“How is it going?”. The question, typical in Cuba by way of greeting, is for two foreign businessmen who are eating in a well-known paladar (private restaurant) in Havana. Although the request is innocent, the two businessmen – one dedicated to tourism and the other to banking – jump at the same time: “Better not even talk. Americans have us crazy. ” This is followed by a catharsis: for months, they report, much of the time they used to dedicate to the difficult job of doing business in Cuba, now it is to consult lawyers, devise strategies and carry out high-level efforts to face the Helms law. Burton and the intensification of the North American embargo. “No one would have imagined three years ago that we would be like this,” they lament.
At this time in 2016 Donald Trump had not won the elections nor was he expected in the White House, and few could predict that the incipient process of normalization between Washington and Havana was going to derail in a resounding way. Even before the historic trip to the island of Barack Obama (May 2016), invited by the then President Raúl Castro, various European leaders began to make a pilgrimage to Cuba: in May 2015, the President of France, François Hollande; in October the Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi; in March 2016, the President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, and a little later that of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
At that time, the atmosphere was one of optimism: the opening promoted by Obama translated into numerous thawing measures, regular flights between the two countries were established, cruises began to travel, hundreds of thousands of US citizens visited the island and did not Few Cubans who had left the country returned hopeful of the possibility of starting small private businesses. Likewise, the foreign interest in investing in Cuba was renewed, the European Union bet heavily on promoting political and economic relations with Cuba and some thought that the rapprochement between Washington and Havana could help open the doors to a new situation in Cuba. the island. Cuba’s ties with Venezuela were solid —although due to the crisis in the South American country, economic exchanges were reduced— but they diversified.
The scenario in the country that King Felipe VI visits from Monday is totally different. The Trump Administration has not only swept up Obama’s progress, but has brought relations between the two countries to one of the most difficult moments in its history: fines for banks to prevent transfers to Cuba, cancellation of cruises and flights to the island, tougher requirements for Americans to travel to the island, restrictions on remittances or boycotting the arrival of fuel. But, without a doubt, the application of the Helms-Burton law since last spring, which has allowed lawsuits in US courts against foreign companies that supposedly “traffic” in expropriated property on the island, has brought the dispute to the fore again. Cuba-USA
“Again it conditions everything, and that does not suit anyone,” say the two businessmen of the palate, noting that the King will hardly be able to tiptoe over this issue on his trip, since it has already affected several Spanish companies. In the midst of the US offensive, Cuba made a move. In October, Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev traveled to Havana to express his support for the island and sign various contracts – one for the rehabilitation and modernization of the railway, which will involve an investment of 1,000 million euros. On the same days, Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern visited the island, opposed to the embargo and contrary to Trump’s policy. “I wish we were signing agreements with the Cubans and not the Russians,” he said.
The change in the Latin American political scene is also relevant for Cuba: the recent triumph of Peronism in Argentina, that of López Obrador in Mexico, the protests in Chile and Ecuador, the resignation of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the resistance of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela they make Cuban chess move. Any good news is welcome as Washington persists in its suffocation policy.