Cayman entrepreneur and chief agent for electric vehicles John Felder said he will meet U.S. Treasury Department officials “sooner rather than later” following reports that President Donald Trump is considering undoing Obama-era diplomatic and commercial openings to Cuba.
Some Cayman businesses, including the Marriott resort, Cayman Airways, the Cayman Islands Tourist Association and the Chamber of Commerce suggested curtailed U.S.-Cuba contacts could benefit Cayman, but reserved judgment.
A May 31 report by the New York Times, citing aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that President Trump was “considering reversing major pieces of the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba and reinstating limits on travel and commerce.”
The president, the report said, was “citing human rights abuses” to justify the new policy, which could be announced “as early as June.”
Mr. Felder, who in March sold to the Guyana embassy in Havana the first electric vehicle in Cuba, said legal advice indicated that President Trump’s move “was not really going to impact me with the embassies,” which he said was his major market in the island nation, but that the new private 3,000-acre Jibacoa development project had asked for five electric vehicles – “and that’s why we are going to talk to them [the Treasury Department] before we do anything.”
Through his Florida-based Premier Automotive Export subsidiary of Cayman Automotive, Mr. Felder sold the Guyanese a U.S.-made four-door Nissan Leaf under the terms of a four-year Department of Commerce license granted Jan. 9, the first to a U.S. car company in more than 50 years.
He plans to ship another two electric vehicles to the Guyana embassy, while discussing arrangements with eight more embassies and a leasing quote to the Mexican embassy.
The embassies’ diplomatic pouches,” he said, “mean I can continue to sell, and the lawyers don’t think it’s really going to go that far, but we will talk to Treasury before we do anything.” Among major U.S. investors in Cuba is the giant Starwood/Marriott hotel company, which in 2016 signed a deal under a Department of Commerce license similar to Mr. Felder’s, for three luxury properties in Havana.
Laura Skec, director of sales and marketing for the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, said the hotel had “not experienced any modification” on the hotel’s performance year-to-date since the commercial opening to Cuba.
“Should a break in relations cease commercial activity between the U.S. and Cuba in the near future, it would be unclear whether this would represent a benefit to our property,” she said.
Global Communications and Public Affairs spokeswoman Felicia McLemore for parent Marriott International, which also operates The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, indicated the company continues to observe the situation: “Cuba remains a desirable, exciting destination for many travelers. As for the possible proposals from the current U.S. administration, it’s premature for us to comment.”
Cayman Airways Chairman and CEO Fabian Whorms said the number of passengers transiting to the U.S. and Cuba through Cayman has declined significantly since Obama’s 2014 opening, resulting in agreements with U.S. airlines for 110 daily flights.
“If a situation were to arise (which would be highly speculative), where the abundance of direct service between the USA and Cuba was to cease or diminish, then those passengers originating in Cuba … may find our flights between Havana, Cayman and the USA once again, an attractive option,” benefitting CAL … and the local economy in general,” he said in an email.
President of the Cayman Islands Tourist Association Theresa Leacock-Broderick pointed out that visitors did not make an “either/or” choice between Cuba and Cayman, and advised caution.
“For most tourists, it is not a matter of choosing between vacationing in Cuba or Cayman. The Cayman Islands has and continues to differentiate our destination from other Caribbean Islands, and Cuba is no exception.
“Regardless of whether U.S. restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba continues to loosen … let’s wait, let’s watch and let’s see how this develops,” she said.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Wil Pineau was reluctant to comment, unsure how many of the Chamber’s more-then-700 members trade with Cuba, but that as a British Overseas Territory, Cayman remains largely insulated from actions by President Trump.
Some Cayman products and services which go through the U.S. to Cuba could be affected, but only modestly, he said.
Questioning the practical effects of a setback to U.S.-Cuba relations, Mr. Felder pointed to “the Marriott Corp., American Airlines, Spirit Air, Carnival Cruise Lines … they’re just some of the major corporations now operating in Cuba.
“Are you going to tell those guys to pull out?” he asked.