President Donald Trump announced tighter travel and trade controls on Cuba Wednesday, as he battles for the support of voters in the heavily Cuban battleground state of Florida ahead of the November 3 election.
Trump said US travelers to the Caribbean island would not be able to stay at government-owned hotels and would not be able to bring back Cuban rum and cigars in their checked bags.
“These actions will ensure that US dollars do not fund the Cuban regime and go directly to the Cuban people,” Trump said.
The new restrictions, detailed by the US treasury, only marginally add to tough controls already in place which ban US tourist travel to Cuba and block commercial imports of most Cuban goods.
The new rules make it harder for official groups to get permission to visit the island.
However exceptions remain for sports activities, leaving US Major League Baseball able to continue promoting the game and recruiting players in Cuba.
Trump made the announcement at an event for veterans of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, a CIA-backed attempt in April 1961 to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime.
“Today, we reaffirm our ironclad solidarity with the Cuban people, and our eternal conviction that freedom will prevail over the sinister forces of communism, ” he said.
He criticized the landmark opening and normalization of bilateral relations with Cuba by his predecessor, president Barack Obama, using that to attack his election rival, former vice president Joe Biden.
Since coming to office, Trump has reversed many of the Obama-Biden actions towards Cuba.
Trump made clear his election battle for key state Florida was on his mind with the announcement.
He and Biden are running neck-and-neck in Florida, with both sides intensely wooing the state’s large Hispanic community, which includes many Cuban-Americans.
“The big story is the poll numbers. Trump has gone through the roof with the poll numbers from Hispanics,” the president said.