The administration of United States President Donald Trump has ordered Marriott International to wind down hotel operations in Communist-run Cuba, a company spokeswoman told Reuters news agency, extinguishing what had been a symbol of the US-Cuban detente.
Starwood Hotels, now owned by Marriott, four years ago became the first US hotel company to sign a deal with Cuba since the 1959 revolution in the mark of the normalisation of relations pursued by former President Barack Obama.
But the Trump administration has unravelled that detente, saying it wants to pressure Cuba into democratic reform and to stop supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The move could help Trump bolster support in the large Cuban-American community in Florida, a state considered vital to his re-election chances in November.
“We have recently received notice that the government-issued licence will not be renewed, forcing Marriott to cease operations in Cuba,” a company spokeswoman told Reuters.
The spokeswoman said the US Department of the Treasury had ordered the company to wind down its operation of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Havana by August 31. It would also not be allowed to open other hotels it had been preparing to run.
The US Treasury and State departments did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
“In 2017, Trump promised he would not disrupt existing contracts US businesses had with Cuba,” wrote William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington, on Twitter. “Promise made, promise broken.”
The news comes two days after the US Department of State expanded its list of Cuban entities from which Americans are banned from doing business to include the financial corporation that handles US remittances to Cuba.
US sanctions have further crippled an economy already struggling with a decline in aid from leftist ally Venezuela and the end of hard-currency-generating Cuban medical missions in Brazil and elsewhere.
Philip Peters, who runs the business consultancy FocusCuba and had advised Marriott, said no good had come from a lifetime of US sanctions that separated the US and Cuban peoples, harmed Cuba’s economy, and limited US influence in Cuba.
“Marriott … will hopefully return to do business in Cuba, along with others, to encourage American travel and to help Cuba prosper and integrate into the global economy,” he said.