Twenty years ago, Donald Trump,the business man, said that whenever the laws change he was “willing to build the Taj Mahal in Havana”. During that period of high personal willingness,the real estate tycoon looked into business in the Island through Seven Arrows Investment and Development a consulting agency. He was looking to dodge Washington’s blockade against Havana, according to Newsweek Magazine.
Back then Trump Hotels wore camouflage and spent over $68 000 USD in exploring Cuban market despites the risks in that commercial minefield the blockade is and was. They come up with humanitarian reasons but by 1999, the millionaire said in a meeting in Miami he would not invest a single dollar without a “regime change”… in Cuba, of course.
This story comes to mind as an example of the contradictory behavior of the man that now, as president, changes the speed of the machinery of blockade precisely when it was stumbling. The restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba that has just been established show that, against common sense, political hatred prevailed over corporate pragmatism.
His signature aims to reverse the advances registered by both countries during the so far brief “thaw” in areas such as air communication, agriculture, environmental protection, drugs and human trafficking enforcement, clinical trials, disaster relief and telecommunications.
In short, his miamense stroke aims to reinforce the wall that “people to people” exchanges between Cubans and Americans have cracked. Therefore the 284,000 Americans who visited the island in the first five months of this year – as many as in 2016 – hardly concur with their leader. And the Cubans, even less…
This new old policy for Cuba announced by Trump involves automatically both the allies and the commercial partners of the Island. It not only confirms the blockade but declares explicitly its opposition to anyone questioning it. Cuba has lost in this siege 125 billion dollars and suffered penalties that cannot be measured, and will have to continue boosting its economy through resistance and dignity.
There is resistance also within the great nation of the north. On the very day of Trump’s announcement, Republican Senator Jerry Moran denounced that policy changes hurt Kansas farmers exporting to the island. “The United States must find ways to increase trade with Cuba to create new jobs. Work and stimulate the US economy, “he said.
The day before, Arne Sorenson, chief executive of Marriott International Inc, the world’s largest hotel chain operator, called on her government to improve ties with Cuba and to understand the role that tourism can play in it. Contrary to her request, the company was “marked” by the announcement. Marriot manages Gaviota’s Fifth Avenue hotel in Havana under the Four Points Sheraton brand and has fallen under scrutiny by the entities that monitor the dollar route in Cuba.
Since anti-Cuban gossip is intense in certain political circles, more than 40 companies and travel associations spoke in favor of the opening last May. The list included the United States Tour Operators Association and the American Society of Travel Agents. The signatories admitted that the increase in US visitors to Cuba has a significant impact on their businesses, both in terms of income and in the number of employees. It contributes “largely to the growth of the Cuban private sector”, as well as to establish links with religious communities and independent community organizations. Wasn’t that part of Trump’s vision?
Across the Strait of Florida, this message was complemented by 55 Cuban entrepreneurs writing a letter to Ivanka Trump in an attempt to prevent a backlash in relations between the two countries leading to “the fall of many of our businesses.”
The benefits of the the approach to several segments of non-state Cuban workers have been so huge that Airbnb recently reported that since 2014 it has paid private landlords of the Island 40 million dollars to receive their guests. Since April 2015, more than half a million visitors have stayed in Cuban homes through the service, making Cuba the fastest growing market in the world.
Anti-Cuban lobbying in Miami is known to be almost exclusively the property of a resentment-stricken segment. American citizens, and particularly the younger generations, are looking elsewhere. CubaOne, a group of young Americans who advocate for better relations, told the president in a letter that “thousands of Americans are visiting Cuba and driving the growth of the largest private sector since 1959.” Like them, entrepreneurs, activists, congressmen, farmers, religious, academics and even retired military insist that Trump’s backward march will never propel the relationships forward.
This is what Engage Cuba, a pro-engagement coalition, defends. Like many, its president, James Williams, expected that “the opinion of an industry that supports 7.6 million jobs in the United States, the opinion of the vast majority of both the American public and the Cuban people, would be more relevant than a few politicians in Washington”. But that day the contradictory speech was pronounced.
Everyone knows that Barack Obama could barely pinch the high wall of the blockade, but even so, the bilateral advances recorded make clear the best path. The presence in Cuba of telecommunications companies such as T-Mobile, Sprint, IDT and Verizon; airlines such as American Airlines, Southwest and Delta; cruise companies like Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, is a sign that cannot be ignored.
The director of strategies and operations of Google in Cuba, Brett Perlmutter, said in Miami that “Google has played a training role in this first chapter of the history of connectivity of Cuba, but this is just the beginning” and added that connecting the Island will require “… the United States to maintain a policy that allows telecommunication companies to work” there.
Not even surveys support Trump. A poll by Public Opinion Strategies revealed that 86 percent of travelers from the United States to Cuba believe that their visits benefit Cuban citizens.
The flames of fear, now lit by Donald Trump, are not new. However the disposition to turn them off is strong, even within the United States. Companies in that country look at the Island with the natural intention to negotiate.
Cuba remains open. Its portfolio of opportunities for foreign investment indicates that the country aims to attract at least $ 2 billion in foreign direct investment each year. There is so much space for growth. The Island and its counterparts must be bold and firm.
John Kavulich, a member of the US-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, recently commented that “the business community in the United States, as in everything, has been preparing for many scenarios since the day Donald Trump was elected”. Cuba has also been prepared. This country does not aspire to be given the Taj Mahal, but will not allow anyone to prohibit it from being built.