This past weekend marked one year since President Trump’s reversal of the Cuba policy advances developed during the Obama administration. The rollback of the travel ban and the slight opening of the trade embargo under former President Obama eased relations, and made room for economic growth—for both countries. But with the Trump administration’s current policies and its re-imposition of travel restrictions, US-Cuba relations have been pushed back in time. This does nothing to help the Cuban or American economies. However, there are still actions that can be taken to advance both economies, the US-Cuba relationship, and US national security: increasing American travel to Cuba, and fostering US-Cuba business relations.
Americans want to travel to Cuba. With the travel restriction changes made during the Obama administration, 71,815 non-Cuban born US citizens traveled to Cuba in the first three months of 2016, a 94% increase from the same period the year before. And in 2017, 1.173 million people from the US traveled to Cuba, a 191% increase compared to 2016.
If travel restrictions are completely lifted, Cuban officials estimate that about 1.5 million Americans would visit Cuba annually. This would add $2 billion dollars of revenue to the country each year. Tourism in Cuba adds to the flow of hard currency into the Cuban economy, and is key to the society’s economic growth. Furthermore, from an American standpoint, increasing American tourism in Cuba would increase demand for US products on the island, further aiding the US economy.
Additionally, connecting American and Cuban businesses would greatly help both sides. Several businesses have already expanded into Cuba. Google, Netflix, Airbnb, and AT&T took advantage of President Obama’s easing of restrictions. Unfortunately, with some of the reversals implemented by the Trump administration, business will be more difficult. However, it could be beneficial for American companies to build relations with Cuban companies during this time because the companies that do so will, as a report states, “gain the greatest advantages in Cuba over their competitors who show up later.” The location of the country is in itself strategic, and gives the US a geographic and cultural advantage over European and Asian competitors. The profits American businesses will incur by expanding to Cuba are shown by example of the businesses that have already undergone Cuban expansion.
For instance, Airbnb is a perfect example of the profits made by American business expansion in Cuba. The company’s success in Cuba shows that expansion in the country can be well-received. An Airbnb report noted that “in 2017 so far, Cuba has been the 9th most popular destination country on Airbnb for US travelers.” Although this success occurred before Trump’s re-imposition of travel restrictions, Airbnb’s advancements offer proof for the success of business expansion into Cuba. Airbnb increases the amount of money distributed directly to Cuban citizens, raises tourism levels, and helps build US-Cuba “person to person” relations; all of which are important to expanding the Cuban economy, and fostering US-Cuba relations.
If the Cuban economy sees improvement, the US will see benefits. As previously mentioned, the location of Cuba is strategic for US national security. A partnership with Cuba is strategic as collaboration on security issues– terrorism, border control, drug trafficking, emergency readiness, etc.—is key to strengthening US security. Additionally, if the US does not fortify a Cuban relationship, it will leave room for US adversaries to step in. An advanced Cuban economy and society will lead to stronger US-Cuba relations, and a more fortified partnership on the issues listed, among others.
While increasing American tourism to Cuba and the amount of US businesses that partner with Cuban businesses is by no means a cure-all for Cuba’s fractured economy, it is a start. Continuing to increase travel to the country is critical for building a more effective and influential relationship, even now with the reinforcement of travel laws by the Trump administration. If the United States wants to influence the way Cuba behaves, building business ties that advance the Cuban economy, and opening the markets to American goods and investment, will ultimately help build improve US-Cuba relations, and thus US national security.