Friday, January 20, 2017

Miami Opponent Predicts Travel and Remittance Rollback

Trump May Make It Harder To Travel To Cuba – And Send Remittances


Donald Trump becomes President on Friday – and now here we wait to see how he plans to keep his pledge to roll back normalized relations with Cuba.

In recent weeks his transition team has reached out to Cuban-Americans in South Florida for conversations about U.S.-Cuba policy. One of them is Andy Gomez, a former senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. Gomez spoke with WLRN’s Tim Padgett this week about his sense of what’s coming on Cuba.


Andy, after listening to the transition team, how important is Cuba to the incoming administration?

Well, realistically, we in South Florida like to think Cuba is always at the top of the list in Washington. What I hear is, given all the issues around the world this incoming administration will have to face, Cuba is not even among the top 100 issues that they’re looking at right now. Unfortunately for us.

That said, what do you sense might be some of the more significant steps Donald Trump is set to take regarding Cuba policy?

Based on what I'm hearing from the transition team, the Trump Administration will absolutely make it harder for Americans to visit Cuba - and roll back the remittances Cuban-Americans can send to the island – until the Cubans come to the table with something concrete. –Andy Gomez
Donald Trump is going to address all foreign policy with a very firm hand. Particularly on Cuba, the question that has been asked is, What have we gained from Cuba in the last two years-plus since we established diplomatic relations – and they think very little. If there is one thing from my point of view, as I discussed with them, at least there is an open line of communications.

But I don’t think they’ll continue these discussions that have been going on, on a regular basis, between Washington and Havana. They think we’re going to have to push back – to see if Cuba might be willing to come to the table on more serious issues.

So having said that: Remittances, you know, that used to be $300 and President Obama changed all that and made it unlimited now? Possibly that’s going to be looked at very carefully – and it might even be reduced.

So Cubans here would no longer be able to send an unlimited amount of remittances to the island?

That’s what I hear.

And they'll will be rolled back to $300 per year?

They haven’t set a figure yet. It might be $300 – it might be less. But it’s not going to be more.


I would assume that would also include the amount of travel that Cuban-Americans can make to Cuba. Is that a political risk for Trump? Allowing unlimited travel was one of the more popular moves that President Obama made in the Cuban-American community in South Florida, for example.

Yes, there is a political risk. And their idea here – which I don’t completely agree with, Tim, based on what has happened in the past – is that if you create social pressure within the island by cutting down additional help from the Americans, there could be the possibility of social instability and millions of people out in the street protesting and demanding. I don’t see that happening in Cuba. I think it’s very unrealistic.

So you do think we will see the Trump Administration make it harder for Americans to visit Cuba?

Absolutely – until the Cubans come to the table with something concrete. And let me tell you what I think that issue might be. If the Cubans are willing to develop a long-term plan to repay American companies that had their properties confiscated when the 1959 revolution came into play, I think that will attract, as I am told, the Trump Administration to say, OK, let’s now move forward.

Another issue, as you know very well, is human rights. I mean, repression under Raúl Castro has actually been worse than it was under Fidel Castro during the last five years of his rule.

Or at least in terms of short-term jail detentions.


But you also mentioned that you see them rushing to reverse many of the business executive orders Obama made on Cuba.

I think they will. But they’re going to be very careful not to step on or violate any contracts that are already in place.

For example, the Starwood hotel corporation – they have an agreement with the Cuban government, so does Google, to operate in Cuba. If we cancel the executive order that allows them to do that, we’re cancelling their contract with the Cuban government. Is the American government then responsible for paying Starwood the amount that that contract was worth? You know, those issues will have to be looked at very carefully.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

No Trump Opposition to CAA End, Cuban Americans Agree

JANUARY 19, 2017 4:32 PM

Trump team doesn’t seem to oppose Obama’s shift in immigration policy for Cubans

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cuban Perspective on Trump

Top diplomatic negotiator in Cuba warns Trump: 'aggression doesn't work'

Exclusive: Josefina Vidal, who has led the island’s negotiating team since 2013, says Cuba will not be cowed by the incoming president’s bluster and threats
Donald Trump has threatened to undo efforts by Barack Obama to normalise diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US. 

