Cuba, caught in the US elections and pending the “Florida factor”

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Periodically converted into electoral ammunition, the island follows the US presidential elections with skepticism.

A good test of how far Donald Trump has gone to tighten the embargo on Cuba is to go for a drink with an American friend on the terrace of the stylish Gran Hotel Packard in Havana.

“Do you know that just by taking this rum (an old Santiago de Cuba) in this hotel can they stop me back to the US and fined 25,000 dollars? It’s a business that skyrocketed during the opening of the Obama years and has all but disappeared after Trump’s decision to close the door again in 2017.

The Great Packard Hotel is listed in the US list of 200 “restricted entities” in Cuba under the pretext that they are co-managed by the armed forces, in that case the Gaesa company, the result of an alliance with the Spanish Iberostar.

It was one of a battery of anti-Cuba measures designed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and other congressmen in Miami. Drinking a Cuban rum that rivals the Bacardi brand, whose owners have been powerful lobbyists in Miami and Washington for half a century, also exposes you to sanctions. Trump’s reinforced embargo has made life very difficult in Havana. 600,000 annual US visitors have been lost and the corresponding currencies.

But Trump has also not done the Americans visiting the island a favor on the thousands of Caribbean cruises that were allowed during that short-lived moment of understanding (between the summer of 2015 and the spring of 2017), or others who arrived in the 80 weekly flights from the US. Even before the pandemic, US flights had dropped to less than one a day and only to Havana. Now none arrive.

It’s not just illegal to stay at the Packard and dozens of other hotels. Marco Rubio’s blacklist prohibits buying a gift at the Casa de Abanicos in Havana, or at the famous hand-made tin soldiers shop on Calle Muralla. Nor does it allow you to buy a rose at the Wagner Garden florist. And from this week, buy cigars or rum to take home as a gift. Nor can Americans stay in government-owned establishments.

“When Obama was there, there was a fantastic boom; all this was full of americans, thousands of them; They came from everywhere: from Mississippi, Alabama, from California; and they told us how much they liked Cuba and how ashamed they felt for what Trump was doing; ”said a waiter at La Cocina de Esteban restaurant, serving old clothes while Billy Joel played in the background. What’s more: “Americans leave good tips; they know how to value work ”, he added.

By any but ideological criteria, opening Cuba to American tourism would be a mine of votes in the presidential elections, especially for the nostalgic Trump voter: in Havana he could take a ride in a 1954 Pontiac or Buick, watch a game baseball and staying in an authentic American deco hotel like the National. Havana offers an America that no longer exists in United States.

But Trump still believes that the very minority vote hawk in Miami it can be your passport for re-election. And his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, doesn’t dare to stray too far from the script of the so-called Florida factor. At least until after the elections. “Will Biden return to Obama policy? I don’t think you can hit the rewind button, ”Juan González, Latin America advisor for Biden’s campaign, said in a video conference Monday at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

Although the votes are few, President Trump He wants the juicy contributions of the old millionaires of the Cuban exile and their children. People like Mauricio Claver Carone, the new president of the Inter-American Development Bank, who in his days as a lobbyist in Miami specialized in recycling in the presidential and legislative campaigns the millions of dollars of federal money allocated for the defense of human rights in Cuba .

Trump has an advantage of 38 points in the segment of Cuban Americans in Miami, classified as conservative, according to a Miami Herald poll. With those voters, it is not convenient to measure the words. “Joe Biden is little more than a Castro-chavism puppet,” it is stated in a statement that the Trump electoral campaign has just sent to the Miami media.

Trump’s steroid embargo made a dent in tourism long before the Covid-19 pandemic, effectively managed in Cuba with 5,000 infected and 109 deaths in a country of 11.5 million (in the nearby Dominican Republic, with 11 million inhabitants, 106,000 infections and 2,000 deaths have been registered). Rubio’s measures have caused fuel shortages by sanctioning ships that bring supplies from Venezuela and other countries. Remittances sent from the US can no longer exceed $ 1,000 per quarter, and Western Union Bank cannot transfer money from third countries.

The reactivation of title three of the Helms Burton Act –which facilitates lawsuits against foreign companies that “traffic” in expropriated assets after the revolution– has created legal uncertainty and investments paralyzed. Banks in countries like Spain have been scared and already condition their loans to the requirements of US law, according to people who advise investors.

“Cuba is always an electoral issue in the United StatesNot only since the revolution but since 1823, when Quincy Adams developed the theory of ripe fruit, ”said Deputy Minister of Economy Johana Odriozola, referring to the plan of the sixth president of the United States to take over Cuba as soon as Spain left it. Two hundred years later, the fruit has not yet fallen, but Cuba continues to be an essential electoral issue. “Even in the Democratic primaries they did not stop talking about Cuba,” Odriozola said ironically.

The double whammy of sanctions and the pandemic has aggravated the economic crisis Cuban and it is feared that the shortage – already visible in queues in front of stores and gas stations in March – could worsen. But the Cuban government has responded with measures to strengthen exports and attract more investment in the tourism sector. A very important announcement last month was the depreciation of the peso and the creation of a single exchange rate.

“We are in dire need of expand exports because if they don’t give us credit, we have to generate our own foreign exchange, ”Odriozola said in an interview in Havana in March.


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