Cuba entrepreneurs say Trump policy hurting private businesses

Washington (AFP) –


Cuban entrepreneurs say US President Donald Trump's announced policy toward the island already is hurting small private businesses, the opposite of its stated intent.

"We are very worried. We've already had three big groups cancel," since Trump's announcement in June, said Nidialys Acosta, who with her husband Julio runs a classic-car taxi service. They also offer tours of their restoration shop to American car enthusiasts.

Trump told a mostly Cuban-American crowd in Miami last month that he was canceling the Obama administration's initiative to open relations with Cuba, including allowing individuals to travel to the island and permitting direct flights from US airports and cruises.

He called the easing of sanctions under Obama a "completely one-sided deal," vowing to help the Cuban people and private sector -- and bolster democracy and human rights on the island -- by keeping US dollars from going to the Cuban military through state-run tourism agencies.

But by making it more difficult for individuals to travel, Acosta said, the US shift will drive more business to government agencies and hotels, hurting a private sector that had boomed with the influx of American tourists.

She said many families depend on these businesses, and the drop in tourism will hurt them.

- 'Not real Cubans' -

"I think Trump's advisers don't know what they're talking about," and don't understand Cuba's private sector, said Celia Mendoza, founder of VIP travel agency Concierge Habana.

She dismissed the concerns of the Cuban-American community in Miami, saying they are "not real Cubans" and don't understand the day-to-day issues affecting the island.

Mendoza said she cannot get a US Treasury Department license to do business in Cuba because she is not a US citizen, and the agencies that have such licenses primarily work with Cuban government tourism companies when booking group travel.

Mendoza and Acosta were part of an eight-member delegation of small-business owners who traveled to Washington to make their case.

In a letter to the Trump administration Tuesday, the entrepreneurs urged Washington to allow visits by individual travelers, who are more likely to use private lodging and restaurants. They also called for such travelers to be granted greater access to the Cuban financial system.