Helen Yaffe in Havana and Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent

Tuesday 17 January 2017 04.00 EST Last modified on Tuesday 17 January 2017 04.02 EST

Senior Cuban negotiators say the island will not be cowed by intimidation and bluster from Donald Trump, despite the incoming US president’s threat to rekindle Cold War animosities.

“Aggression, pressure, conditions, impositions do not work with Cuba. This is not the way to attempt to have even a minimally civilised relationship with Cuba,”Josefina Vidal, a foreign ministry department head, told the Guardian.

Cuba’s wait-and-see approach is guided by Trump’s unpredictability – and the knowledge that all previous 11 US administrations held talks with representatives from Havana despite the often hawkish public rhetoric coming from Washington.

Vidal has led the island’s negotiating team with the US since 2013, including 18 months of secret discussions, facilitated by Canada and the Vatican, that led to the joint announcement by Cuban president Raúl Castro and Barack Obama on 17 December 2014 of a normalisation of diplomatic relations.

Trump has warned that he is prepared to undo that progress. During the US election campaign, he told an audience of right wing Cuban-exiles in Miami that “all of the concessions that Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order which means the next president can reverse them and that is exactly what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands”.

But Cuban officials say that they plan to wait for action rather than words because Trump has repeatedly flip-flopped on the issue of rapprochement – and also put his business interests above his country’s laws.

During the campaign, it emerged that Trump sent his corporate representatives to Cuba in 1998, and again in the 2000s to probe for openings, in violation of the US trade embargo. Three months after launching his campaign to become the Republican party candidate, Trump was the only GOP contender to express a positive opinion of the reopening of bilateral relations, saying “the concept of opening with Cuba is fine”.

Trump’s transition team includes several figures linked to Cuban-American groups which take a hard line on Cuba, advocating the continuation of the US blockade and an end to rapprochement.

Dr Yleem Poblete has been named to Trump’s National Security Council “landing team”, lawyer John Barsa, to the Department of Homeland Security and lawyer Mauricio Claver-Carone advisor to the treasury department. Claver-Carone is executive director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC and among the fiercest opponents of Obama’s Cuba policy.

But Vidal says it is “‘too early” to predict which path the new administration will follow. “There are also other functionaries, businessmen, that Trump has named, including in government roles, who are in favour of business with Cuba, people who think that the US will benefit from cooperation with Cuba, on issues linked to the national security of the US,” she points out.

Her analysis of Trump’s unpredictability – particularly in contrast to Obama – is echoed by Ricardo Alarcón, until recently considered the third most influential man in Cuban politics.

“For two years we have been talking to a sophisticated president with an intelligent, skilful discourse. Now we have a gentleman who is capable of saying anything and nobody is sure what he is going to do,” said Alarcón, who spent 30 years representing Cuba at the United Nations and another 20 years as president of the country’s National Assembly, before retiring in 2013.

From the 1970s to the 2000s, Alarcón led secret talks with US officials, in a backdoor channel that was first opened by Che Guevara in 1961, just eight months after diplomatic relations had officially been broken off.

Whether this historical willingness to engage in discussion is continued under Trump will depend on whether the new president takes a pragmatic economic approach or a confrontational political line.

Rafael Hernandez, the director of Temas, an influential journal of political and social debate published in Havana, believes Trump’s business instincts will prevail over the threats.

“This is all bluff. And we are accustomed to the bluff from the governments of the United States. I don’t underestimate Trump’s capacity for aggression, I am simply saying that this is a state that is motivated by interests and the interests are in favour of business, and in the case of Cuba lifting the blockade is nothing more than responding to the interests of business.”

There is little appetite in the US Congress for lifting the embargo, but over the past two years the Obama White House has passed a number of measures to improve ties between the two neighbours.

