If the president can take his family to Cuba, other Americans will want to follow. And if blue-chip companies such as Google and Starwood are opening there for business, so will other companies.
More important than any diplomatic negotiation during President Barack Obama’s historic visit, are images from his visit that the administration says solidify public perceptions of the changed relationship with Cuba: Obama, the first lady, and their daughters among palm trees and vintage cars, taking in a baseball game and touring colonial cultural sites.
While the thaw will continue after he leaves office, the president has acknowledged the embargo most likely will as well.
Cold War Remnant
The official purpose of Obama’s trip, which included a stop in Argentina, was to reset the U.S. relationship with Latin America and, in the president’s words, to “bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” There was a heavy dose of symbolism as well.
In the U.S., the psychological shift that the trip accelerates, and a parallel one among corporate leaders, will render Obama’s opening to Cuba irreversible. It also builds an expanding constituency for dropping the embargo.
The visit’s potential impact is all the more powerful coming just as the Obama administration has all but eliminated the bureaucratic obstacles to travel.
Though the U.S. embargo law still only permits travel to Cuba for certain purposes such as journalism, education or people-to-people exchanges, Americans no longer need to provide detailed itineraries or go through cumbersome processes. Instead, travelers simply check a box on a form indicating the purpose of their trip at the airport as they depart the U.S.
U.S. airlines also will begin direct scheduled flights to Cuba later this year, ending the inconvenience of having to fly on a charter flight or go through a third country. The airlines also will become a powerful corporate interest opposed to hindrances to travel.
The deal announcements coming from major companies timed to Obama’s visit also reduce anxieties over Cuba in corporate suites elsewhere. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. announced an agreement to operate three hotels in Cuba and make a multimillion-dollar investment to bring them up to Starwood standards. Google Inc. announced plans to open an online technology in center in Havana offering faster Internet wireless access. General Electric Co. signed memorandums of understanding with the Cuban government on business collaboration amid reports it is exploring sales of power and medical equipment to Cuba.