'We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military,' Treasury Dept. says.
The U.S. on Wednesday moved to curtail travel to Cuba amid strained relations between the Cold War rivals.
Under new regulations that take effect Thursday, Americans must avoid frequenting a long list of businesses, including hotels, stores, tourist agencies and marinas the Trump administration said are controlled by or act on behalf of Cuban security services.
“We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The regulations specify that tour groups must be run by a U.S. company and be accompanied by a representative of the organization in a move reversing looser regulations that followed a diplomatic opening brokered by former President Barack Obama in 2015.
Travel on educational visas will no longer be allowed, requiring travelers to instead use a U.S. company.
President Donald Trump vowed in June to ramp up pressure on Havana, saying the U.S. gave up too much in exchange for the historic resumption of ties.
But as his administration moves to implement the new regulations, the Treasury Department said it is simplifying and expanding license exceptions for certain exports to the Cuban private sector "consistent with the Administration’s policy to support free enterprise in Cuba".
The tighter regulations were met with criticism by Senator Patrick Leahy, who said they are "what one would expect of a paranoid totalitarian government, not a democracy like ours.
“The hypocrisy of the White House ideologues is glaring. It is stunning," the Democratic senator said in a statement. “Far from promoting human rights in Cuba, these new regulations will hurt fledgling entrepreneurs and the rest of the Cuban people by discouraging Americans from traveling there.”
Mavis Anderson, a senior advocate at the Latin American Working Group focused on trying to end the American trade embargo against Cuba, further slammed the administration's new measures that "continue to reverse important elements of former President Obama's policy of engagement with Cuba.
"A backward-looking policy harms both Cubans and Americans,” she told Anadolu Agency. “Why would we do that? It goes against the will of the U.S. people: U.S. citizens, including Cuban Americans, strongly support policies that ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba," she added.