Several media outlets are reporting that President Donald Trump announced a plan Wednesday to restrict an outreach program from allowing non-sponsored groups to visit Cuba for the purpose of culture and education.
For those who aren't terribly familiar with the program, the “People-to-People” initiative requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, essentially, as the name implies, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country.
It was implemented by President Clinton in 1999 and suspended by President Bush in 2004 before President Obama resurrected the program.
Under Trump’s new proposal, the program will now be permitted only for sponsored groups in the United States, and with the participation of representatives from those groups, according to CNN.
Individuals traveling under the “People-to-People" outreach program will no longer be able to visit the country, except where travel arrangements have already been made, or in cases where these individuals are accompanied by permitted, U.S.-based sponsors, according to CNN.
And the news was not well received by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
“We believe in the fundamental principle of travel freedom, and that our government should not be in the business of telling Americans where to travel or not to travel,” said Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president, advocacy, in a written release. “The American people are the best ambassadors of U.S. values abroad, and should be allowed to freely promulgate those values and travel to any destination they wish without restriction from their own government."
This is the latest blow to Cuba travel following a recent travel warning issued there back in early October. And even before the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to Cuba due to a series of alleged sonic attacks committed on U.S. embassy employees, many travel experts were already reporting a decline in interest in travel to Cuba.
“Rather than shutting the door to this market 90 miles off our shores, we call on policymakers to enact legislation to do away with the statutory Cuba travel ban once and for all,” said Peck. “While helping our members and their clients comply with the rules announced today, we will continue to advocate toward Cuba travel freedom and look forward to the day it becomes reality.”
According to CNN, the State Department has also published a list of 180 entities including hotels, stores, rum makers, marinas and a economic development zone at the Port of Mariel, which are believed to financially benefit the Cuban military, intelligence and security services and which U.S. citizens will no longer be permitted to frequent.
“While these regulations move us in the opposite direction of the full opening of the Cuba market ASTA has long pushed for, they did incorporate several items we did push for and, perhaps most importantly, the rules of the road are now set," said Peck. "We are confident that our cruise and tour partners and other travel industry stakeholders will adjust quickly to the new rules with an eye toward keeping Cuba as viable a destination for U.S. travelers (and travel agents) as possible. ASTA will continue to monitor implementation and respond to member queries as the situation unfolds.”