Donald Trump’s Half-Baked Cold War Revival in Cuba Is the Worst of Both WorldsRoundup
tags: Cuba, Trump
… On the left, Peter Kornbluh—who often leads The Nation’s trips to Cuba—argues in that magazine that Obama’s policy has been a smashing success, and attacks Trump for trying to “discredit the Obama policy of positive engagement” for denouncing the Castro government, and for demanding that Cuba take specific actions as a quid pro quo for improved relations. In his eyes, the policy amounts to “harassment” of American citizens traveling to the island. Missing in Kornbluh’s article is any mention of the Castro regime’s continuing political repression of dissidents.
The main changes in Trump’s Cuba policy will make it more difficult for American tourists, whose numbers have grown significantly since Obama’s opening, to easily continue traveling to Cuba. The regime needs them to come. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had paid a giant subsidy to Cuba, and the fall of the oil industry in Venezuela, whose leaders had made up the gap caused by the Soviet withdrawal with cheap oil and money, the Castro regime was forced to find new ways to continue the flow of money. The only path left was that taken by other small Caribbean nations—tourism.
One way to hurt Cuba’s treasury is to cut off the source of that income. From now on, Americans will be barred from doing business with hotels under majority control of a management company run by the military that controls most of Cuba’s tourist industry. This includes staying in their hotel rooms, eating at their restaurants, or attending shows there. They will also be prohibited from eating in state-run restaurants. Instead, individual travelers will be encouraged to stay in either an Airbnb or a privately owned apartment or house called particulares (which by and large can accommodate just a few people) and eat in privately owned restaurants called paladars. They can also stay in the few privately owned hotels.
American tourists will also be required to be part of official tours lest they be tempted to wander off and explore Cuba on their own. The monkey-wrench in this new arrangement is that tour groups must use large hotels to board the many travelers who sign up for them. Every traveler will have to produce receipts, daily diaries and the like to prove compliance. The government bureaucracy, currently the Treasury Deptartment, will have to expand to handle all the paperwork. The beneficiaries of this policy will be the cruise lines—a total of nine will sail to Cuba by the end of this year. Travelers stay in the cruise ship rooms, and the cruise lines offer their own approved and expensive tours.
The irony is that these tours are the very ones that work to give travelers a distorted rosy picture of Cuba. As a Washington Post report by Nick Mirof puts it:
By reinstating restrictions on independent travelers, the Trump administration’s new policy will hurt Cuba’s emerging private sector that caters to American visitors, critics insist.
Instead, the new rules will herd Americans back toward the kind of prepackaged, predictable group tourism that the Cuban government actually prefers — and earns more revenue from.
“I think if you come here on a package tour, you see what the Cuban government wants you to see,” said Andrew Sleyko, 36, a food scientist from Chicago who was visiting the island for the first time as Trump announced his new policy….
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