Donald Trump's 'free Cuba' plan could actually hurt Cubans

Key Points
  • The White House's policy on Cuba may not work out the way it's intended.
  • Experts say it could hurt the Cuban people rather than help them.
  • While President Donald Trump wants a "free Cuba," his policy might've just created an obstacle for that.
Trump: Cuba change coming in "very near future"
Trump: Cuba change coming in "very near future"

President Donald Trump's new Cuba policy may end up hurting the people he's trying to help.

In a Friday speech in Miami, the president said he's "canceling" Obama-era policies that have allowed the Castro regime to profit from tourism. Instead, the White House revealed on Friday that new regulations will be drafted that will seek to end the method that many Americans have used to access Cuba legally.

Tourism is technically banned by the U.S. embargo, but the Obama administration relaxed regulations, allowing Americans to visit Cuba under so-called people-to-people travel. Under Trump's policy, Americans pursuing this type of travel would have to go in approved groups.

While Trump wants to encourage business with the Cuban people, eliminating individual people-to-people travel undercuts that goal, Risa Grais-Targow, Latin America director at Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Friday.

"Those private entrepreneurs on the island have really benefited from increased U.S. travel, so cutting that back is going to hurt them as much as it hurts the government," she said.

President Donald Trump greets guests after he announced his Cuba policy at the Manuel Artime Theater in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, U.S. June 16, 2017.
Joe Skipper | Reuters

Free Cuba?

Besides pledging to "expose the crimes of the Castro regime" and empower Cubans, Trump also demanded the release of political prisoners and called for free and fair elections.

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

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doubts that the announced policy will help achieve its intended results.

"Unfortunately, today's moves actually limit the possibility for positive change on the island and risk ceding growth opportunities to other countries that, frankly, may not share America's interest in a free and democratic Cuba that respects human rights," said Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

Christopher Sabatini, professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, argued that Trump's policy could actually perpetuate Cuba's isolation and social stasis.

"The Obama policy, even if you disagree with it, was based on comparative history—that openness has brought democratic change in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union," he said. "We've never imposed as tight of an embargo on any country as we have on Cuba, and Cuba's non-democratic regime remains."

If anything, the White House's shift could temporarily help the Castro regime, Eurasia Group's Grais-Targow said, noting that the Communist leadership often points to America's cold shoulder "as a source of its own legitimacy."

"It's a really good scapegoat for problems on the island," she said.

Watch: Evercore's Mestre says Trump Cuba policy a terrible idea

Trump Cuba policy a terrible idea: Eduardo Mestre
Trump Cuba policy a terrible idea: Eduardo Mestre