Even as President Obama’s decision to make it easier to travel to Cuba from the United States gains support among Latin American leaders, businesses of all sorts are lining up to make the most of the new policy.
The Obama administration lifted restrictions in March on family travel to Cuba, allowing Americans with family in Cuba to visit once a year, stay as long as they want and spend up to $179 a day, according to news media reports.
Under President Bush, family visits to Cuba had been permitted only once every three years.
Meanwhile, Cuba’s Latin American and Caribbean neighbors are opening doors and advocating for their communist neighbor.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called on the United States to rethink its policy toward Cuba, the Associated Press reports. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues to push Cuba’s cause.
The Voice of America reported that Costa Rica has just restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, and that El Salvador’s president-elect Mauricio Funes intends to follow suit when he takes office in June.
Latin leaders are expected to press President Obama to lift U.S. sanctions against Cuba when he attends the fifth Summit of the America to be held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in mid-April, according to the Chinese government’s Xinhau news agency.
Already, Cuban-Americans are making their travel plans.
The Miami Herald reports that Florida travel agencies are busy booking flights to Havana, and fielding thousands of phone calls from people looking into chartered visits to Cuba.
And states in the American south are already revving up for trade with the island-nation.
The Charlestone Regional Business Journal noted on a new conference, “Opportunities in Cuba for South Carolina Businesses,” upcoming for mid-April.
The Montgomery Advertiser wrote about similar interests in Alabama, where tourism, agricultural and port officials see a lot of economic potential for their state if relations are restored.
Cuba itself is already gearing up for the change. Inter Press Service reported that Cuba’s tourism industry, already up five percent from the same period last year, anticipates an additional boost — perhaps by as many as one million visitors in the first year alone.
“College of Charleston host’s conference on business opportunities in Cuba”
Charleston Regional Business Journal, March 23, 2009
“State eyes Cuba Trade”
Montgomery Advertiser, March 16, 2009
“Cuba: Big Hopes for Tourism Industry”
Inter Press Service, March 20, 2009
“Cuba agrees to restore ties with Costa Rica”
Voice of America (U.S. Congress funded), March 29, 2009
“Obama administration eases Cuban travel restrictions”
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“Brazil’s President to seek a change in U.S. approach”
The Washington Post, March 13, 2009
“Latin American countries normalize ties with Cuba”
Xinhau (Chinese government), March 23, 2009
“Brazil President calls on US to end Cuba embargo”
Associated Press, March 16, 2009