As Obama Rushes To Post New Cuba Trade And Travel Regs, Will Havana Reciprocate?

Jan 16, 2015

A car in Havana sports Cuban and U.S. flags in advance of talks there to normalize relations between the two countries.
Credit Day Donaldson / Flickr Creative Commons

On Thursday President Obama finalized a big part of his efforts to normalize relations with communist Cuba. And they take effect Friday, much earlier than expected. They include loosening travel and trade restrictions – but the question from those who know the Havana regime well is: Will Cuba loosen up too?

The new regs make it much easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and spend money there. They can even use U.S. credit cards. They can also do more business with Cubans – export capital goods like telecom equipment and help finance small Cuban enterprises.

And something else:

“It appears that we’re going to be able to import Cuba goods for the first time, as long as those goods are produced by an independent entrepreneur," says Cuban-American attorney Augusto Maxwell, who heads the Cuba practice at the Miami firm of Akerman LLP. "That’s big, and I think that can be very transformative, particularly on the island.”

Maxwell just returned from Cuba – where he says there’s a feeling "from people on the street to high-level bureaucrats" that the Cold War "that has defined their existence for 50-plus years is over.”

But as new U.S. rules go into force, Maxwell has a bigger concern:

“I think the key thing here is, How is the Cuban government going to reciprocate?" Will it allow small business owners, for example, to directly receive those U.S. goods and investment? "A point I’ve made over there is, It’s up to them to seize this opportunity and move the relationship forward.”

U.S.-Cuba normalization negotiations begin next week in Havana.