Cruise travelers, who have enjoyed travel in Cuba and those who hope to enjoy a cruise to Cuba soon, may be shocked to learn that cruises to Cuba could end, given the efforts of two American businessmen. Earlier this month the two filed a lawsuit in federal court in Miami seeking tens of millions of dollars in payment for the use by cruise ships of Havana and Santiago de Cuba harbors. United States federal judges will decide whether Cuba continues to be the hot, exotic, yet so close to home travel destination, or as Bette Midler sings, is oh so far away.
Ninety miles from Key West, it is oh so lovely to be on deck in the early morning as the cruise ship sails into the Havana harbor. Off to the port side, sixteenth century Spanish fort Castillo del Morro comes into view and then the smaller forts are visible on the starboard side. As the morning clouds open, the Havana skyline looks every bit the exciting place a walk down Paseo de Prado was in the 1920s. The icon of the skyline, and key to present-day controversy, is the Bacardi Building, with its distinctive cupola. From a distance, the effects of seven decades of redistribution of private property is not discernable.
Havana was the popular destination for Americans, such as Ernest Hemingway, during the Prohibition years. On the far eastern coasts of Cuba, at Santiago de Cuba, in 1959, Fidel Castro and his small, loyal cadre began the Revolution that ended the US-supported dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and began Fidel Castro’s fifty years at the helm of Cuba. As part of his Lenin-Marxist form of government, Castro seized and redistributed all private property. Over the next two decades, about ten percent of the Cuban population left Cuba, many coming to the US
When Castro nationalized all US businesses in Cuba, the US responded with an embargo on trade and travel involving Cuba. The early 1960s were tense years, in which the US led a failed invasion of Cuba and gingerly resolved a crisis over Soviet missiles in Cuba, aimed at the US. In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved, leaving in financial straits those nations dependent upon Soviet financial support to subsidize their socialist governments. At that time, there was a strong sentiment within the US to revisit and resolve the 1960 embargo.
Key concerns of Cuban-Americans were human rights abuses of the Fidel era and loss of private property without compensation. In 1996, President Bill Clinton passed the Cuban issue to Congress. Congress responded with the Helms-Burton Act. In the Act, Congress took charge of the terms of the embargo. The Act continued the embargo on goods, services and individual travel to Cuba, until such time as Cuba held free elections, there were no government officials named Castro and compensation was paid for private property seized by the Cuban government.
In the 1990s, Cuba began to issue currency pegged to the American dollar and the US agreed to admit 20,000 Cubans a year in exchange for Castro’s end to the random release of exiles. The two countries agreed to allow Americans to send remittances to relatives in Cuba, which by 2016 led remittances to all of Latin America with an annual $3.5billion sent to Cuba. The US State Department issued guidance for limited authorized travel to Cuba by Americans.
In 2016, as members of Congress were discussing terms for resolution of the embargo, President Barack Obama issued an executive order restating the US State Department authorization for people-to-people exchanges, in which travelers must seek more than a day at the beach; travel must have a cultural/educational purpose. President Obama did not establish diplomatic relations, nor change terms of the embargo. No human rights or property issues were resolved. In contrast, European Union aid to Cuba is tied to human rights matters.
Part 2 next Thursday, stay tuned!