Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced new travel restrictions banning passenger and recreational vehicles, including cruise ships and private aircraft, from traveling to Cuba. The ban also eliminates the popular people-to-people educational tours that have allowed US citizens to travel to Cuba under loose terms. This policy further backs legislation introduced in April that tightened the trade embargo and placed a limit on remittances that Americans can send to family members in Cuba. While Americans will still be able to travel to Cuba for family visits, journalism, educational activities, humanitarian projects and various other government approved activities, they will no longer be able to enjoy a five-night Carnival Caribbean cruise from Miami to Havana.
According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the travel restrictions are a result of the Cuban regime’s support for communist leaders in Venezuela and Nicaragua by “fermenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.” US officials hope to steer US dollars from the Cuban government by eliminating the most popular methods of tourism used by Americans who travel to the Caribbean nation.
While the restrictions were created to target the Cuban government, an important question to ask is: Will the travel restrictions have a more damaging impact on the Cuban government or the Cuban people?
U.S. Representative Donna Shalala released a statement saying, “We must hold the Cuban regime accountable for its support of the illegitimate (Venezuelan leader) Maduro, however, the Administration’s latest policies will do more harm than good for Cuban-Americans and their family members on the island.“
Because Americans make up the second largest tourist group in Cuba, the travel restrictions are projected to harm Cuba’s fragile economy. The Cuban economy grew 4 percent after democratic ties were renewed under the Obama administration, which helped to promote Cuban entrepreneurship. However, the Cuban economy has recently faltered in the wake of Trump’s increasing restrictions and Venezuela’s economic crisis. The result has been increased scarcity of necessities such as food and rationing of these necessities. Only those such as Miguel Hernandez, a light-skinned Afro-Cuban and manager of a restaurant popular with tourists, who work in the tourism industry are able to earn more than the average $25 government salary and buy “liberated” goods for a higher price.
The effects of the travel restrictions extend to the Afro-Cuban community, a community that has experienced increasing racial discrimination and economic inequality since the collapse of the Cuban economy in the 1990s. Due to the history of racism in Cuba, many Afro-Cubans have had a harder time finding employment in the tourism sector and opening their own businesses.
Afro-Cubans who are able to open stores that service tourists are challenged with paying rent, obtaining a government permit and paying monthly taxes to the government even during months when sales are low.
Mady Zulueta and her mother are two Afro-Cuban business owners who own a luxury leather bag store in a tourist zone in Old Havana. Due to lack of resources, they began their business by selling their luxury bags to stores. The stores would then sell the bags for much more than the Zuluetas received. This is the reality of many Black women and men in Cuba who want to become business owners. They either do not have the resources to own their own shop or are challenged by paying the pricey fees that accompany entrepreneurship in Cuba.
Trump is trying to hurt the Cuban government, but his new legislation will hurt the Cuban people, a people who live under a communist and socialist regime that allows them limited rights. The Cuban government holds steadfast to its socialist foundation, introduced by Fidel Castro after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The Castro regime believed the system would work best to prevent inequality and provide for the people by dividing resources and eliminating capitalism. Some of the most prominent examples of Cuban socialism include free healthcare, free education, and free ration books which provide Cubans with access to basic food items. Socialism, at its core, ensures collective ownership and distribution of wealth. However, as with any government system, the Cuban communist model has its flaws.
While the Cuban government was able to eliminate many inequalities in the early years of the Revolution, the Cuban socialist model later experienced challenges that led the government to permit some capitalist ventures. With the latest travel restrictions, these capitalist ventures will threaten to affect Cubans who own these businesses. Those living in poverty will remain in poverty. They will be subject to standing in long lines to receive limited rations, while rich citizens and government officials have access to the resources they need. In addition, continued restrictions may have a more substantial impact on the overall economy, causing increased hardship on Black communities with less access to money to buy basic necessities. While the Cuban government has and continues to experiment with capitalism by allowing small business ownership, the travel restrictions hurt these small enterprises, including those owned by Afro-Cubans, as there will be fewer consumers to support Cuban business ventures.