August 2019, Week 4


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 		 [ Despite the Trump sanctions that have included placing a number
of hotels on a prohibited list for Americans, construction cranes
tower over Havana neighborhoods near the sea, and government-owned and
joint venture hotel projects are moving forward.]



 Mimi Whitefield 
 August 11, 2019
Los Angeles Times

	* [https://portside.org/node/20801/printable/print]

 _ Despite the Trump sanctions that have included placing a number of
hotels on a prohibited list for Americans, construction cranes tower
over Havana neighborhoods near the sea, and government-owned and joint
venture hotel projects are moving forward. _ 

 A Royal Caribbean cruise ship departs Havana on June 5, a day after
the Trump administration announced that Americans could no longer
travel to Cuba on cruise ships., credit: Adalberto Roque / AFP/Getty
Images // Los Angeles Times 


HAVANA - When a bus packed with Spanish tourists pulled into her
restaurant in the picturesque Viñales Valley in mid-July, Rosa Isabel
Hernandez Pino was grateful. But she was also worried.

That busload represented her last reservation for the summer.
Americans aboard cruise ships that docked in Havana used to account
for the bulk of her business. But on June 4, the Trump administration
announced that Americans could no longer travel to Cuba on cruise
ships, and also eliminated a category of travel called
people-to-people group tours.

Reservations for Hernandez’s thatched-roof Doña Rosita’s
restaurant, with views of oxen tilling fields and the limestone hills
of the Viñales Valley, came via government tour agencies that paid
her a negotiated rate of $15 a lunch for a home-cooked spread that
included chicken, pork, yucca, rice and beans produced on the land
that her family has farmed for six generations.

Hernandez and her family made a good living with the restaurant after
President Obama made it far easier for Americans to travel to Cuba in
2015. The Trump administration began chipping away at the changes ,
and with the newest limitations on American travel, Hernandez said,
“I think I will have to go out of business.”

Cuba’s fledgling private-sector workers — cab drivers, tour
guides, souvenir sellers, restaurateurs, bed and breakfast operators
— are already feeling the pinch.

The Trump administration contends the policy, which still allows for
11 categories of visits including for religious activities or
professional research, is aimed at keeping U.S. dollars out of the
hands of the Cuban military, ending what national security advisor
John Bolton calls “veiled tourism.”

In a tweet the day the restrictions were announced, Bolton made clear
they were also designed to punish Cuba for its support of
Venezuela’s autocratic leader Nicolas Maduro: “Cuba has continued
to prop up the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela and will be
held responsible for the man-made crisis. President Trump has made it
clear that we stand with the Cuban and Venezuela people as they fight
for freedom.”

Trump, in a June 2017 speech in Miami, declared his new policies
toward Cuba would bypass “the military and government to help the
Cuban people form businesses and pursue much better lives.”

Many Cubans say, however, that their private businesses have slowed to
a crawl as many relatively free-spending Americans are removed from
the visitor mix.

At Fusterlandia, where artist Jose Fuster has covered practically
every inch of his home and workshop in mosaic tile and begun to cover
walls, bus stops and nearby homes as well, the neighborhood on the
outskirts of Havana is hurting.

As Fuster’s art installation gained fame, a cottage industry had
sprung up and his neighbors began selling coconut water, pina coladas
and all manner of souvenirs.

“I would say business is down 60% since the cruises stopped,” said
Adrian Alberto, a vendor, as he sat forlorn on a mosaic-encrusted
bench in front of Fuster’s house.

“Business is down so much you can practically weep,” echoed fellow
vendor Yoan Perdomo Viort.

“This street used to be so full of tour buses and taxis you almost
couldn’t walk,” he said. At 10:30 on a recent morning, only one
tour bus and a few cars were parked outside.

“It’s been a very slow year,” sighed Andrea Gallina, who runs
Paseo 206, a private 10-room boutique hotel in a 1930s mansion in
Havana’s Vedado district, with his wife, Diana. In early 2017,
Americans represented about 55% of their customers. Now, he said, they
make up only about 30%.

“The Irma-Trump combination hasn’t been good,” added Gallina, an
Italian who quit his job at the World Bank and came to the island with
his Cuban wife in 2012 as former President Raul Castro began opening
the economy to the private sector.

Hurricane Irma
[https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-irma-islands-20170909-story.html] hit
Cuba’s north coast hard in September 2017, causing widespread
flooding. Even though the government and private entrepreneurs made it
a priority to quickly clean up damage at tourist facilities, bookings
were canceled and the storm put a damper on the 2018 winter season.

That coupled with Trump’s moves
[https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-cuba-trump-tourism-20170616-story.html] has
sowed confusion, Gallina said. “In any market when you create
confusion, people are reluctant to come.”

