Thursday, April 21, 2016

Carnival Is A Cuba Cautionary Tale: It's Not About Business. It's About Politics

Carnival Is A Cuba Cautionary Tale: It's Not About Business. It's About


Does the Carnival Corporation know something the rest of us don't?

Because if it doesn't, its Fathom cruise ship may not be heading to Cuba
for a long time.

American businessmen, lawyers and government officials – in their
eagerness to make hay from the normalization of U.S.-Cuba ties – too
often forget a paramount rule about striking deals with communist Cuba:

It's not the economy, stupid. It's politics, both there and here.

Last year, Miami-based Carnival arranged to have its Fathom brand run
cruises from PortMiami to Cuban harbors at Havana, Cienfuegos and
Santiago de Cuba. It's due to start them May 1, in less than two weeks.

But everyone seemed to downplay, forget or ignore an odd and obscure
Cuban immigration policy that bars anyone born in Cuba from entering or
leaving the island by ship.

As a Cuban Foreign Ministry official explained to me last month in
Havana, the rule is meant to discourage Cubans from making potentially
deadly raft odysseys to the U.S.

Yet it also applies to Cuban-born people now living in the U.S.

Could that be one of Havana's little ways of poking Cuban exiles in the eye?

Gosh, why would anyone assume that? The revolution has only been calling
exiles gusanos, or worms, for more than half a century. Welcome to Cuba,

And was that poke bound to irk Cuban-Americans once they tried to book
passage on the Fathom cruises and found out they were gusanos-non-grata?

Gosh, do you think? Exiles have only been cursing the revolution since
1959. Welcome to Miami, Carnival – oh, wait, you've been headquartered
here since 1972.

After Cuban-Americans here loudly protested – and even got support from
Secretary of State John Kerry – the cruise line announced this week it
will delay Cuba voyages until Havana changes the policy. Carnival said
it's "optimistic Cuba will treat travelers with Fathom the same as air
charters today."

But if you think that's going to happen any time soon, maybe you'll also
believe Cuban President Raúl Castro is retiring to a Collins Avenue
condo when he leaves office in 2018.

For Cuba to nix the no-exiles-by-sea rule now would look like
capitulation to Miami and U.S. capitalism. If the past is any guide,
that's an affront to revolutionary pride that Castro and comrades will
never allow.

As I said, perhaps Carnival has been told a rule reversal is imminent.
Perhaps Cuba has decided that all the hard cruise currency flowing from
docking fees, supplies purchases and disembarking passengers trumps the
thought of giving up political points to the worms.

Maybe it is about the economy after all. If so, I'll be the first to
call myself stupid.


But anyone who just watched the Cuban Communist Party Congress that
ended yesterday would guess Havana is in no mood to yield to los
yanquis. The party's hardliners spent a lot of time grousing about
President Obama's historic visit there last month, when he publicly
urged them to adopt more democratic and economic change.

In response, they appeared to rein in any reforms that might expand
political rights or the private sector – despite Castro's warning that
Cuba's moribund economy is stuck in an "obsolete mentality."

Communist continuity became their mantra. They rolled in 89-year-old
founding father Fidel Castro to declare that "the ideas of the Cuban
communists will remain" even though "this might be one of the last
times" he addresses them.

It was enough to make any Cuban communist shed a tear and think about
victory at the Bay of Pigs instead of revenue at Havana Harbor.

Ergo the advisory that if you want to sign contracts in Cuba, you need
more political savvy than business acumen. I can't count the number of
times in the past 16 months that U.S. dealmakers have returned from
Havana and given me sound bites like:

"It's more useful there to know political science than computer science."

"Offering a better deal than your competitor is not their major motivation."

"I recommend you be a diplomat more than a dealmaker."

Had Carnival, the Obama Administration and the Castro government done
some patient negotiating last year – the kind that yielded normalization
in the first place – Cuba might have dropped the maritime rule, quietly,
with no one even knowing.

But now? I hope Carnival's bet is right. I'm expecting it's wrong.

Source: Carnival Is A Cuba Cautionary Tale: It's Not About Business.
It's About Politics | WLRN -

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