Trump announces new sanctions on Cuba
“These actions will ensure that U.S. dollars do not fund the Cuban regime and go directly to the Cuban people,” Trump said during a speech recognizing Bay of Pigs veterans in the East Room of the White House.
Trump described the measures as part of his administration's “continuing fight against communist oppression.”
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control later Wednesday amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to prohibit any U.S. person lodging, paying for or reserving lodging at properties designated by the State Department as owned and controlled by the Cuban government or prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party or their families. The State Department announced a list of 433 such properties.
The regulations were also amended to exclude imports of Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products from general authorizations.
At the event, Trump recognized a group of 20 veterans of Brigade 2506, the CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles who in 1961 stormed the beaches at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government.
The president’s address marked Hispanic Heritage Month and comes as he attempts to court Hispanic voters ahead of the 2020 election.
Trump used his remarks to cast himself as a crusader against repressive regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The president's speech was explicitly political at times, as he criticized the Obama administration’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba. Democratic nominee Joe Biden — Obama’s former vice president — is currently leading Trump in national polling on the 2020 presidential race.
“The Obama-Biden administration made a weak, pathetic, one-sided deal with the Castro dictatorship that betrayed the Cuban people and enriched the communist regime. I canceled the Obama-Biden sellout to the Castro regime,” Trump told the small audience.
“We will not lift sanctions until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized and free elections are scheduled,” Trump continued. “They will have to go through a lot but things are happening.”
Trump also accused the Democratic Party of attempting to unleash socialism and communism in the United States, and said his administration is meeting such efforts with “great force.”
“Today, we proclaim that America will never be a socialist or communist country,” Trump said.
The speech represented a clear effort by Trump to court Cuban American voters, who make up a key sector of Latino voters in Florida, Polls show Trump locked in a tight battle with Biden in Florida, which has the largest Cuban American population of all the U.S. states.
Trump noted at the outset of his address that he received the endorsement of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association in 2016 and 2020.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday found Trump narrowly leading Biden 51 percent to 47 percent among likely voters in Florida. Fifty-two percent of Latino registered voters in Florida prefer Biden, while 39 percent prefer Trump.
Florida, which Trump carried in 2016, is viewed by many as a must-win state for the incumbent president to be reelected in 2020. Trump is slated to travel to Jacksonville on Thursday for a political rally and headline a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable in Miami on Friday. A Cuban American judge from Florida is also among the finalists in Trump’s search for a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Wednesday’s address followed a report in the Miami Herald that Trump in 2008 applied to register his trademark in Cuba to pursue commercial properties there, despite pledging years earlier not to do business in the country unless democratic reforms were made.
"This is a desperate and hypocritical attempt by Trump to pander to Cuban-American voters in Florida," Democratic National Committee spokesperson Enrique Gutierrez said in a statement. "American citizens are already banned from traveling to Cuba because of the coronavirus, and Trump has privately sought to do business with the country for years and ignored the embargo. He’s filed trademarks with the Cuban government to make money on golf courses, hotels, and more — but now that he’s lagging in the polls, he’s just using our foreign policy for his own political gain.”