Marla Recio Carbajal got her master’s degree in international business this year from the University of California, San Diego. But now she’s the founder and president of Havana Reverie, an upscale event-planning firm that caters to Americans visiting Cuba for everything from corporate events to weddings. She traveled from Havana to Washington, D.C., last week to send a message to President-elect Donald Trump not to roll back diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“If Trump backs out, that probably means the end of my business,” Recio Carbajal told The Root. “That’s scary. I don’t even want to think about that. I have so many hopes and dreams into this new idea. Hopefully we won’t reach that point.”
Recio Carbajal is among more than 100 Cuban entrepreneurs who joined with U.S. lawmakers this month on Capitol Hill to discuss how business there is booming since the United States and Cuba moved toward normalizing relations two years ago. In a Dec. 7 letter, the group congratulated Trump on his election but appealed to his business instincts in urging him to continue with President Barack Obama’s reforms.
“As a successful businessman, we’re confident that you understand the importance of economic relations between nations,” the letter reads, continuing, “Additional measures to increase travel, trade and investment, including working with the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo, will benefit our companies, the Cuban people and U.S. national interests.”
The letter was organized by Cuban Educational Travel, a U.S. company that arranges trips to the island. Its president, Collin Laverty, says people in Cuba will be hurt if Trump reverses Cuban policy, but he remains optimistic.
“If he rolls back things completely, there will be a lot of people that will lose their jobs, and business will go down,” Laverty says. “If you ask me what Trump will do as president, I think I can see him tweaking the current policy. … I can’t see him telling airlines to cancel their flights.”
Nearly 70 percent of Cuban Americans in Florida’s Miami-Dade County support the U.S. decision to open diplomatic relations. Plus, close to that percentage in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa support the lifting of all travel restrictions. Both airlines and cruise lines have taken note. JetBlue and Southwest are among the airlines offering U.S. flights to Cuba. Carnival’s Fathom cruise line was the first to get approval to travel there, and cruise giant Royal Caribbean sails there as well.
But Trump has threatened to terminate the renewed relations with Cuba, tweeting on Nov. 28: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.” On Nov. 26, the day former Cuban leader Fidel Castro died, Trump issued a statement: “Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”
But on Tuesday, the White House said that President Obama will speak directly with the president-elect to tell him “turning back the clock” on the U.S.-Cuba detente would hurt both American interests and the Cuban people. In a teleconference, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that Obama would “make his case” that his is the right approach.
“Do you really want to cancel plans for hundreds of thousands of Americans?” asked Rhodes, who played a major role in negotiating the diplomatic relations. “Do you want to tell businesses as diverse as our major airlines or Google or General Electric … that have been pursuing opportunities in Cuba that they have to terminate those activities?”
Rhodes says that reversing things now would increase engagement by what he called Cuban “hard-liners.” But other critics have questioned the detente, accusing Obama of making too many concessions.
Still, business owners such as Recio Carbajal, who was among four Cuban entrepreneurs who traveled to Washington to release the letter to the press, have high hopes that U.S. engagement in Cuba will expand.
“This is important for Cuba, for the Cuban entrepreneurs and for all of our families," Recio Carbajal explained. “All of our families are dependent on this … [we're] growing higher salaries, growing economically, growing more independent.”
Allison Keyes is an award-winning correspondent, host and author. She can be heard on CBS Radio News, among other outlets. Keyes, a former national desk reporter for NPR, has written extensively on race, culture, politics and the arts. Follow her on Twitter.