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    U.S. businesses to pressure Trump to keep ties to Cuba

    U.S. businesses to pressure Trump to keep ties to Cuba
    Alan Gomez , USA TODAY 4:12 p.m. EST November 20, 2016

    MIAMI — A powerful coalition of U.S. companies is preparing to appeal to
    President-elect Donald Trump’s business instincts and drop his vow to
    reverse one of President Obama’s signature achievements: renewed
    relations with Cuba.

    Candidate Trump pledged to close the recently reopened U.S. Embassy in
    Havana, cut the economic bonds established over the past two years and
    roll back regulations that made travel to the long-estranged island
    easier for U.S. citizens.

    Now, dozens of major American companies that have started or expanded
    operations in Cuba under Obama’s policy will try to persuade Trump to
    ignore the political side of his brain and listen to the business side.
    That will be the ultimate test for Obama’s Cuba strategy of creating so
    many business opportunities that his successor would face the full
    weight of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a long list of businesses
    pushing to maintain the new links to the communist government that
    controls the country.

    That list includes most major airlines, which have started regularly
    scheduled commercial flights to Cuba, and Carnival Corp., which is
    already running a regular Cuba cruise. It will include Starwood Hotels
    and Resorts, which is operating three Cuban hotels, and Airbnb, which is
    being used by more than 8,000 Cubans to rent their rooms to travelers.

    There are tech giants, like Google and Cisco, trying to develop Cuba’s
    bare-bones telecommunications infrastructure, cellphone giants offering
    roaming services and banks starting to offer U.S.-issued credit and
    debit card services.

    “Everybody is looking for a seat at the table,” said Pedro Freyre, a
    Miami-based attorney for the Akerman law firm, which represents many
    U.S. businesses operating in Cuba. “All of us who are stakeholders in
    Cuba are very active in lobbying. At this very moment, they are seeking
    an audience with the teams that will be part of the new administration.”

    On the other side, the long-standing political coalitions that oppose
    any opening with Cuba will be tugging at the billionaire
    businessman’s ear as well. That is led by a powerful bloc of
    Cuban-American members of Congress. They have described Obama’s opening
    as a failed policy that has done nothing to moderate government control
    of the economy and a dismal human rights record.

    “By any objective measure, President Obama’s unilateral policy changes
    have failed, and they are not in the best interest of the American
    people or the people of Cuba,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “Rolling
    back President Obama’s one-sided concessions to the Castro regime, a key
    campaign promise shared with President-elect Trump, will be a top
    priority for me next year.”

    Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the historic end to
    their countries’ estrangement on Dec. 17, 2014, ending 55 years of
    isolation between the Cold War foes and sparking a surge in trade and
    travel between the United States and Cuba.

    Travel to Cuba as a tourist is still forbidden under the economic
    embargo the U.S. maintains — and that Congress has vowed will remain.
    But in the first six months of this year, 136,913 Americans visited
    Cuba, up 180% from the same period in 2015, according to Cuba’s National
    Office of Statistics and Information.

    Defenders of Obama’s policy say the rush of Americans has helped
    everyday Cubans, especially the growing numbers of private entrepreneurs.

    Ricardo Torres Pérez, an economist at the Center for Studies of the
    Cuban Economy in Havana, said those tourists provide tangible benefits
    to Cubans who rent their homes to them, drive them around in taxis, take
    them on tours and feed them in restaurants.

    “More interest in Cuba that helps some businesses and gives hope to the
    people? That is good,” Torres said. “That doesn’t reach all Cubans, but
    it’s a good start.”

    The increased travel has gone the other way, too, helping Cubans visit
    relatives, set up business relationships and study in the U.S. Many are
    Cuban entrepreneurs like Marta Deus, 28, a Havana resident who spent six
    weeks studying marketing and sales at Florida International University
    in Miami through an exchange program created after the rapprochement.

    Deus now runs an accounting firm for Cuban entrepreneurs, a messenger
    service in Havana and a business magazine launched this month, and
    she employs nine full-time employees and several part-time contractors.
    She said the Cuban government has not made enough changes to take full
    advantage of the opportunities created by the Obama administration, but
    Trump’s proposal to close the door would hurt regular Cubans in so many
    ways.

    “All those cultural exchanges, they’re important,” she said. “No country
    can flourish if it’s closed to the world.”

    Guillermo Fariñas sees all those changes and scoffs. The leading Cuban
    dissident, who recently completed his 25th hunger strike protesting the
    Cuban regime, said they’ve done nothing to change the underlying problem
    in Cuba: its political system and horrid human rights record.

    The Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party ended in April with no
    changes to the government’s one-party rule. And Fariñas, one of the
    dissidents who met with President Obama during a March visit to Havana,
    said Cuba’s crackdown on political opposition has only increased.

    In 2013, the Cuban government made 6,424 arrests of dissidents and
    political prisoners, according to the Cuban Commission of Human Rights
    and National Reconciliation. Through the first 10 months of 2016, that
    number is already 9,125.

    Fariñas said that should have been expected since the Obama
    administration gave plenty during its negotiations but secured little in
    return.

    “Like you would see in any negotiation, the Cuban government should be
    expected to give something to get something back,” he said. “On the
    contrary, the Cuban government was given many economic concessions,
    political credibility and (Castro) has only responded by increasing
    political repression.”

    Source: U.S. businesses to pressure Trump to keep ties to Cuba –
    www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/11/20/cuba-donald-trump-barack-obama-diplomatic-opening/93956270/

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