Obama ready to chop down decades-old barriers that have kept Americans
and their money out of Cuba
Associated Press March 12, 2016, at 3:11 a.m. + More
By JOSH LEDERMAN and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — On his history-making trip to Cuba, President Barack
Obama plans to chop down another set of barriers that for generations
kept Americans and their money out of the island they once dominated.
Getting Cuba to reopen to America is proving harder.
Hungry for dollars but wary of U.S. influence, Cuban President Raul
Castro’s government has taken only a few cautious steps to allow U.S.
commerce and tourism to return. Even as Obama’s administration prepares
to let more Americans travel and businesses operate in ways unimaginable
just two years ago, it’s unclear how far Cuba’s labyrinthine bureaucracy
and socialist ideals will bend.
It’s a critique of Obama’s peace-making with Cuba that has gained fresh
relevance ahead of his trip, which opponents say rewards a government
unwilling to significantly open its economy, let alone abandon
single-party government. When it comes to human rights and democracy,
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio says that since relations
were restored, “things are worse.”
None of that is stopping Obama from using his trip starting next weekend
— the first such visit in nearly 90 years — to try to push the
diplomatic relaunch past the point of no return before he leaves office.
In a bid to show growing momentum, his administration is preparing to
further ease restrictions and green-light projects by U.S. companies in
connection with the trip, according to a half-dozen individuals familiar
with the administration’s plans.
Starwood, the hotel chain whose brands include Sheraton and Westin, is
expected to get formal U.S. approval in the coming days, following
extensive conversations with Cuban and U.S. officials. The company has
applied for a license from Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign
Assets Control, which would allow it to operate in Cuba despite
The Connecticut-based chain has explored numerous possibilities that
include the famed Hotel Saratoga in central Havana, said the
individuals, who weren’t authorized to discuss the plans and requested
anonymity. Yet Cuba’s resistance to letting foreign companies build or
own property makes it more likely Starwood would manage existing hotels,
not build them.
Another hurdle: Foreign business can’t hire workers directly. Employees
work for a Cuban hiring agency that keeps much of their salaries, one
factor blamed for Cuban hotels’ infamously sub-standard food and
service. The U.S. hasn’t yet managed to get Cuba to announce it will
ease that policy.
For Cuba, any American footprint carries uncomfortable echoes of the
decades before its 1959 revolution, when American business and organized
crime worked hand-in-hand with U.S.-backed strongmen to dominate the
island’s economy and politics, often with brutal force. For old-school
Cuban officials, U.S. hotels, flights and cruise ships are not just new
business, but a direct ideological challenge to a system that sees
resistance to U.S. dominance in the region as part of its national mission.
“In Congress, there’s a lot of criticism from my Republican colleagues
about getting this or that before going down there,” said Rep. Peter
Welch, D-Vt., one of dozens of lawmakers joining Obama’s trip. “But the
big decision is, do you want to be engaged or not?”
A Marriott spokesman said that chain was also hoping for approval soon,
and its CEO, Arne Sorenson, was traveling in Obama’s delegation.
Carnival Cruise Line, which already has U.S. approval, said it expects
Cuban approval soon after months after waiting and plans to sail
starting May 1.
The Obama administration is also poised to remove another roadblock for
travelers, allowing Americans to travel independently for educational
purposes rather than in organized, group trips. Cuba travel experts say
U.S. travel to Cuba could rise another 20 percent this year with that
The White House declined to comment on any potential announcements
related to Cuba policy or Obama’s trip.
Source: Obama to chop down more Cuba barriers, but is Havana ready? – US