Today’s Editorial February 12: Cuba restrictions could be lifted

Every few years in the United States some federally elected politician introduces a bill to end the ban to Cuba travel for US citizens.

And every year the bills or amendments fail in the face of veto threats.

Another bipartisan bill that would open the door to unfettered travel to Cuba was presented in Congress last week, but this time the measure may get a wide nod of approval.

Relations between Cuba and the United States soured in 1962 when the United States, in retaliation to Cuba’s expropriation of properties of United Statescitizens and corporations, adopted the United States Embargo against Cuba. The embargo became law in 1992 in an effort to force democracy in Cuba. In 1996 the Helms-Burton Act further restricted United States citizens from doing business in or with Cuba and in 1999 US President Bill Clinton modified the trade embargo requiring foreign subsidiaries of US companies top trading with Cuba.

Under President Bush, Cuban Americans could send up to $300 in cash every three months to family and friends in Cuba and were allowed to visit once every three years. Bush also tightened restrictions on visits to Cuba by academics, students and religious groups.

Despite the trade embargo, the United States is the seventh largest exporter to Cuba.

But United States citizens who travel to Cuba without permission have been and are faced with prosecution when they return to the States

With the election of President Barack Obama in November the rules of the US/Cuba game could easily be changed.

Obama said during his campaign that he would roll back travel restrictions to Cuba. While Obama wasn’t clear whether he would roll back Bush’s restriction against Americans with no family visiting Cuba, his rhetoric makes it clear that he is sympathetic to easing some of the burden of Cuba travel.

If the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act does get enough support and isn’t vetoed by Obama, the Cayman Islands will suffer.

Eighty per cent of our visitors come from the United States. It’s a good bet that many who are attracted to our shores would leave us like a scorned lover and seek out what was once forbidden and in their minds exotic – Cuba.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act could mean doom and gloom to Cayman’s tourism product.

It’s a good bet Cuba is going to attract a majority of the cruise ships that now come to the Cayman Islands.

Cruising in the Caribbean is losing its appeal anyway. The Mediterranean is quickly becoming the cruise ship destination of choice.

Too, the cruise ship tourists who come to our shores aren’t dripping with disposable income to leave for our coffers. In 2007 cruisers to the Cayman Islands spent an average of $53.50 while on our shores. We would bet that number fell in 2008 and will continue to fall this year.

What we need to do is focus on high-end stayover tourism and offer tourists what only we can – all things Caymanian.