The visit by President Barack Obama to Havana this week was the first by a president of the US in 88 years to Cuba, and without a doubt was an unparalleled historic occasion. Pictures of Obama walking through Old Havana or standing in front of the José Martí Memorial — or even just Air Force One over distinctive vintage cars — created indelible images that reflected the evolving Cuba-US relationship.
Beyond the photo opportunities, the substantive work done around the trip allowed for a deepening of the Cuba-US relationship on a personal, diplomatic, and business level. This work will deepen the connections between the two countries, and create opportunities to work together going forward.
And the fundamental connection between Cubans and Americans was reaffirmed through their shared passion of that vital pastime, baseball. Presidents Obama and Castro both were in attendance at the Estadio Latinoamerico to watch the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Cuban national team 4-1.
Last and certainly not least, economic opportunity for the Cuban people was opened up by the public and private sector announcements and agreements leading up to and on the side of the trip, including:
- Easing by the US government of travel restrictions on Americans and bank transfers
- Cuba eliminating 10% tax on USD transfers to the island;
- Starwood deal to run three hotels in Havana;
- AirBNB, Stripe, Priceline and Google expanding in Cuba;
- Western Union launching Cuban services; and
- Carnival getting approval to call on Cuba.
The success of the trip as Obama flew off to Argentina last night does not mean that there isn’t work still to be done. On the US side, the 56-year old embargo needs to be lifted by Congress; the Cuban government needs to take further steps in opening up its economy to private participation; and both sides need to be able to resolve exile claims outstanding since the 1959 revolution.
- Michael Derham is a Partner at Novam Portam a strategic advisory firm dedicated to connecting Latin America with the world and a founding member of The Cuba Private Equity Working Group.