Cuban business owners brace for impact of new US travel restrictions

World Today

New U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba are now in effect. The changes eliminate cruise travel, which is one of the most popular ways to get to the island. More than half of this year’s American tourists arrived on cruise ships.

As CGTN’s Luis Chirino reports, the impact is expected to be dramatic.

The new travel restrictions, which prohibit U.S. cruise ships from calling at Cuban ports, went into force on Wednesday. However, a provision will allow Americans who booked a group tour prior to that date, to arrive. U.S. cruise companies, like Carnival Cruise Line, promptly announced they were canceling scheduled trips to the Caribbean island.

The Cuban government reacted with an official statement published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma. Havana said it would not be intimidated by the U.S. blockade, and blasted attempts to force political concessions by hurting the country’s economy and the living conditions of its people.

The latest restrictions by the U.S. administration will directly affect the private sector that caters to the American passengers on board the vessels.

“We earn our living from this kind of tourism,” said gift shop owner Sara Batista. “If the tourists stop coming, how can we make a living? We will have nothing, so we will see a strong impact from this U.S. policy. It will not affect the government. It will affect us, the people.”

Jose Antonio Perez opened his private restaurant in Old Havana some 24 years ago, and he regrets the tightening of restrictions on U.S. travelers to Cuba.

“During the short time they are here, these visitors are learning about private businesses, meeting people, tasting Cuban food,” he said. “Now we will be forced to go back to the times when we had no cruise ships arriving and try to cushion the impact that this will have on us.”

Also affected by the new measures are those who offer tours in vintage cars or in horse-drawn carriages. Fewer tourists mean fewer passengers for them. Cuban tourism expert Jose Perello says the cruise ships provide an important source of livelihood to private workers.

”All these cruise ship tourists come to see the new Cuba,” said Perello. “They are major consumers of private services; they buy crafts, they eat at private restaurants and interact with the the U.S. argument about closing the doors to the Cuban government with these sanctions is not as they say. The restrictions are actually affecting a sector that does not have any strong links to the Cuban government.”

For many people here, the U.S. travel sanctions are a lose-lose proposition. Not only will fewer Americans be able to visit Cuba, but those on the island who count on tourists will also miss out on the economic benefits.