His solution: Market more and diversify his customer base to include
more Europeans and Latin Americans.

“After a new regulation, people are afraid. They think it’s
illegal to go to Cuba,” agreed Camilo Condis, an outspoken advocate
for private entrepreneurship in Cuba.

It’s not illegal. While Americans aren’t supposed to engage in
vacations devoted solely to lounging on Cuban beaches, they can still
travel to the island if, according to State Department guidelines,
they engage in “activities intended to enhance contact with the
Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba or promote the Cuban
people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result
in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in

Many travelers, however, aren’t sure what that means.

“For me, tourism isn’t a good sector anymore,” said Condis, who
made his living by renting an apartment to visitors and working in a
private port-area Havana restaurant called El Figaro. This year, he
said, revenue at the restaurant, which sits along a street where
dozens of Cubans have opened private businesses, is about 10% of what
it was a year ago.

Now he plans to sell the apartment, quit his restaurant job and work
in construction.

Despite the Trump sanctions that have included placing a number of
hotels owned by the Cuban military on a prohibited list for Americans,
construction cranes tower over Havana neighborhoods near the sea, and
government-owned and joint venture hotel projects are moving forward.

Once shunned by the revolutionary government as bourgeois, tourism has
become one of Cuba’s most important generators of foreign exchange
since the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of
its subsidies to Cuba.

During the peak year of 2017, it brought in $3.2 billion.

This year, 372,857 Americans visited the island by air and sea through
June, ahead of last year’s 266,441, according to estimates by Cuban
economist Jose Luis Perello. A surge in cruise passengers before the
June restrictions accounted for much of the growth.

Perello said the change in U.S. policy meant 30,000 fewer cruise
passengers visited in June alone, and the Cuban government has
adjusted its goal of 5 million international visitors this year down
to 4.3 million. In 2018, there were 4.7 million international

In the euphoria after the United States and Cuba reestablished
diplomatic relations in 2015, many Cubans made decisions to renovate a
room in their homes or buy buildings to open a business, thinking the
steady stream of American visitors under the Obama administration
would continue and grow.

Hernandez said her family spent around $6,000 to build the restaurant
in Viñales, which is about a two-hour drive from Havana.

Laila Chabán, a young Cuban fashion designer who opened a clothing
store three months ago, also is feeling squeezed.

Chabán had been working in a clothing factory in Ecuador, but she
returned to the island in 2016 to start her own business.

But finding a building she and her mother could afford and renovating
its street-facing living room for Capicua, her store, took longer than

Capicua launched just before the new Trump travel sanctions. “I have
some good days; other days I get panic attacks,” said Chabán, who
was wearing jeans and a flirty red top of her own creation. “The
only consolation is the business is breaking even.”

But if things don’t pick up, she said, she’ll be lucky to hold on
for a year.

“It’s been chaos [since the cruises ended]. It’s been tragic for
a lot of people,” said freelance tour guide Zoila Alviles. “A lot
of my friends who work for tour agencies haven’t worked at all this

Within days of the new travel restrictions, some private taxi drivers
put their cars up for sale. Others who borrowed money to buy cars now
worry about making the payments.

“In the end, it’s all sorts of Cubans who are impacted, not just
the government or government officials,” said Giulio Ricci, a
University of Havana economist.

Even businesses not particularly dependent on American visitors say
they’ve been hit. Enrique Suarez, head chef and owner of the
Tocamadera gastropub in Havana’s fashionable Miramar neighborhood,
said affluent locals make up the bulk of the clientele in his 38-seat

Many people who live in Miramar have houses or apartments for rent to
visitors in Old Havana and with those earnings drying up, they are not
eating out as much, he said. “They were here two or three times a
week and now they’re not,” said Suarez.

Recent weeks have brought mixed news from the United States. A
bipartisan group introduced legislation in the House of
Representatives that would eliminate any restrictions on travel to
Cuba by U.S. citizens and legal residents. It would also end
prohibitions on travel-related banking transactions.

In the Senate, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), joined by 45 co-sponsors,
introduced a Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act

“The Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba is completely at
odds with its policies toward other countries,” said Leahy.
“Freedom to travel is a right. It is part of who we are as

But the U.S. State Department has instead added to its prohibited list
of Cuban businesses and organizations, including two more hotels
controlled by the Cuban military.

“The department remains committed to ensuring U.S. funds do not
directly support Cuba’s state security apparatus, which not only
violates the human rights of the Cuban people, but also exports this
repression to Venezuela to support the corrupt Maduro regime,” it

_[Mimi Whitefield is a special correspondent for the Los Angeles
Times. She is the former Cuba correspondent for the Miami Herald in
the 1990s and from 2011 to 2019.]_

	* [https://portside.org/node/20801/printable/print]







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