Saturday, November 26, 2016

Trump cloud hangs over Cuba

Trump cloud hangs over Cuba
BY MELANIE ZANONA - 11/25/16 04:25 PM EST

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the fate of U.S. flights to Cuba.

President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to reverse President Obama's
efforts to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, but it's unclear
whether the businessman wants to halt commercial flights to the island

Cuba hard-liners in Congress expect Trump to ground flights along with
rolling back other regulatory changes. Some experts, however, say it
won't be easy for him to undo some of the changes that have garnered
popular and corporate support at home.
Major U.S. airlines, which invested significant time and resources
competing for a limited number of routes, have already started flying to
Cuba. And a number of businesses and hotels have begun popping up on the
island in anticipation of a travel boom.

"It's not going to be easy to all the sudden say, 'that's illegal,' "
said Madeleine Russak, communications director for Engage Cuba.

As part of a push to normalize relations with Cuba, Obama has reopened
the embassies in Havana and Washington, removed Cuba from a list of
state terror sponsors and changed the U.S. regulatory framework towards

A major milestone in Obama's effort was resuming scheduled air service
between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in 50 years.

Commercial flights began taking off in August, with direct flights to
Havana — Cuba's capital and most popular destination — scheduled to
start next week.

U.S. tourism to the island is still banned. The new flight routes only
open up travel for family visits, official U.S. government business,
foreign governments, journalistic activity, professional research,
educational activities, religious activities, public performances,
humanitarian projects and certain authorized export transactions.

Trump said in September 2015 that opening up Cuba was "fine," though he
thought that we should have gotten a better deal, according to CNN. The
real estate mogul also told CNN that he would consider opening a hotel
in Cuba.

But Trump took a more hard-line stance when he campaigned in Florida, a
critical swing state, a few months ago.

"All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime
were done with executive order, which means the next president can
reverse them. And that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets
our demands," Trump said.

Trump's transition team did not return a request for comment about
whether he intends to tighten Cuba travel restrictions. The issue was
not mentioned in a video of Trump outlining the executive actions he
could pursue within his first 100 days in office.

But Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a vocal opponent of lifting the
embargo, told reporters he expects all of Obama's Cuba policies to be
undone, including flights to Cuba. "I expect it to happen pronto," he said.

Diaz-Balart, like other critics, believes that Cuba travel will enrich
the Castro government despite its history of human rights abuses.

He added that it's easy to travel to Cuba for tourism purposes, because
"you just literally have to check off a box" that says otherwise.

"The next administration is going to follow the law. And that's all that
this takes," he said.

John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
said it would be fairly easy for Trump to end commercial flights to
Cuba. The deal that reestablished air service between the two countries
was a non-binding arrangement, not a treaty, meaning either the U.S. or
Cuba could back out.

But he warned that there may be legal repercussions because of the
deep-rooted commercial interests in the island. Any effort to suspend or
reduce flights is sure to face fierce pushback from the airline industry.

"They could go to court and say, 'we implemented services, we invested
shareholders funds based upon on good faith efforts. And if you're now
going to disrupt that, we're either going to seek to prevent you from
doing so, or going to seek damages,'" Kavulich said.

A group representing most of the nation's major airlines emphasized that
"it would be premature to speculate about specific policy initiatives."

"What we can say is that our members are accustomed to serving new and
emerging markets around the world and we remain committed to working
with government officials in both the U.S. and Cuba to ensure an
adequate framework is in place to help facilitate the movement of people
and goods between our two nations," said Vaughn Jennings, managing
director of government and regulatory communications for Airlines for

Russak of Engage Cuba points out that Trump ran on a pro-business
platform, and allowing commercial air travel to Cuba would be in lock
step with that campaign message.

"Mr. Trump says the government should be run like a business, and
there's no business in the world that would continue a failed strategy
for 55 years," Russak said. "Cuba is a growing market with tremendous
investment opportunities. We're hopeful that as a businessman, he
recognizes those opportunities."

There is also some evidence that the GOP may be warming to the idea of
allowing tourism to Cuba.

The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted, by voice vote, an amendment
to a fiscal 2017 spending bill that would lift the travel ban.

A stand-alone measure from Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Jerry
Moran (R-Kan.) to lift Cuban travel restrictions has 51 cosponsors,
while a companion bill in the House garnered 130 cosponsors.

"These changes are widely popular in the electorate, and support is
growing across the country and in Congress," Russak said.

But there is still staunch opposition in the Republican-led Congress,
including from prominent lawmakers like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and
Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy
Advocates and an outspoken Cuba critic, was recently added to Trump's
transition team, adding further uncertainty to the president elect's
Cuba plans.

Kavulich, however, thinks the most likely scenario is that Trump doesn't
suspend flights, but instead opts to take more enforcement action
against those trying to travel under one of the 12 permissible categories.

"Trump will be more reactive than proactive," Kavulich said. "If Cuba
can lay low and not make any provocative statements or take a
provocative action, there might not be a reaction" from Trump.

Source: Trump cloud hangs over Cuba | TheHill -

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