Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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Trump’s Policy Hurts Cuban People

By Rick Outzen

In June, President Donald Trump announced that he was changing the nation’s policies regarding Cuba. His administration would strictly enforce the authorized exemptions that allow travel between the US and Cuba and prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses owned by the military and intelligence services.

The announcement has had a chilling impact on the Cuban small business economy.

“The Trump Administration hasn’t really actually implemented much of a change, per se, at all,” said Stephen Reyes.

Reyes, a partner in the Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund accounting firm, has visited Cuba several times since travel restrictions were lifted by the Obama Administration. His father is from Cuba.

“But what the president has done has been incredibly impactful,” he told Inweekly. “One, he’s scared tourists from going by saying, ‘Hey we’re gonna make it so you can’t go unless you have these specific processes.’”

According to the Reyes, the processes include having a licensed tour guide with an approved travel itinerary and agenda to be allowed to travel to Cuba, which has put a damper on tourism.

“Now to me, that seems kind of a backward way to do it, but that’s what he’s essentially saying he’s going to do, although that hasn’t been enforced yet,” said Reyes. “He’s put some fear, though, in some people saying, ‘Hey we’re gonna haunt you and we’re gonna prosecute you if you go there because it’s illegal.’”

Trump’s announcement caused an instant downturn in the local Cuban economy. Reyes said, “All the hotels and Airbnbs were full and flourishing. Now several of my friends say they haven’t had a reservation since August.”

The American tourism had helped to create a small business economy in Cuba. He said, “All this stuff that they’ve built up to get this private market is now just getting killed by this reduction in tourism. People were visibly improving their lives with the tourism dollars.”

Bicycle Shops
Reyes criticized Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for saying that nothing has changed in Cuba and that nothing has been done for small businesses.

“Let me tell you, he hasn’t talked to those Cubans,” said Reye. “I’ve been down there. I know many of them. These people are not interested in his protection of the blockade. They had, and they still have, all these small businesses popping up. It is amazing the response to lifting of sanctions by President Obama.”

He talked with Inweekly about an 85-year-old Cuban who repairs and bicycles in the corner of his yard. It’s in his home that the Pensacola CPA rents an Airbnb one-bedroom apartment.

“At night, he folds it all up. During the day, he just pulls the stuff out, and people come from all over. He fixes their bicycles. It’s amazing that he’s made this business,” he said.

A foreign language school is across the park from the house. When he found that the school didn’t have housing for all its students, Reyes suggested to his friend that he let the school know he has a room available.

Laughing, Reyes said, “He thinks I’m the most genius marketing person because they weren’t raised in capitalism. Those simple concepts are not something they think about every day, but they are coming around to it. ”

He said the restaurants, taxicabs and most of the retail shops are private businesses.

“There are two sweets bakeries. One is the state-run bakery. You go there, and there is like one or two of these things and big empty shelves everywhere,” he said. “Across the street is a private bakery. Much higher quality stuff. Much nicer, but it’s smaller. Things are custom. It’s a private business that has come up under the new small business economy.”

Sonic Weapon
This summer, the State Department reported nearly two dozen diplomats at the American Embassy in Havana had been stricken with a variety of mysterious medical symptoms, including hearing loss and cognitive difficulties. The agency concluded the diplomats had been attacked by some sonic device.

The State Department withdrew nonessential personnel from Havana and issued an advisory urging Americans not to visit. On Oct. 3, the Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States.

Reyes has his doubts about a sonic weapon. “I’ve been to the residence of the embassy leader. I’ve been to the embassy itself. All these are buildings that have significant perimeters around them. You’d have to have this weapon a significant distance away.”

Acoustic experts agree with Reyes. Jun Qin, an acoustic engineer at Southern Illinois University, told the New York Times, “Ultrasound cannot travel a long distance.”

Jürgen Altmann, a physicist at the Technische Universität Dortmund in Germany and an expert on acoustics, said the idea of a sonic weapon was “fairly implausible.”

However, the issue has made it difficult for Cubans to visit their relatives in the US. To apply for a Visa, they have to request an interview with the US embassy.

“That interview costs $160 US per person,” said Reyes. “They have to pay for it upfront, and if they get declined, they don’t get the money back. The cost is for the interview, not for the Visa.”

His friends had an interview scheduled for Oct. 4. They got a letter from the US embassy that said, “Because of our staffing reduction, we’ve canceled all Visa appointments. If you want a Visa to the US, we suggest you go to another country, perhaps Bogota, Columbia.”

The US did not offer to refund the $320 paid for the Visa interviews.

“That’s huge money for these people. Huge money,” said Reyes. “And it’s embarrassing and hurts me to see that we’ve done that to these people. Why? Why would we not give them their money back? What is $320 to the US government?”

Still, he remains optimistic.

“We will eventually open up with Cuba,” he said. “You know, you can’t get toothpaste back in the tube once it’s open.”