I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what may happen to the Cuba Travel Industry after the U.S. Presidential Election tomorrow. The possibilities range from “nothing” to “many changes” (eventually). The opinions of experts I’ve read are all over the place. It’s impossible to predict accurately, and it is a lot more complicated than you may think.
It is possible that on Wednesday morning we may not even know who our next president will be. It looks like the popular vote will be close, like in the year 2000. Some key states may not have their totals completed. Lawyers for both sides are ready to challenge any decision that doesn’t favor the outcome they want. It’s going to be very interesting.
Probably the most misunderstood aspect of the Cuba travel situation is that the president doesn’t have as much control as many people believe. Up until the late 1990’s, the president had the ability to simply eliminate travel and trade restrictions with an executive order. But President Clinton, while wheeling and dealing on other matters, transferred much of the power involving these issues to the congress. Currently the Senate leans democratic; the House has a majority of Republicans. That brings up another matter: although there is a tendency for democrats to favor unrestricted travel to Cuba, the situation is not as clearly defined as with other issues. Some of the most open-minded advocates of unrestricted travel and trade are Republicans, such as conservative Jeff Flake of Arizona. Some of the most hard-core opponents are Democrats, such as liberal Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Yet another factor contributing to the overall confusion is that, in the overall scheme of things, Cuba just isn’t very important to most Americans, who know little about the country. There are too many hot spots in the world that draw the attention of reporters and the media—Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, the country currently in the middle of a revolution, the nation currently hosting the disaster of the month, etc. Right now the effects of Hurricane Sandy in northeast U.S. are front and center in the headlines.
If President Obama is re-elected, I believe he won’t move to change things as quickly as most people expect. There would be no particular political advantage to fighting with congress on this issue. He has already made deals with conservatives that have resulted in less pressure for normalization of relations. The easy way out is to just wait until Fidel passes, which could be this year. The problem is that Fidel has been reported to be near death in each of at least the last 8 years. He keeps fooling the “experts.” You just can’t trust those communists!
If Governor Romney wins, I believe he is going to have an extremely sharp learning curve, and too many overwhelming problems to deal with immediately. Unless there is a major change in Cuba (such as massive demonstrations or the death of Fidel), there really is no political reason for him to change anything. He can just continue the current “policy” of allowing a small minority of Cuban exile extremists to dictate U.S. foreign policy in the Caribbean.
Either candidate is going to inherit an incredible mess of interconnected domestic, foreign, and economic issues, many of which were inherited from the previous administration. No matter who wins, we are all in for quite a ride. An old Chinese blessing goes something like this: “May you live during interesting times.” I’m sure we will.
Bottom line—I don’t think there will be many changes at all during the next administration, unless Fidel passes. As long as his brother Raul Castro remains president, relations between Cuba and the U.S. probably won’t change significantly either, although there are always a few small token steps forward and backward each year. On the other hand, there is always the potential for major, life-changing events. They could happen tomorrow. This is why this country of warm and friendly people who generally love Americans continue to live in the Caribbean Twilight Zone. Nobody there can really plan for the future.
Writing to your congressman is a complete waste of time. As individual Americans, the only thing you really can do is to travel to Cuba with a group or by yourselves. Most of the larger travel companies have now had their licenses renewed. So go to Cuba, make friends, and perhaps set up a personal micro-investment relationship with somebody in your field. Officially, the U.S. Government is encouraging people-to-people travel to Cuba. Officially, the Cuban Government welcomes American travelers with open arms. So why not take advantage of these two official positions? Travel to Cuba, learn as much as you can, keep an open mind, and be respectful of those who disagree with you. I’m sure you’ll be fascinated, and you’ll have a lot of fun.