Saturday, June 17, 2017

President Trump’s ballyhooed Cuba travel policy is topsy-turvy

President Trump's ballyhooed Cuba travel policy is topsy-turvy

My first reaction to President Donald Trump's ballyhooed Cuba policy was
to message my millennial American daughter to let her know that she can
go ahead with her plans to visit Havana: "You can book your cruise."

Turns out the supposedly big reversal of President Barack Obama's
engagement policy — instigated by Cuban Americans Sen. Marco Rubio and
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart — exempts the airline and cruise ship industries,
which stood to lose $3.5 billion from a rollback of Treasury Department
regulations that allow them to add Cuba ports of call to their Caribbean

Just don't call cruising "tourism." Don't sit on the beach. But sail
away to the otherwise forbidden island!

It's the only clear part of the Trump-Rubio-Diaz-Balart travel policy
outlined in an eight-page directive obtained by the Miami Herald.

The rest is topsy-turvy.

Trump and his posse of hard-line helpers ended the real people-to-people
engagement — that of independent American travelers who stay in Airbnb
homes and apartments or casas particulares, dine in private paladares
all over the island, visit independent artists and cuentapropistas on
their own, and get to know Cubans one on one. This, to force Americans
to travel in groups organized by tour operators or organizations
approved by the Treasury Department.

The reason given at a briefing: Independent travel "is a category ripe
for abuse," a Trump administration official said, a way to ensure that
travelers are "not sitting on the beach."

This makes no sense.

The policy seems to work against the stated purpose of restricting the
flow of money to the Cuban military, which owns 60 percent of the
state-run tourism through its GAESA enterprise. When you require
travelers to go through tour companies, you're sending the business to
state-run hotels and state-run institutions. I don't see value other
than handing over a Cuba travel monopoly to U.S. tour operators.

"Anyone who has been to Cuba in the last 50 years knows that forcing US
travelers to go in tour groups is a guaranteed way to hurt
entrepreneurs," tweeted Tomas Bilbao, managing director of Avila
Strategies. "Cuban Airbnb's can't accommodate group tours... Individual
travelers are [the] lifeblood of entrepreneurs."

You can also tell policymakers haven't studied the itineraries of travel
operators and organizations. They take people to state institutions,
visit official touristy areas, use official tour guides, and carry on
cultural exchanges with Cubans who are state-approved. And they can't
supervise their travelers around the clock to make sure nobody runs off
to sit on the beach or dip their feet in enemy water.

Such control might help streamline the Big Brother work of the Treasury
Department, which will audit itineraries from now on instead on relying
on the Obama-era honor system that allowed people more open engagement
under the 12 categories of permitted travel. And it might help with our
trusty Homeland Security at the airport when they question you on
arrival ... and maybe test your toes for any trace of salt.

This policy is window dressing, a way for Trump to save face with Bay of
Pigs veterans and his Cuban-American supporters, to whom he promised "a
better deal" than President Obama's.

There's no reversal of Obama's restoration of relations and engagement
policy. President Trump's fake indignation with his predecessor's Cuba
policy didn't go anywhere. He even kept in place the controversial rum &
cigar policy. You can't swim but you can smoke and drink — and bring
back with you all you can carry.

Like his failure to improve healthcare, Trump's clumsy political
maneuver doesn't address the laundry list of real issues. It's not an
improvement. Trump added bureaucracy and confusing regulation (so
un-Republican) to Obama's clever but imperfect American invasion. He
rewarded Rubio and Diaz-Balart for their support in troubled times — and
called it new Cuba policy.

The Trump camp insists that this document is supposed to encourage the
Cuban people to take over the economy and clamor for political change,
while the prohibition to do business with GAESA "boxes in" the regime.
Just like magic, and because Trump says so, political prisoners will be
freed, free and fair elections will be held and wealth will rise.

But it's hardly inspiring democracy and setting an example on human
rights when a president takes away from Americans their prized right to
travel independently.

Fabiola Santiago:, @fabiolasantiago

Source: President Trump's new Cuba travel policy ends independent travel
for Americans | Miami Herald -

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