Measures announced by U.S. President Donald Trump to roll back American policies toward Cuba have been rejected by the island’s private sector, which is now taking steps to protect its interests.
Since the opening of relations by former U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, Cuba’s new private sector has flourished, particularly in tourism and trade.
“Our business relies on American visitors, but since we heard about Trump’s threats, we have begun negotiations with European tour operators,” Melissa Ramirez, director of a small private travel agency, told Xinhua.
In 2016, Cuba received over 4 million visitors, but only 265,000 were Americans. The island received a similar number of American tourists in the first five months of the year.
But Ramirez said “even if that market stops sending us clients, we will survive.”
Cuba has long been depending on foreign travelers before Washington and Havana restored formal ties, she said.
Although Washington still prevented official tourism to the island, the Obama administration allowed Americans to visit Cuba under 12 categories of travel.
Trump has now closed the door on several categories, including “people-to-people contacts,” the main category under which tourists visited the island.
Trump’s speech last week was broadcast live on Cuban television and was roundly rejected by those known as “self-employed workers.”
“I have no fear. We have gone through more than 50 years of revolution, and we have survived all the punitive measures of previous U.S. administrations,” said Jorge Delgado, an art gallery owner in Havana.
Delgado said that Americans have become his best customers but he began his business two decades ago, when visitors were mostly Europeans and Latin Americans.
Some small ventures which are admittedly imperilled by Trump’s reversal are fancy restaurants and cafes in Old Havana, which have become highly rated and enjoyed the benefits of the American tourism boom.
One of these restaurants, Super Burger, was born from the vision of Victor Figueroa, 25, who divides his time between being a doctor and running his locale in the American fast food tradition.
“We had great hope due to an increasing number of customers from the U.S.,” says Arlena Acosta, 18, who works as a waitress, cashier or manager at Super Burger, depending on its needs.
“After Trump’s statements, we rapidly diversified our food offering and expanded the menu, aiming to attract other nationalities such as French or Chinese, beyond the traditional Cuban food of congri rice, black beans and pork meat.”
An American customer, Stacy, told Xinhua that “it is a wonderful country to visit. People are very open and friendly, and it is very safe.” She added that she strongly disagreed with Trump’s decisions.
The Cuban private sector was virtually eliminated by late leader Fidel Castro in March 1968 but it was reactivated by his brother, Raul Castro, forty years later.
The current president sees the private sector as an important source of jobs, products and services, while also increasing income taxes for the national budget.