U.S. takes steps to make it harder for Americans to visit Cuba

A view of the US and Cuban flags prior to the signing of agreements between the Port of Cleveland and the Cuban Maritime authorities in Havana, Cuba, October 6, 2017. Picture taken on October 23, 2017.

The Trump administration Wednesday announced tight new restrictions on American travel and commercial exchanges with Cuba, implementing a policy announced by President Donald Trump five months ago to reverse Obama administration normalization with the Communist-ruled island.

Now they may only go as part of US -based tour groups.

"U.S. backtracking on Cuba could not come at a worse time", said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel.

American travelers will also be prohibited from dealing with at least 180 Cuban businesses deemed to have links to the Cuban security apparatus.

Under the directives, Americans will be forbidden from doing business with entities on a State Department list headed by the Cuban defense and interior ministries.

Individuals traveling for so called "people-to-people" outreach 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, US-based sponsors, a senior administration official explained to reporters on a conference call.

The changes come amid a period of heightened diplomatic tensions between the USA and Cuba over unsolved "sonic attacks" that have injured at least 24 US diplomatic personnel stationed in Havana.

Although the amount of trade under the Obama changes has not expanded as much as anticipated, a number of USA business and agricultural entities have sought contracts in Cuba.

The revised polices are meant to hold the Castro regime accountable for suppression of democratic rights and "empower the Cuban people" to achieve economic and political liberty, according to an administration official who spoke to reporters on background.

The State Department has said those actions were in response to severe health problems experienced by two dozen American diplomats in Cuba, which it said were the result of unspecified "attacks" on USA personnel.

Much as Obama used his regulatory authority to loosen restrictions within an ongoing USA economic embargo on Cuba, Trump has now changed those regulations to re-tighten them.

USA airlines and cruise ships will continue to operate in Cuba under the new regulations. The Commerce Department will simplify and expand a license that allows American companies to export certain consumer products to Cuba without asking for special permission from the US government. Before Obama's opening, travel by many Americans was similarly restricted to such organised trips.

Hotels, stores, marinas, tourist agencies, industries are also on the list - including government-owned rum makers Ron Caney and Ron Varadero.

Joseph Parker in talks to fight Anthony Joshua
Voters poured in to cast their last minute vote