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Trump slams Obama-era Cuba policy, says it enriches Castro regime

  • The White House's policy attempts to shift money away from Cuban military and intelligence services.
  • The move is a marked shift from the Obama-era relaxation of travel rules.
  • Donald Trump said he was ending policies that "enriched" the Castro regime.

President Donald Trump criticized his predecessor's Cuba policy on Friday in Miami, saying it allowed the Castro regime to benefit from increased tourism.

The White House's new policy directs the Treasury Department to end a common method of visiting the communist nation by stopping individual people-to-people travel, according to a document released ahead of Trump's remarks.

Tourism is technically banned by the U.S. embargo, but under the Obama administration, relaxed regulations allowed Americans to visit Cuba under people-to-people travel. Trump's policy restricts this form of travel to the island nation for individuals. Americans pursuing this type of travel would have to go in groups.

Although Trump said he was "canceling" Obama's policies, a document published by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control emphasizes that the changes announced Friday will not take effect until new regulations are issued.

"The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry. The outcome of the last administration's executive action has only been more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement," Trump said Friday.

In a passionate speech ahead of the president's, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., criticized Barack Obama's approach to U.S.-Cuba relations.

"A year and a half ago a president, an American president landed in Havana to outstretch his hand to a regime. Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba," Rubio said.

Last year, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years.

Cubans 'have suffered under communist domination'

Trump also slammed the Castro regime for its human rights record. He pledged to "expose the crimes of the Castro regime" and support Cubans. He argued that freedom for Cubans would be in the interest of Americans.

"For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination," Trump said. "To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores."

Trump pledged to pursue a deal that would better serve the interests of both the U.S. and the Cuban people.

"With God's help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve," Trump said.

Citing the regime's treatment of the Cuban people is puzzling, considering Trump has previously praised other countries and leaders with similarly checkered histories.

For example, Trump has previously praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for his drug crackdown, saying he has done an "unbelievable job" even though the campaign has led to the extrajudicial killing of thousands of his own people.

When pressed on this point during a Thursday night briefing, a senior White House official said that the administration "will continue to take an aggressive stance" on human rights, but declined to comment on foreign policy related to other nations.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., lauded the policy changes, saying that Trump has fulfilled a campaign promise he made in Miami. In 2016, then-candidate Trump called for a reversal of Obama's normalization of Cuba policy, saying he would demand religious and political freedom for the Cuban people as well as the release of political prisoners.

"U.S. policy will ensure that the Cuban military — which oppresses the Cuban people and it beats the Cuban people through its thugs and imprisons political activists and spies on its neighbors — they can no longer benefit from increased trade and travel," said Diaz-Balart.