Revolutionary Road
Business Traveler|April 2017

The Communist country of Cuba is opening up to free 

Jenny Southan

I am sitting in the back of a vintage Chevrolet, rumba playing on the radio. A policeman has stopped cars from moving in any direction and, as the minutes tick by, I wonder what the delay is. I try to download a data package for my iPhone while I wait, but there’s no 3G in the country.

Looking up, I see a black car cruise past with four men in army fatigues inside, then a van with the sliding door open. Right there, in full view, is Fidel Castro. A gaunt figure in a white jacket and snowy beard, the 90-year-old revolutionary is unmistakable. “Fidel!” my driver exclaims. And then he is gone.

Political Wrangling

In March 2016, Barack Obama became the first US president since 1928 to visit Cuba, located only 90 miles across the water from Florida. He was welcomed by Fidel’s younger brother, Raul, who took power in 2008. After years of hostility between the seat of global capitalism and one of the last vestiges of Marxist-Leninist socialism, Obama promised the initial easing – followed by the wholesale lifting – of its trade embargo on the Caribbean island, in place since 1960.

Until recently, people from the US – including Cuban migrants – were unable to travel to the island. While tourism is still prohibited, there are now 12 categories for authorized travel including “family visits” and “professional research and meetings.” In August, US airlines were given approval to start flying to Havana, with American Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue and United among those set to launch routes.

Up until Nov. 9, when Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States, progress was unfolding. Now things are a little more uncertain as to the future direction of this fragile relationship between the two nations. Weeks before the election Trump had declared that he would reverse the concessions Obama had granted “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”

Monica Lopez, who worked for the British embassy for 18 years and is now head of practice at Cuban business relations consultancy Cognicion, offers some reassurance: “I am not particularly concerned by the election of Donald Trump when it comes to embargo regulations. Many of the changes are practically irreversible and I trust that he is, above all, a businessman who can see the potential of Cuba and take into account the increased interest of US companies.”

Paying It Forward

Havana is positioned on the north coast of the 42,500-square-mile island, great waves crashing into the Malecon promenade that faces the Straits of Florida. Although it has its own harbor, a new deep-water mega-port is being built in Mariel, 27 miles west of the city. A special economic zone will also be set up here, with the first international companies moving in at the start of 2016. It is forecast to create 70,000 jobs.

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