Listing the fruits of engagement at a conference last month, Vidal noted that in addition to Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2015 – the first by a US president for 88 years – there have also been 23 high-level visits, 51 technical meetings and 12 agreements signed in areas ranging from co-operation on the environment and air-travel to health and the fight against drug trafficking. 12 more were in the pipeline.

There has also been a dramatic spike in the movement of people between the two nations. Last week, it was revealed that nearly 285,000 US citizens visited Cuba in 2016, a growth of 74% on the previous year. Add a similar number of Cuban-American visitors and over half a million people travelled to Cuba from the United States.

Full migration in the opposite direction, however, was disincentivised last week, when the White House announced the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” migration policy, which privileged Cuban arrivals in the US over migrants from other countries, granting them automatic residency and citizenship within one year.

Although commercial ties are minimal and financial restrictions remain in place, Obama used his executive powers to grant licences to selected US companies to operate in Cuba: six telecoms, four cruises, one hotel, eight airlines, and two small banks. In mid-December, Google signed a deal with the Cuban government to install servers on the island that will speed up access to the internet.

On the eve of Trump’s inauguration, the first legal Cuban export to the United States in more than 50 years will take place, in the form of 40 tons of charcoal produced in Cuban cooperative farms.

As they wait to see how much of this will be dismantled or continued by Trump, Cuban official stress the benefits of closer ties with the US go far beyond the island’s borders.

‘These last two years show that many good things have been done not only for Cubans and for the Americans, but for others.” Vidal says. “Because when Cuba and the US cooperate in confronting drug trafficking, this is an important contribution to the region, or when Cuba and the US cooperate in confronting [viruses such as] zika, dengue and chikungunya, as we have been doing recently, we are making an important contribution to humanity. When Cuba and the US cooperated in Africa to fight Ebola, they made an important contribution to the health of the world.”

But nothing is taken for granted. The Cuban Communist party’s long-term development plan circulated for debate after the 7th congress in April 2016 makes no assumptions about changes in US policy towards Cuba. Raúl Castro has asserted the need for “civilised co-existence” with the United States, but not at the cost of sovereignty and independence.

Dr Helen Yaffe is a fellow in the economic history department at the London School of Economics. The Cuban officials cited in the article were interviewed during research funded by a Rockefeller-LSE grant. The project is carried out with Nick Kitchen, from the US centre at LSE.

Cuba's Message to China

Cuba-US ties uncertain under Trump: expert

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/1/20 14:54:14

Under Donald Trump, the future of the ties between Havana and Washington remains uncertain, despite a recent thaw, according to a Cuban expert. 

Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday. 

Luis Suarez, a Cuban expert on international relations, believes Trump's administration will maintain some of Barack Obama's policies towards Cuba, but revert others. "They are going to make a case-by-case analysis of which policies are suitable, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for their own interests," Suarez told Xinhua in a recent interview. 

Certain bilateral agreements on security matters, for example, enjoy bipartisan support in the US Congress and benefit Washington's national security interests. 

"Cuba is perceived by the designers of US military and security policies as an ally in the fight against drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration and transnational crimes, and Trump shouldn't modify that," said the academic, a professor at Havana's Higher Institute of International Relations. 

However, Trump had criticized outgoing President Barack Obama's rapprochement with Cuba as "weak," and signalled he would strong-arm Havana into making more concessions to the United States. 

Trump will be more disposed to applying "hard power," that is military or economic mechanisms, to sway Cuba, in contrast to the soft-sell approach of his predecessor. 

"The rather original and creative soft power that Obama used, a combination of persuasion and smarts, won't be continued. Trump is likely to use more instruments of hard power, including negotiating with Cuba through force and coercion," Suarez said. 

In general, Suarez doesn't expect the "environment of reciprocity and mutual respect" that has characterized negotiations since December 2014 to prevail. 

The two countries have signed 21 agreements in different areas such as environmental protection, maritime safety, joint search and rescue, air transport, energy and others. 

Many of these accords may be subject to a "re-analysis of policy toward Cuba, from their perception that Obama made many concessions to the Cuban government," Suarez said. 

