Comment: Could Trump disrupt Cuba deal?

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Why the news that Donald Trump is to reverse his White House predecessor Barack Obama’s historic deal with Cuba is as puzzling as it is troubling


Barack Obama’s historic 2014 deal with Cuba – which effectively put an end to a 60-year trade embargo designed to asphyxiate the communist country – was a watershed moment. During the embargo, no trade was allowed to pass between the US mainland and the Caribbean island. That included tourism, meaning visits to Cuba by US citizens was illegal. In 1999 the rules were relaxed slightly to allow for specific types of travel, for 12 reasons on the grounds of education or religion, before Obama relaxed these rules further. And, while tourism in of itself wasn’t reason enough to go to Cuba, there was a blurring of the rules.

What happened next changed everything. While there had been limited air travel to Cuba, the cruise industry had been totally off-limits. Carnival Corporation’s new brand, Fathom, dedicated to education and cultural immersion, was given permission to sail to Cuba from Miami, a US port. It was the first time a ship from America had visited Havana in 50 years.

The outpouring of good feeling from Cuban citizens was incredible. This felt like the walls were coming down and, through tourism, the Cuban people would be able to start entering the world and the process of rebuilding their economy. It was the perfect example of how tourism is one of the best ways to understand other cultures and help improve lives abroad. Other Carnival brands were soon granted permission to travel to Cuba, as well as brands belonging to Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and MSC.

However, what had been the good news story of the entire cruise industry is now up in the air.

According to The Hill, a US politics website, under Trump’s new restrictions “Americans will only be able to visit Cuba as part of a tour group if they want to go to the island for educational purposes”. Only time will tell whether Trump’s rules define a Carnival Cruise Line Caribbean cruise as educational.

In a statement, Carnival Corporation said: “Carnival Corporation is pleased that the policy changes announced by the Trump administration will allow our ships to continue to sail to Cuba. We will review the extent of the tightening of the travel rules, but our guests have already been traveling under the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba since we undertook our historic first cruise to Cuba more than a year ago. 

“Our experience in Cuba this past year has been extremely positive… Travel brings people and cultures together, so we are excited about the upcoming cruises to Cuba.”

We can only hope that this remains the case.

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