Wickham: U.S. misses out on Cuba investment
DeWayne Wickham, 5:49 p.m. EDT May 26, 2014
Let's hope Chamber of Commerce visit this week helps end embargo.
HAVANA — Rosa Grillo arrived at the Christopher Columbus Cemetery
clutching three small bouquets of flowers and the jagged bottoms of
three water bottles she had turned into vases. The flowers were for the
Cuban grandmother, and namesake, she never met.
Grillo, the operator of a small public relations firm in Silver Spring,
Md., had come to this sprawling burial ground in the Vedado section of
Cuba's capital, the final resting place for more than 2.5 million
people, to honor the wishes of her mother, who died in 2003.
In the years since a Fidel Castro-led revolution installed a communist
government here, access to this place for Americans has been held
hostage to the ups and downs of U.S. policy toward this forbidden land.
Nothing symbolizes the madness of the longstanding rift between the
United States and Cuba more than the constantly changing rules that
govern the ability of Americans to travel to this island, which at its
closest point is just 90 miles from the southern tip of Florida.
"My mother cried for years for home," Grillo, who has two brothers, told
me. "She wanted to bring us here, but she either couldn't get money to
come or the clearance from one government or the other."
Recently, travel between the USA and Cuba has gotten easier. Shortly
after taking office, President Obama loosened the travel ban. Obama
removed all restrictions of travel by Cuban Americans to this island and
expanded opportunities for other Americans to come here. Last year, Cuba
stopped requiring its citizens to get an exit visa to leave the country.
But Grillo, 59, worries that these positive changes will be rolled back
before she can afford to return with her daughter, who has yet to visit
their ancestral homeland. And she has good reason to worry.
Since 1977, when President Carter ended the first travel ban, the
freedom of Americans to travel to Cuba has been a political roller
coaster ride — with the restrictions loosening and tightening nearly
every time the Oval Office changed hands. During this time, Cuba was
slow to lift the limitations on foreign travel by its citizens.
"I think both governments have done stupid things. But they need to stop
this squabbling and respect each other — and the U.S. needs to end the
embargo," Grillo said. While she now can visit Cuba as often as she
wants, Grillo doesn't understand why other Americans don't have the same
freedom to travel to Cuba.
And neither do I.
The U.S. travel restrictions and embargo against Cuba have morphed into
a blockade against U.S. businesses that ought to be this island's
leading economic partners. Instead, Spanish companies are building many
of the hotels that are a part of Cuba's surging tourism industry. Most
of the new cars on the streets of Havana are being built in China, not
Detroit. Last year, a British company signed a contract to build a golf
course resort in Cuba, complete with condos and a hotel. Firms from
Canada, Spain and China are competing for a chance to build some of the
15 other golf resortsthat Cuban tourism officials envision across the
All this might explain why a U.S. Chamber of Commerce delegation will
visit Cuba this week.
The strong argument against pumping money into Cuba's economy
disappeared when Cuban Americans were allowed to travel to the Caribbean
island as often as they want and take an unlimited amount of money there.
Now it's time for a sensible policy, one that will make Rosa Grillo happy.
DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University's School of Global
Journalism and Communication, writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.
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