Marriott ceases Cuban operations after new Trump sanctions

Some tourists were trapped by the lockdown and forced to quarantine, like these Italians staying at a hotel in Havana

Marriott has been ordered by the US Treasury Department to close its Four Points Sheraton hotel in Havana by the end of August and abandon plans to open others in Cuba, a spokeswoman for the American hotel group told AFP on Friday.

"We entered the Cuban market in 2016, with permission from the US government," the spokeswoman said.

"Our operating license was reviewed and renewed in 2018. We have recently received notice that the government-issued license will not be renewed, forcing Marriott to cease operations in Cuba."

Marriott's entry into the Cuban market came during the administration of US president Barack Obama, a Democrat.

The island nation had been subjected to a US embargo since 1962 but, under Obama, tensions were easing.

But since Republican President Donald Trump moved into the White House, he has ramped up sanctions once more, cancelling or suspending many of the agreements made during Obama's term.

"Marriott continues to believe that Cuba is a destination that travelers, including Americans, want to visit. Marriott looks forward to reopening in Cuba if and when the US government gives us permission to do business there again," added the hotel chain.

In the latest move on Wednesday, the US State Department added seven Cuban companies and hotels to its list of sanctioned entities, including the financial company Fincimex, which makes money from remittances sent to Cuba, notably though Western Union.

These remittances, which economist Carlos Mesa-Lago estimated to be worth $3.5 billion in 2017, are vital for many Cuban families, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic that has provoked food shortages and spiraling inflation in Cuba.

Italian tourists sightsee in Havana after spending time in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic