Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jet Blue, American and Delta Want to Expand Service

Does JetBlue Know Something About Cuba That We Don’t?

Does JetBlue Know Something About Cuba That We Don’t?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Survey of US Travelers


Despite legislative restrictions, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens is booming. Some 614,433 U.S. and Cuban
American travelers visited the island in 2016; in 2017 that number could exceed 700,000. If Congress removed
all constraints on the rights of U.S. citizens to freely travel to Cuba, the annual number of U.S. citizens traveling
to the island is projected to reach jump to the millions.
The increase in Cuba travel is providing proven benefits to the U.S. economy: economic expansion and job
creation in airline, cruise, lodging, telecom and travel services industries, amongst others. The presence of U.S.
travelers and companies provides much-needed economic and cultural connections at a critical moment in Cuba.
Moreover, the American people strongly support travel to Cuba, with polls showing that majorities of Americans
and Cuban-Americans favor lifting all restrictions on their right to travel to Cuba.
Through a series of executive orders between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. government removed restrictions on
Cuban American travel and liberalized purposeful travel for Americans of non-Cuban decent. A civil aviation
agreement signed in early 2016 paved the way for the launch of direct commercial flights with American, Delta,
JetBlue, Southwest and United, amongst others, all offering service. The first U.S. cruise ship arrived in Havana
in May 2016 and dozens of voyages have occurred since. Airbnb launched its Cuba operations in April 2015 with
roughly 1,000 properties. Inventory now exceeds 19,000 listings, making it the company’s fastest growing
market ever.
The influx of U.S. travelers comes within the context of reform in Cuba. Changes by the Cuban government have
increased access to the internet, allowed Cubans to buy and sell homes, made it legal to start small and mediumsized
businesses in some sectors and removed restrictions on Cubans’ travel abroad. American companies and
American travelers have been directly engaging with Cubans during this important moment of reform.
As the Trump Administration conducts its Cuba policy review, it presumably will analyze the effects of U.S. travel
within the context of the stated policy objective to “engage and empower the Cuban people.” U.S. travelers,
according to a just completed professional evaluation, are clearly advancing that goal. Cuba Educational Travel,
a leading travel service provider to Cuba, hired Public Opinion Strategies, a respected public opinion firm, to
conduct a survey of recent American travelers to the island about their activities and experiences on the island.
Key Survey Findings
 U.S. travelers are supporting the Cuban private sector, eating at private restaurants (paladares), hiring
private taxis, staying in private b&bs and homestays (casas particulares) and purchasing goods from
private artists and artisans.
o 76% of the travelers stayed in a privately-owned bed and breakfast for some or all of their
time on the island.
o 99% of the travelers ate at a privately-owned restaurant (paladar).
o 86% of the travelers bought art, crafts, or music from an independent artist.
o 85% of the travelers hired a privately-owned taxi.
o 74% of the travelers engaged in discussions with Cuban entrepreneurs.
Recent Cuba Traveler Survey – April 13, 2017

 U.S. travelers are economically supporting state workers, who rely on tips to survive, and offering
generous support to Cuban individuals and humanitarian projects. Furthermore, they are talking to
average Cubans about free market economics at a moment of economic reform.
o 82% of the travelers tipped a bellman, maid, or other employee of a state-run hotel during
their stay.
o 62% of the travelers spoke with Cubans about pricing, supply, sourcing, and other market
o 49% of the travelers made a monetary or material donation to a community program and/or
Cuban individual or family.
 U.S. travelers are getting off the beaten track and having genuine conversations with Cubans about
economic reform, technology and religious freedom.
o 85% of travelers got into the home of a Cuban individual or family.
o 84% of travelers spoke with a Cuban about U.S. culture and American society.
o 70% of travelers spoke with a Cuban about internet and technology.
o 42% of travelers spoke with a Cuban about religion and/or religious freedom.
 U.S. citizens that have actually traveled to Cuba, experiencing the island firsthand and interacting with
Cubans of different walks of like, overwhelming believe travel to Cuba provides great benefits to the
Cuban people.
o While just 14% of travelers believe U.S. travel and business with Cuba benefits the government
more than the people.
o 86% of travelers believe U.S. travel and business with Cuba benefits the Cuban people more
than the government.
The survey results are clear. U.S. travelers are engaging directly with Cuban citizens, speaking to them about
economics, internet, technology and other key issues at a critical moment of transition on the island. U.S.
travelers are empowering Cuban entrepreneurs as important consumers of the products and services they offer
in Cuba’s growing private sector. The Trump Administration should maintain and expand upon the current policy
regarding U.S. travel to Cuba.

Retired Military Urge President Trump to Continue Cuba Engagement

Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization process with Cuba

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Rubio et. al. Smell Blood

Marco Rubio: ‘Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is’


Two months after the Trump administration announced a total review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, several controversial proposals are being circulated at the White House with no clear front-runner on the issue.
But Sen. Marco Rubio says he has spoken with Trump three times about Cuba.
“We’ve been walking through all these issues with the president and his team, figuring out the right steps to take and when,” Rubio told el Nuevo Herald.
 “I am confident that President Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is and that our policy going forward will reflect the fact that it is not in the national interest of the United States for us to be doing business with the Cuban military,” he added.
The Miami Republican of Cuban descent declined to say whether the president had made any commitments to him on Cuba policies. But a Rubio spokesman told el Nuevo Herald that the senator and his staff “have been working behind the scenes” on Cuba policy.
The Cuban government has taken notice of Rubio's rising voice in U.S. policy toward Latin America, and the state-run Granma newspaper recently criticized his efforts to have the Organization of American States condemn Venezuela's human rights record.
But the Granma article carefully avoided insulting Trump. And the Raúl Castro government, in a rare show of restraint, has said little about the Trump administration as it waits for the ongoing review of overall U.S. policies toward the island.
Spokespersons for the White House and the State Department have said that the National Security Council (NSC) has the lead in the multi-agency review. Several knowledgeable sources have said that Jill St. John, a low-level NSC staffer, is coordinating the work. The White House did not immediately reply to el Nuevo Herald questions about St. John.
The review requires an initial examination of current policy and regulations. But whoever is gathering that information “has no directions on what to do about that,” said one source who favors improved relations with Havana.
Several key jobs in the State Department and other agencies also remain unfilled by officials “who usually would be the ones you could approach to talk about Cuba,” said one pro-embargo source frustrated by the so-called “vacuum.”
But “treating Cuba as a dictatorship” does not necessarily entail reversing all of President Barack Obama's measure to improve bilateral relations. Rubio said he favored tougher policies toward Cuba, a strategy favored by some dissidents on the island. But he did not reply directly to a question on whether he favors a total rollback of the new regulations, as proposed in a memorandum making the rounds on Capitol Hill and the White House that is believed to have been crafted by staff members for Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
The memo proposes imposing new sanctions within 90 days unless Cuba meets a string of requirements contained in the Helms-Burton law and takes action toward the return of U.S. fugitives and compensation for confiscated U.S. properties.
Several proposals circulating
However, the memo is just one of many proposing different policies, according to several sources.
A White House official said in a statement of the Diaz-Balart memo: “This appears to be an unofficial DRAFT memo which is not consistent with current formatting and may be a Transition document.
“Some of the language is consistent with what the President said during the campaign, which is guiding the review of U.S. policy toward Cuba,” the official said. “The review is not complete and therefore there is no further comment at this time.”
Trump promised during the presidential campaign to “reverse” all the pro-engagement measures approved by Obama unless the Cuban government bows to his demands. These days, the phrase making the rounds within political circles in Washington and Miami is “treat Cuba like a dictatorship.”
 “Cuba must be treated for what it is and not, as the Obama administration did, what it wished Cuba were. Cuba remains a Communist, totalitarian police state that allies itself with American adversaries and enemies, including state sponsors of terror and terrorist organizations,” said attorney Jason Poblete of the Washington-based PobleteTamargo LLP. His wife Yleem Poblete was appointed to the Trump transition team.
Other proposals floating around Washington would reverse only parts of the Obama changes, because doing more would disrupt the market and risk lawsuits from U.S. companies that have already signed deals with Cuba. The recommendations in the presumed Diaz-Balart memo would cost U.S. tourism and service companies about $2 billion during the remaining years of the Trump administration, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Turning back the clock even further, to the tight restrictions on travel and remittances imposed by former President George W. Bush — a possibility that had frightened many people — seems even less likely now.
Several sources who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly on the issue said that among the proposals submitted to the Trump administration is one that would eliminate the self-guided trips to Cuba under the so-called “people to people” travel category, described as “tourism on steroids” or a thinly-veiled way to sidestep the U.S. ban on Cuba tourism.
Another would impose targeted sanctions on Cuban military or Interior Ministry officials. And a third would deny further licenses to U.S. companies that do business with enterprises run by the Cuban military, which controls at least an estimated 60 percent of the island's economy.
“They are 100 percent looking into this,” said one source close to the business sector with ties to Cuba. One pro-engagement source said that the proposal to deny licenses — perhaps the most detrimental for Cuba — would be difficult to implement.
“How's OFAC going to determine which companies are connected to the Cuban military?,” said the source.
He also cautioned that such harsh measures could strengthen the most conservative sectors within Cuba, at a time when the Venezuelan crisis is growing worse and Castro's deadline for retiring from power in 2018 is approaching.
Rubio's statements, nevertheless, hint that Trump policies may target the Cuban military. House Speaker Paul Ryan last year also proposed banning U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba military enterprises.
Lobbyists scrambling
At the same time, groups that support improving relations with Cuba have not stopped their lobbying efforts, and continue “strategizing about how to influence the Trump administration, although the window of opportunity is closing,” said Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution who specializes in U.S.-Cuba relations.
Piccone said that maintaining the current policy toward Cuba would be in the best interest of the United States, not just because of the economic benefits but also because of national security concerns. He said Trump administration officials such as Jason Greenblatt at the NSC, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are “open to this argument.”
U.S. companies doing business with Cuba also have been sending messages to the Trump administration in support of a pro-business agenda.
“With the new administration’s desire to grow our economy, we are hopeful that both governments will continue the momentum to work to open the door for commerce to flourish between our two countries,” said Vanessa Picariello, Norwegian Cruise senior director of public relations.
“Business and civic leaders from the American Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican members of Congress also have been encouraging President Trump to shake up our failed embargo policy with Cuba,” said James Williams, director of Engage Cuba, a coalition of businesses and organizations lobbying to eliminate economic sanctions to Cuba. “President Trump can create billions of dollars in trade and tens of thousands of American jobs by expanding trade with Cuba.”
Letters in support of the current pro-engagement policy have been sent to the Trump administration by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Catholic Church leaders, the American Farm Bureau, Cuban-American organizations like the Cuba Study Group and members of Congress like Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, who has submitted a bill to lift the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.
Piccone said that on balance the pro-engagement camp feels “positive, although realistic that certain promises were made to senators like Rubio.
“It is up for grabs, what is happening at the end.”
Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

My comment #1

Sen Rubio and others in Washington who want President Trump to “treat Cuba like a dictatorship” don't seem to have noticed how acceptable dictatorships are to this Administration.

Cuba's treatment of dissidents and centralized one party control are minor league compared to Egypt and China.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

My comment #2

This story in the Miami Herald on Administration discussions about Cuba includes this paragraph:

Several sources who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly on the issue said that among the proposals submitted to the Trump administration is one that would eliminate the self-guided trips to Cuba under the so-called “people to people” travel category, described as “tourism on steroids” or a thinly-veiled way to sidestep the U.S. ban on Cuba tourism.

The number and variety of US visitors to Cuba is steadily increasing.  The commercial airlines brought 3 times the number of seats previously provided by charters in order to position themselves for the long term market.  No surprise that they are adjusting their service to the actual current market.

The Trump Administration is most likely to leave travel largely untouched while laying the groundwork for a broader mutual opening.

Ending self-guided travel would be completely counterproductive.

The individual general license for people to people travel has existed for slightly more than a year but already plays a very significant role:

1) Independent travelers are the fastest growing sector of Americans visiting Cuba. They are vitally important for US airlines to fill their capacity.

2) This is because independent travel can be undertaken at a far more reasonable cost than group tours, making it available for a greater diversity of Americans. Most group tours charge more than $3,000 for a week. Individuals can spend as little as $1,000.

3) Two or three generation families can now travel to Cuba. In addition to cost factors, bringing children is not very welcome in group tours.  Children have a multiplier effect on creating trust and friendships.

4) Cuba is now accessible to American students and other back-packers, just as it has been for years to their Canadian and European counterparts.  They naturally are inclined to interact informally and socially with their Cuban peers.

5) Group tours are carefully programmed and monitored by Cuban State companies. Like any officially sponsored program in any country (including ours), itineraries are designed to convey a desired picture of the country. They do offer a valuable and convenient window for their participants to a little known society but it is largely pre-determined.

6) Self-directed individuals follow a personalized and spontaneous program inherently more integrated with the grass roots of Cuban society.

7) Expenditures by independent travelers disproportionately benefit individual Cubans and support the emerging private sector of bed and breakfasts, private restaurants, drivers and gray market guides.

I have worked with tour groups to Cuba for twenty years, most of that time under cumbersome, bureaucratic, politicized and arbitrary OFAC licensing. Our priority now is to promote independent travel for its benefit to both countries. The situation today is far superior for group and independent travelers and it would be very sad and counter-intuitive if the Trump Administration moved our country backwards, infringing again on the rights of our own people to satisfy the vengeful illusions of a small self-interested minority.

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development