Following President Obama's order to loosen restrictions on travel and trade to Cuba, scores of Americans took advantage of the many commercial flight deals and booked a vacation — looking to bring home armloads of rum and cigars. Then Donald Trump was elected to office, putting diplomatic relations to question.
It's off to a rocky start: After the polls closed early Wednesday morning and Donald Trump became the 2016 president elect, it seemed that tensions were already starting to arise between the U.S. and Cuba. The island country began a five-day nationwide military exercise to prepare its “troops and population to counter a range of enemy action,” the country’s Ministry of Defense said in the government-run newspaper Granma. Past strategic military exercises have coincided with the surfacing of diplomatic tension. The first were held after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.
But Tom Popper, the President of Insight Cuba, a Cuban tourism operator licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control, thinks that relations are only going to improve. "We would be having an entirely different conversation if there had been any Republican other than Donald Trump win the presidential election,” says Popper. The reason? His experience in hospitality and real estate development. “It’s an interesting piece of the puzzle, because he understands that trade and travel with Cuba is good for business,” says Popper.
Donald Trump explicitly said along the campaign trail (notably in Miami) that he promised to reverse Obama’s executive order that opened Cuba to more American access in 2014. That’s a perennial promise Republican politicians make to appeal to Cuban-Americans living in Southern Florida. However, Trump has more often stated and acted in support of relations with Cuba, adding that he would have negotiated a “better deal." Trump has even spoken in the past of intentions to open his own hotel on the island. "I would, I would," he said of developing real estate during an interview on CNN's Situation Room, adding, "at the right time, when we're allowed to do it. Right now, we're not."
While a large part of the decisions made in regards to future relations won’t come until after the Trump administration has been chosen and ambassadors between the two countries have met, Popper’s optimism speaks loudly. He encourages any travelers who already have plane tickets for 2017 to keep them.
“I think we’ll see a little bit of a slowing in business and travel initially, because Cubans have to see who is appointed to the cabinet,” he says. “It will remain status quo, and then once the dust settles, we’ll see who meets at the embassy and who meets at the table and what we’re dealing with. But for those who are already booked to go, go. Despite politics, the people of Cuba have a deep affection and appreciation for the changes that have happened. You see that action. You’ll be welcome, that people want to give you a hug — which is not the case for American travelers in most places at this time.”