One of President Obama’s more unexpected recent decisions was to ease trade and travel restrictions to Cuba as a first step to ending the commercial and financial embargo of the island.
The embargo had been in place since 1962, apparently because of Cuba’s refusal to embrace the US vision of democracy and human rights. As the President noted, the policy had “failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country.” In fact, it had probably had the opposite effect. He might also have pointed out that Saudi Arabia and China, who have been similarly recalcitrant, face no trade restrictions.
So now it seems like just a matter of months before Cuba’s many delights crash meaningfully into the bucket list of previously barred US citizens. Indeed, visitors and bookings are already rising.
For some, the opening up of Cuba is bad news for the remainder of the Caribbean as most of the other islands depend critically on visitors to keep their economies afloat but local governments and tour operators have sensed opportunities.
Among other steps, they plan to introduce multi-country holiday packages so that visitors can easily spread their time between Cuba and other islands. So far such links have drawn on cruise stopovers, but tighter airline and resort connections are now envisaged.
The irony is that despite years of Caribbean talk about such initiatives, it has taken the imminent entrance of Cuba to finally provide the tonic.