Cuba libre: The peril and the promise

The White House’s pivot on policy toward Havana has engendered much concern in the Cayman Islands about how a future deluge of American dollars and visitors into Cuba will impact our tiny territory’s economy, particularly in the tourism sector.

There are good reasons for that.

At the same time (and this may seem counterintuitive), the potential thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has unleashed a flood of another sort, and in another direction, of U.S.-bound Cuban migrants, for whom, apparently, the prospects of an economic renaissance are too distant and dim to warrant their remaining in Cuba a single day longer.

There are good reasons for that, too.

Put succinctly, Cuba is a land of promise, and of peril.

At this point, nobody in Cayman (or, for that matter, Washington or Havana) can possibly predict the trajectory of U.S. relations with Cuba or plot the course of Cuba’s development, much less prepare for all the ramifications those unknowns may have on our fair islands. That, however, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be planning. Indeed, it might behoove many in Cayman’s business community to make Cuba their entrepreneurial obsession.

First, consider what Cuba is, and what it could be. Our controversial Communist neighbor to the north comprises more than 11 million people living in an insular area of more than 42,000 square miles, including some of the most beautiful, pristine and biologically diverse coastlines, plains and mountains in the world. White sand beaches, rugged terrain, historic architecture — Cuba presents tourists with all of those allurements, in addition to its distinctive culture and low prices; and, for Yankees, comes gift-wrapped in mystery, novelty and nostalgia for the pre-Castro era when Cuba was America’s “Pleasure Island.”

While Cuba has been crushed, financially speaking, over the decades by its domestic policies and the U.S.-imposed economic embargo, it would only require the most manageable of means (money and labor) to transform Cuba into a tourism mecca worthy of the nation’s appellation “La Perla de Las Antillas,” in English, “Pearl of the Antilles.”

Truly, Cuba is the unpolished jewel of the Caribbean.

If Cuba’s economic outlook is so rosy, though, then why have more than 75 Cuban migrants passed through or landed in Cayman Brac in the past week, as part of a recent Caribbean-wide surge in detected Cuban defectors?

Why — just when Cuba is purportedly on the cusp of an economic breakthrough — are so many risking their lives to unforgiving seas in ramshackle craft, for hopes that are uncertain at best?

The short answer is, though the hopes abroad are uncertain, at home they are nonexistent. Though Cayman cannot even “make weight” to compete in the same class with Cuba, much less go toe-to-toe for tourists, and despite all of Cuba’s apparent advantages of size and geography, Cayman (and other democracies) holds the ultimate trump card: personal freedom.

It is not the U.S. embargo, or any foreign policy, that has shaped the Cuba of today (for good and for bad); it is the hegemonic rule of Cuba’s Communist Party led by Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul.

As for the Cuba of tomorrow, that remains to be formed. One thing, though, is certain: Cuba will only be as “open” as its government allows it to be.

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  1. Cubans need startup capital, once that happens in a couple of years businesses will flow. Opportunities for foreigners who do not have ties to Cuba will have to be guaranteed by Gov’t. Otherwise there will be a lot of scams and money gone.
    If the Gov’t guarantee businesses laws that will protect the businesses then there will be no problem.
    Real estate will be where the initial demand will start then all the services the supply.
    But one thing that a lot of people in Cuba don’t realize is that things will change. The haves and the have nots will grow. There will be a division of labour that they didn’t include in their calculations. A doctor gets paid more then a store clerk. So will it really be for the masses? No . It will be for the professional, the entrepreneur, the ambitious, etc. Not the young people partying all night and walking around in the day that don’t want to work. So Cubans welcome to Capitalism.

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  2. Cuba will become as capitalistic as Today’s Russia.

    Raul/Castro will setup all of their cronies at top positions of all enterprises. If you don’t toe the line, you will end up in jail for some crime, Putin style. and Cuban will remain largely poor for the coming future as there wasn’t a single concession made by the Obama Administration. The USA surrendered 100%, with no claim to prior seized assets, no changes at all in the Castro regime, no basic human rights changes, no releasing of political prisoners. And now they are making more demands so that Cuba will allow the USA to normalize relations such as turning over Guantanamo bay.

    it’s a total ankle grab by the USA.

    Sure you will have some Cuban’s get rich, likely a mafia will be created via the Castro cronies just like what happened in Russia with the sudden inflow of cash, because none of the root communism has changed which has starved Cubans for decades. Cuba always had access to the entire world for trade and prosperity. The embargo isn’t what starved Cubans and that is not changing any time soon.

    So yes Americans will now be officially allowed to travel there, and pay for an fix overpriced CUC or equivalent which almost all of its value will go to continue supporting the current communist/socialist regime well after Raul is gone.

    the only question is who will be the next Cuban Putin.

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  3. In the last month there has been hundreds of articles written about the Obama Administrations thawing of relations with Cuba. While there are pro and con arguments about the move, one point is clear, change is on the way. One of the last major hurdles has been overcome and that was the release of the 53 political prisoners which occurred 3 weeks ago. While the impact on the tourism industry in Grand Cayman is uncertain at this time, those in charge must be in the planning stages and have counter action plans in place. Competition is not bad for business, it’s great for business because it keeps you on your toes to stay ahead and not get caught napping.

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  4. Yes, there will be some issues that need to be resolved and they will be. Whether or not US citizens visit this beautiful country, problems will always remain for the have nots just as it does in the Caymans or the US. I, for one, am very much looking forward to visiting this paradise as I’m sure many are. Grand Cayman is a bit raggedy now. Crime, dump pollution, trash and overly inflated prices. Goodbye Cayman.

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  5. First a disclaimer, I have never been to Cuba. But I have seen a number of the boats the Cuban boat people use to travel the open sea and if you ever see one up close, it will break your heart.
    To travel in squalor in a boat you wouldn’t want to cross North Sound in for the 150 miles from Cuba to Grand Cayman in blue water is mind numbing.
    I confess that I don’t understand but people taking such risks to leave a place gives me pause.

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  6. Despite all Raul’s latest posturing about Gitmo you can bet your ass that the most important question in the current negotiations is cuantos? That’s what happened in the Soviet Union in the early 90s but then it was skolco? In the end it’s money that will talk not human rights and you can forget Cuba producing another Putin – once American money starts pouring in whoever runs the country will be bought and paid for by the USA.

    Regardless of how open Cuba becomes or doesn’t become there’s already one inescapable fact of life – tourists from Canada, the UK and Europe are flocking there in droves.

    Right now 10 days all inclusive with Virgin flights from London is being advertised in the UK for GBP899 per person. Contrast that with taking flights only on BA into ORIA at GBP915. Then factor those rates into the day when tourists can fly freely from the USA to Cuba. The Cayman Islands cannot compete with that.

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  7. Jack, I’ve not only visited Cuba but also know Cubans in the USA and have met some of the ‘boat people’ who pass through the Cayman Islands.

    There’s a popular mythology that the people leaving Cuba are pathetic refugees or asylum seekers who face prison or even death if they are returned home.

    It’s bull. They’re petty criminals and economic migrants trying to reach the USA. They’re not escaping from anything, in fact many of those detained by Immigration and flown back to Cuba simply turn up here again a few months later.

    Next time one of these boats comes by take a good, hard look at the occupants. All the ones I’ve encountered are young, fit and male. In the past I’ve dealt with a lot of genuine refugees and the Cubans definitely don’t fit the profile.

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