by CREST.