How Cubans Are Reacting To Trump's Harsher Policies | KERA News

How Cubans Are Reacting To Trump's Harsher Policies

Jun 16, 2017
Originally published on June 16, 2017 7:11 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is in Miami today. He is scheduled to make an announcement about Cuba. And we are expecting he will roll back Obama administration policies opening up relations with the island nation. This likely will include new trade restrictions and also restrictions on Americans who want to travel to Cuba.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Although the basic restoration of diplomatic relations is expected to stay. Among the Americans waiting to see if these changes affect them is Jim Klug, who runs Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures in Montana.

GREENE: Klug runs tours to Cuba. It's a place that had been a favorite of anglers like Ernest Hemingway all the way back before the communist revolution.

JIM KLUG: So when you visit some of these areas of Cuba to fish, a lot of them are marine reserves in areas that have quite literally been locked off and set aside for close to six decades. They're some of the most pristine, untouched, amazing habitat you'll find anywhere in the Caribbean.

INSKEEP: Which is why Klug says it would be a shame for Americans if Cuban travel was restricted again.

KLUG: Most of the people that I deal with when I'm down there that I've talked to are fishing guides. These are people that really depend on tourism. And they really depend on people coming down and visiting the country and spending money in the country. So they're thrilled with what they're seeing right now. I'm not sure they're aware of, you know, the potential reversal.

GREENE: Well, let's find out who is or isn't aware of the potential reversal on the island. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Havana and on the line. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So what are you hearing from Cubans? Is this potential policy change big news?

KAHN: You know, it's hard to get news here on the island in such fast order. But people are nervous. They were sort of expecting changes with the Trump administration given its hard line during the campaign. But it's uncertain exactly what the changes are and how they'll be implemented. We'll hear more specifics today. But people are worried.

You know, that's the general sentiment. The tourism sector has grown substantially here with the increase of American travelers to the island. And many who are employed here, you know, whether they've converted a room in their home for tourists or taxi drivers or restaurant owners, they're worried about any restrictions that'll harm tourism.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about that. I mean, we don't have the details yet. But you're saying that tourism is becoming more and more important. If there are new restrictions or old restrictions put back in place, could that really impact the economy?

KAHN: Definitely. The Cuban economy is hurting now for many reasons. Cuba is pretty much in a recession. And the only bright spot, especially for Cuba's small, you know, growing private sector, has been tourism. So changes to the sector are not welcome.

GREENE: So what we've been hearing so far, Carrie, is that the Trump administration is making this argument that the current policy from President Obama is really benefiting the Cuban military, which runs large chunks of the tourism industry. From the perspective down there, does that sound true?

KAHN: Yes, the Cuban military does benefit from tourism here. There's no doubt about that. Increasingly, the military's taken on a greater role in running hotels and tour guide companies. That's definitely true. And any major tourism infrastructure investment that's incurred on the island since the economic opening, it has been made by the military. So they are benefiting.

But economists here say, you know, it's really hard to disentangle tourism investment from the military and those government hotels from the private sector too. You know, like, if you ban American travelers from staying in government hotels or restaurants, you also hurt the employees that work there and get American tips and dollars.

You also hurt the guy who's standing outside with his private taxi or the souvenir seller that's outside that are selling to those tourists.

GREENE: So it really has a ...

KAHN: And they also say...

GREENE: It's a ripple effect, yeah.

KAHN: Yeah, it has a ripple effect. Right. And any decrease in the fees and the taxes paid to those hotels and paid to the government hurt the Cuban economy, they say, and residents who depend on government services like health care and education.

GREENE: So are you seeing a lot of tourists down there right now, I mean, and hearing from them about this?

KAHN: Well, this is the low season. It's extremely hot here July, August, June. It's not really the high season for tourism. But I did get a lot of American travelers who are taking advantage of the lax enforcement of that so-called people-to-people category that allows them to come to Cuba as individuals. And they say if they have to - if those changes are made and those restrictions are put on the people-to-people category and they have to book through a more expensive group travel agency, they say they wouldn't come.

And many have - that would be really unfortunate for the local residents who they're renting rooms from, who they're eating in their private restaurants and, you know, buying souvenirs from. So they say that they're, you know, that they're making money from this boom in American travelers. And that would be unfortunate. They wouldn't come. It would just be too much - more expensive for them.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, Carrie, keep cool.

KAHN: Oh (laughter). I'll try.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting for us in Havana, Cuba this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.