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Cubans Respond To Trump Changing U.S. Policies On Cuba

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

President Trump went to Miami yesterday and reversed course on recent U.S.-Cuba policy that had eased restrictions on business and travel. The Obama administration had adopted a policy of openness with the island nation. And to understand these changes, we're joined by NPR's Carrie Kahn, who joins us from Havana. Carrie, what have Cubans been telling you about these changes announced by the Trump administration yesterday?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The Cubans that I talked to are very worried and upset. Mostly, I spoke to people that are tied to the tourism industry, either directly or indirectly. And they're just concerned about how this retrenchment is going to hit them. You know, tourism has boomed here in the past two and a half years since President Obama and Raul Castro warmed relations.

And, especially, American travelers coming to Cuba have given this economy a much-needed boost. You know, any drop in those numbers of visitors are just - people are afraid that there'll be job loss. And the Cuban economy is not in good shape right now for a variety of reasons. So any blow is very worrisome right now.

BLOCK: And what about reaction from the Cuban government, from the Communist Party there?

KAHN: Well, the official organ of the Communist Party, Granma, immediately condemned the speech. They just called it old, imperialistic rhetoric from decades gone by. And they said it's putting Cuban-U.S. relations back in the freezer. Then at night, Trump's speech was rebroadcast and translated on the official newscast. And then the commentaries just came rolling in.

I think the lead newscaster read a long attack of the speech for about 45 minutes and then read off a long list of human rights abuses in the U.S., proving U.S. hypocrisy and double standards. You know, they listed everything from mass shootings in the U.S. to police shootings of African-Americans to pay disparity of women. And, you know, the list just went on.

And then Cubans did - you know, they always have said they're willing to have a dialogue that they say is respectful to each country's sovereignty. So, at least, they didn't close the door to further negotiations as President Trump insisted yesterday.

BLOCK: Yeah. Carrie, you mentioned that tourism has been on the upswing in Cuba. And you've been talking with tourists there in Havana. What have they been saying?

KAHN: You know, I actually watched Trump's speech yesterday with a bunch of American tourists. Many were unaware of the changes. And they were asking the questions like, are they going to be able to get home? That's not a problem. It will take months for the changes to be put in place. A lot of these people came under the people-to-people category, which now doesn't really require much evidence that you actually engaged in such an experience.

But the new changes will require travelers to come on organized trips. And a lot of people said that will be more costly, and they won't come. One man that I spoke with - his name is Mike Connors (ph) - his reaction was really typical of a lot of the Americans I spoke with.

MIKE CONNORS: I'm an embarrassed American. He is taking us back into time.

KAHN: Many travelers said that they took exception to Trump's claim that their dollars are going to prop up a repressive regime. One woman shouted at me. She said, I've been here 48 hours, and all my money's gone directly to the people. She was staying in private homes and eating in private restaurants.

BLOCK: Carrie, the idea behind the policy of engagement under the Obama administration was that that would be the way to bring change to Cuba. Of course, the Trump administration says that has not been working. What do you think, based on what you're seeing on the ground, is the reality there?

KAHN: I think the short answer is that it's only been two years since these changes have been put in place. And people said the policy of isolation took 50 - was in place for more than 50 years. So let's give this one more of a chance.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn speaking with us from Havana. Carrie, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.