One positive sign has been the incoming administration's response to Obama's scrapping of the "dry foot-wet foot" immigration policy, which exclusively lured Cubans to the United States with the promise of fast-track residency, and has for decades made a mockery of legal migration. 

According to the White House, Trump's team was told of the move before it was announced on Jan. 12, and so far there have been no objections. 

In the past two weeks, Washington and Havana have inked cooperation agreements on joint responses to potential oil spills in the gulf and the Florida Straits; on law enforcement and information sharing; and on maritime and aeronautical search and rescue. 

US policy toward Cuba still aims to bring about regime change, Suarez warned, so it's possible Trump will crank up confrontation. 

In view of a possible setback in bilateral ties, Suarez said the Cuban government must continue to diversify its international economic relations and develop "proactive policies."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Trump Predictions by Airlines and Tour Operators

As Cuban Tourism Booms, U.S. Travel Companies Wonder: What Will Trump Do?

Jan. 16--The wait in the line to exchange money at the Havana airport can stretch on for hours, reservations are a must at popular private Cuban restaurants and tangerine and hot-pink-colored vintage cars ferrying visitors crowd the streets around the most frequented tourist destinations.
Tourism on the island is definitely booming. Cuba welcomed a record 4 million visitors last year, a 13 percent increase over the previous year that also was a record. And during the recent holidays the tourism stampede showed no signs of abating.
This year, with new cruise and airline service coming on stream, could be another record-breaker. Cuba is expecting an additional 100,000 visitors to the island in 2017, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
That is, unless President-elect Donald Trump throws a monkey wrench into U.S. visits to this new hot market.
He has warned that unless the United States gets a better deal in its developing relationship with Cuba and the Cuban government makes some political concessions, he might scrap the whole normalization process initiated by the United States and Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.
That could jeopardize both cruise service from the United States and regularly scheduled flights by U.S. airlines, which resumed last year, as well as limit the number of Americans allowed to visit the island. Under President Barack Obama, Americans who fall into 12 approved categories, such as those making family visits or on educational or people-to-people trips, may travel to the island. Their travel is supposed to be purposeful, rather than a vacation toasting themselves on Cuban beaches.
Those more liberal rules meant that by mid-year 2016, visits by Cubans living abroad -- most of them residing in the U.S. -- and by other U.S. travelers to Cuba had climbed to the second and third spots among all international visitors to the island, trailing only visitors from Canada. From January to June, non-family visits increased from 76,183 to 136,913, and that was before the first regularly scheduled flights from U.S. cities to Cuba in more than half a century began in August 2016.
Full-year breakouts aren't yet available for 2016, but Josefina Vidal, Cuba's chief negotiator in talks with the United States, said recently that the combined total of visits by Cuban Americans and other U.S. travelers last year was 614,433, a 34 percent increase.
From Miami International Airport alone, 588,433 passengers departed for Cuba in 2016, compared to 444,667 the previous year. Included in the count are Cubans returning to the island after making U.S. visits. Passengers arriving and departing for Cuba through MIA reached nearly 1.2 million last year, compared to 907,263 in 2015.
Miami is the main hub for Cuba-bound travel from the United States, but other Florida cities, including Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando are also competing for Cuba-bound passengers.
The U.S. Department of Transportation also has granted authority for travel between Cuba and other U.S. cities, including Los Angeles; Charlotte, N.C.; New York; Atlanta; Newark, N.J.; Chicago; Philadelphia; Minneapolis and Houston but not all the airlines awarded flights have begun to offer service.

