Changing tides of U.S. policy may sink Cuban tourism hopes


JUDY WOODRUFF: It was almost two months ago that President Trump announced he was closing down some of the opening to Cuba begun in 2014 by President Obama.

Mr. Trump's restrictions are expected to be spelled out next month. But many Cubans are already concerned that their hopes for better relations with the U.S., and greater economic opportunity, will now be set back.

From Havana, Miles O'Brien reports on this latest phase of the Cuban evolution.

MILES O'BRIEN: There's a building boom under way at the Bay of Pigs, not far from the scene of the failed CIA-backed attack to topple Fidel Castro in 1961. Cubans are making room for an American invasion they have long yearned for, of tourists.

ANA MARGARITA PEREZ DE CORCHO, Manager, Casa Particular: We thought there were a lot of people coming. And many people buy houses. Many people made their business bigger.

MILES O'BRIEN: Ana Margarita Perez de Corcho is manager of a busy beachside casa particular, or private house, that rents rooms to tourists. About 80 percent come from Europe. Business is good already, but when former President Obama loosened restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba in 2014, she and her neighbors were optimistic.

ANA MARGARITA PEREZ DE CORCHO: We thought everything is going to be changed. We are going to earn a lot of money because Americans are really good customers.

MILES O'BRIEN: But Mr. Obama's detente with Cuba infuriated the Cuban American lobby in Florida, and Senator Marco Rubio in particular.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The previous administration's easing of restrictions on travel and trade doesn't help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime.

MILES O'BRIEN: So, in June, President Trump undid some key aspects of the Obama-Cuba thaw.

WATCH: Trump unveils new Cuba policy

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people.

MILES O'BRIEN: So-called people-to-people educational visits will still be allowed, so long as they are group tours, but this was bad news for many U.S. travel and tourism companies that see tremendous opportunity here.

DAN ADAMS, Tour Operator, Rico Tours: Havana is the oldest metropolis in all the Americas, first settled in the early 1500s.

MILES O'BRIEN: Dan Adams is a Texas-based high end tour operator specializing in Latin America. When the Obama administration opened up diplomatic relations with Cuba, he got to Havana as fast as he could.

DAN ADAMS: The business was just going crazy. I mean, it was phenomenal what we were doing.

MILES O'BRIEN: We met in front of the newly opened five-star Gran Hotel Manzana, operated by the Swiss hotel chain Kempinski.

DAN ADAMS: This place will be severely affected. We have had about 25 clients stay here. And should the executive order proceed as it's been submitted, we will not be permitted to have clients stay here.

MILES O'BRIEN: Big hotels like this are typically 51 percent owned by the Cuban military. And under the new Trump rules, Americans are prohibited from patronizing businesses owned by the regime. Indeed, the lunch that Dan Adams and I shared beside the swanky rooftop pool at the Manzana will soon be illegal, punishable by a big fine.

DAN ADAMS: Within two weeks of the announcement that President Trump gave in Miami, we lost over $250,000 in bookings. We have had corporations that have wanted to have meetings here. Their legal departments have come back and said, look, we just can't touch Cuba right now.

MILES O'BRIEN: Adams and I hired a '57 Chevy for ride down the famous Malecon, in all its faded splendor, a trip back in time. Cuba is an alluring destination, and yet it will be once again off-limits to American tourists, with one key exception.

DAN ADAMS: The cruise lines are protected, so you will have several hundred people get off the ship, as they can today. And when the changes are made, they will be able to continue to do this exact same thing.

MILES O'BRIEN: The Miami-based cruise lines have a lot of political influence in Florida, and will not be affected by the Trump travel ban. But their customers will be limited to short guided tours of Havana.

Nicholas and Rita Crittenden are from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

NICHOLAS CRITTENDEN, Tourist: I have been here when I was in the military. I was on Guantanamo Bay. So I could never come out to visit the countryside. We're always restricted in the base. Now I'm not.

MILES O'BRIEN: What do you think of the place, first of all?


MILES O'BRIEN: The tourists we met were dismayed by the Trump policy.

Ellie and Harvey Diamond are from Chatham, New Jersey.

ELLIE DIAMOND, Tourist: It's really said because the country needs a lot of work.

HARVEY DIAMOND, Tourist: If we wanted the Cubans to change and like us, the best way to do it is trade, tourism.

MILES O'BRIEN: To see if that's true, I paid a visit to one of Cuba's 500,000 private entrepreneurs. Marta Deus runs three businesses, an accounting firm, a messenger service and a magazine focused on Cuba's burgeoning private sector. It took root after the Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel 10 years ago.

MARTA DEUS, Businesswoman: I believe the isolation is not good. I believe that we need to be open to United States, because it's good for our businesses.

MILES O'BRIEN: Many Cuban entrepreneurs are women. Deus and others wrote a letter to Ivanka Trump, a self-proclaimed champion of women entrepreneurs in emerging nations.

IVANKA TRUMP, Senior Adviser to the President: Across the globe, you hear the same thing from female entrepreneurs, which is that they have a unique challenge accessing capital.

MILES O'BRIEN: They said: "The restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States has been key to the success of the sector. A setback in the relationship would bring with it the fall of many of our businesses and, with this, the suffering of all those families that depend on them."

They got no response. The Trump policy claims to target the oppressive Cuban military dictatorship, but:

MARTA DEUS: If you are trying to punish them, you are punishing us also. So, sometimes, I think they don't see that, but we are the most affected.

MILES O'BRIEN: So the time for punishment is over?

MARTA DEUS: Yes, please. It's over.

MILES O'BRIEN: Back at the Bay of Pigs especially, you might expect to find lingering animosity aimed at Americans, but, to the contrary, they are anxious to turn the page.

ANA MARGARITA PEREZ DE CORCHO: It's the time to move to a new era. That is my opinion to move to a new era and to forget things — not to forget, but to live without that in the future.

MILES O'BRIEN: Fifty-eight years after the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, Cubans are enjoying new economic freedom, and they want more.

There is no turning back to the old ways, at least on this side of the Florida Straits.

For the PBS NewsHour I'm Miles O'Brien in Havana.

Recently in World