U.S. re-establishes relations with Cuba

Could impact Cayman’s tourism industry

U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba in an historic decision that could have far-reaching implications for the Cayman Islands’ tourism industry. 

“Isolation has not worked,” Obama said in remarks from the White House, declaring an end to America’s “outdated approach” to the communist island in a shift aimed at ending a half-century of Cold War enmity. 

As part of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments. The U.S. is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities.  

Tourist travel remains banned for now, but officials in the Cayman Islands acknowledged that Wednesday’s announcement increased the likelihood of Cuba opening up to U.S. tourists in the future. 

The prospect of a large competitor jurisdiction emerging on the doorstep of the United States has been troubling tourism industry chiefs for more than a decade. 

Ken Hydes, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said the relaxation of restrictions announced Wednesday could have implications for transit travel through Cayman. 

He said further steps toward opening up Cuba to American tourists would represent a more fundamental change in the landscape for Caribbean tourism. 

“It is a developing situation and one that we in Cayman will need to monitor closely. Local stakeholders will need to discuss how we position ourselves, in light of this, to maximize the opportunities that arise and mitigate the risk.” 

He said Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. and the combination of Caribbean beaches, history and culture would likely make it an attractive destination to American tourists. He expects the cruise industry to move quickly to establish a presence in Cuba if the tourism ban is lifted. But he believes Cayman is well-positioned to retain its position in the market and could even benefit from “dual destination” travel opportunities.  

Licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits. 

The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror. 

As Obama made the historic announcement, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana. He said that while profound differences remain between the two nations in such areas as human rights and foreign policy, they must learn to live with those differences “in a civilized manner.” 

Obama’s action marked an abrupt use of U.S. executive authority. However, he cannot unilaterally end the long-standing U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was passed by Congress and would require action from lawmakers to overturn. 

Wednesday’s announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba, including clandestine meetings in Canada and the Vatican and personal involvement from Pope Francis. The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a U.S. spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida. 

Obama said Gross’s five-year imprisonment had been a major obstacle in normalizing relations. Gross arrived at an American military base just outside Washington Wednesday morning, accompanied by his wife and a handful of U.S. lawmakers. He went immediately into a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. 

Obama said he continued to have serious concerns about Cuba’s human rights record but did not believe the current American policy toward the island was advancing efforts to change the government’s behavior. 

“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” he said. 

There remains a divide on Capitol Hill over U.S. policy toward Cuba. While some lawmakers say the embargo is outdated, others say it’s necessary as long as Cuba refuses to reform its political system and improve its human rights record. 

© 2014, Associated Press


Cayman Compass reporter James Whittaker contributed to this article. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Do you really think that Cubans want to live in the USA or anywhere else? No, Cubans want to be like everyone else but they want this to be in Cuba. Cubans adore their president and they love their country. Cuba has over eleven million people and every one who is willing wants a job. Their rules and laws are very different from the outside world, so lets not anyone think that they can go there and change almost sixty years of ruling. No they won’t, they will get the door slammed on them again.

  2. Thrilled and grateful for the lifting of embargo and sanctions on our next door neighbor, Cuba! I lived just south of Cuba (on a British isle) for 26 years and watched the desperate migrants arriving weekly on our shores and reefs, being refitted with fuel, food, water, clothing, medical care by generous local people, and then being sent on their way in their jerry-built rickety boats, back to Cuba or on to Central America. Though I was a young woman when Fidel and Che came down from the Sierra Maestra and made revolution, and when Castro stayed at the Hotel Teresa in Harlem in NYC, I never could understand why a Communist Cuba (with the strange corner of Guantanamo Bay leased from the Cubans 100 years ago for 2,000 a year, as a refueling (coal!) station for the US Navy- the US rent checks for which were never cashed by Castro) was any kind of threat to American democracy, the Mariel Boatlift notwithstanding. Communism is obsolescent in China, and down the drain except for the peculiar and deadly dictatorship in North Korea. Hopefully another legacy of democracy (perhaps not President Obama’s legacy, but our next President’s) will occur when the two Koreas unite as the two Germany’s united after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. President Obama’s great legacy will include a Cuba Libre! How blessed is this New Year!

  3. Looks like we will soon be faced with some real competition for the US tourist dollars.

    Now more than ever before we need to be striving to be an attractive place to those tourists. And this of course means that tourists should feel safe here.

  4. So isolation and sunctions did not work with Cuba but it will with Russia? Hypocrites.
    Nearly pristine ecosystem will most certainly quickly disappear with the end of embargo. Unless Cubans are smart enough to treasure their golden egg and use it to their advantage. Cuba is probably the only country in the world left untouched by chemical poisoning. Watch The Accidental Eden PBS documentary.
    The Cayman Islands could have easily chosen to be a boutique tourist destination, charging a premium, but they have decided to cater to Walmart customers who have no idea what pristine ecosystem is. Just look at all plastic from straws to cups littering its beaches. Name just one hotel that is ecofriendly and only uses biodegradable products.

  5. Ken Hydes is living in cloud cuckoo land if he believes opening up Cuba to US tourism will do anything but kill the Cayman Islands.

    The dual destination concept isn’t going to work simply because you can already do that without even leaving Cuba. I mean realistically who wants to visit George Town after seeing Havana?

    European and Canadian travel companies already have millions invested in Cuba and when I was last there it was clear moves were already underway for a massive expansion of the tourism industry when US funds became available.

    Do you seriously think there’s going to be any knock on benefits for us from that investment?

  6. I believe we should encourage persons to visit Cuba, and do not discourage anyone who wants to invest there. Havana is just the pretty icing on the cake. So I would suggest the only way to really enjoy the cake is to get beneath the icing, correct?.
    Cuba has so much untouched beauty, that I have never seen any where else in places I have travelled, and I am positive the Government will not want the outside world to destroy it.
    Life is all about taking chances an being adventuresome.

  7. David I would like to know why it is that you and a few others always resort to calling people names on the media when you blog. Why should you express that Ken Hydes is living in cloud cuckoo. If someone had said that about your woman would you like it? It is people like you that are causing hate between the Caymanians and foreigners.
    For Pete’s sake try to agree to disagree instead of letting everyone know how unhappy you are.

Comments are closed.