Alaska became the latest U.S. airline to join the rush to Cuba when it inaugurated service from Los Angeles to Havana on Jan. 5. However, some U.S. airlines flying to Cuba have already reduced the number of daily flights to the island but not the number of destinations.
U.S. tour operators such as InsightCuba are coming off their best year ever in arranging tours to the island. The New Rochelle, N.Y., company took nearly 5,000 people to Cuba in 2016. The company is proceeding full speed ahead with new products planned for this year, but its president, Tom Popper, says Trump's election has raised questions marks.
During his recent Senate confirmation hearing, Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of State, said Obama's executive orders that allowed the opening to Cuba would be among those slated for review by the Trump administration.
"Whatever line of business you're in, it's really hard to predict what will happen," Popper said. "I don't see an elimination or reversal of travel policies for Cuba, but I could foresee some changes. Eliminating it all would be very extreme."
He said one reason for optimism is that "the new commander in chief has also been the hotelier in chief. I think he will balance that with his policies toward Cuba." Any change in Cuba travel policy -- either beneficial or making it more difficult to travel -- would probably take from six months to two years to impact visitors to the island, he said.
When President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, backed by a supportive Cuban diaspora, new, more restrictive travel and remittance policies for Cuba didn't go into effect until mid-2004.
"I don't think anyone really knows what (Trump) will or won't do. We've been in this business for a long time and we've seen a lot of different administrations, so if there are changes, we will adapt and adjust to whatever the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) guidelines are and whatever we have to do to serve our customers best," said Michael Zuccato, a co-founder of Cuba Travel Services.

California-based CTS, which used to offer extensive charter flights to Cuba, already is in the process of reinventing itself after the advent of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba. It only plans to offer seasonal and private charters and is focusing on vacation packages to Cuba as well as offering visa services and call-center support for four commercial airlines that are among those flying to Cuba.
Zuccato is keeping his fingers crossed. "He's a business guy, so I'm hoping he'll act in the best interest of American business," he said.
It's not just an increase in U.S. travel that is pushing up Cuban tourism numbers. There were also significant increases in the number of visitors from Germany, France, Italy, England, Spain and Mexico during the first half of last year.
A steady stream of celebrities and fashionistas -- Madonna celebrated her 58th birthday by dancing on a table at an Old Havana restaurant and the Kardashian clan filmed episodes of their reality series in Havana last year -- also is beating a path to the island.
But not everyone is a fan of Cuba's growing tourism industry.
A letter to President-elect Trump, signed by five former U.S. ambassadors, James Cason, Everett Briggs, Elliott Abrams, Jose Sorzano and Otto Reich, urged him to prohibit purchases of Cuban goods, partnering with Cuban government entities -- and tourism -- in accordance with U.S. law.
Instead of "easing the lot of the Cuban people," Obama's opening to the island "has had the effect of giving a new economic lease on life to the regime," they said.
While the Cuban government, and increasingly the military, does control the hotel and tour industry in Cuba, tens of thousands of Cubans, from private tour guides and taxi drivers, operators of private restaurants and bed and breakfasts to those who sell services and handmade goods have seen their incomes rise because of burgeoning tourism.
Cuba has an ambitious plan to expand its hospitality resources, but at this point all the visitors are putting a strain on the island's infrastructure.

On a recent night, the Yellow Submarine, a Havana rock club, had run out of both beer and ice, and there are periodic shortages of beer, bottled water and other products at stores that sell products in Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs).
As the demand for rooms increases, hotel prices have shot up. Rack prices at some of the better Havana hotels exceed $500. On a recent weekend, a single room at the Four Points by Sheraton Havana, which is now managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, was $340 and a double room started at $390.
Recent visitors to Cuba also say they've noticed taxi inflation. A five-CUC ($5.75) fare several months ago is now up to 13 CUCs, said Popper.
"It's not so much the inexpensive beach destination for Canadians any more," he said.
But Popper expects hotel prices will level out and start coming down this year. "I'm also expecting a little bit of a cooling off from the Obama wave" that began in early 2016, he said. "Prices became artificially inflated because the demand was so fast and furious."
To lessen the price inflation, InsightCuba is offering a trip this year that includes four days of people-to-people activities in Varadero Beach, where the price of hotel accommodations are more down to earth, with just a day trip to more expensive Havana.
Although the hotels have been overflowing during the winter season, Popper said he expects demand will start to slow in the off-season.
While hotel accommodations are still pretty tight, "the increase in pricing is starting to bring down demand," said Zuccato.

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