With rumors of President Donald Trump cutting ties between the U.S. and Cuba circulating, women entrepreneurs in Cuba have turned to his daughter Ivanka Trump with a plea for support.
On Tuesday, 55 Cuban businesswomen implored Ivanka Trump, who works as a “special assistant to the president,” to lobby her father not to roll back Cuban-American relations. The president is expected to announce reversals of travel and trade expansions made under the Obama administration soon. The details of the president’s proposals are still unknown, but they would likely make it more difficult for Americans to visit or do business on the island.
“A setback in the relationship would bring with it the fall of many of our businesses and with this, the suffering of all those families that depend on them,” the women wrote. “There are hundreds of thousands of Cuban women working in the private sector. Today we are owners of boutique hotels, BnBs, restaurants and shops. We are designers, photographers and computer programmers, and much more. On behalf of Cuba’s female entrepreneurs, we ask for your support.”
Startups and private businesses have been emerging in Cuba against nearly impossible odds, years after Fidel Castro promised to “eliminate all manifestations of private trade” in 1958. After former President Barack Obama lifted restrictions between Cuba and the U.S. in 2014, the tourism industry exploded there. In 2016, a record number four million people visited Cuba — including many Americans, up 13% from 2015. This came after the first commercial flights were approved from the U.S. to the country in more than 50 years. Airbnb says the country is its fastest-growing market in history, with more than 8,000 listings available there despite limited internet access.
Tuesday’s letter comes after 55 U.S. senators reintroduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would eliminate the current remaining travel restrictions and allow Americans to go to the country for purely touristic purposes. Currently travelers from the U.S. have to fall under 12 approved categories, which include religious activities, humanitarian projects, journalistic activities and “support for the Cuban people,” among others. One 2015 poll showed 81% of Americans support expanded travel to Cuba.
In the past, Trump has said he would reverse Obama’s changes to Cuba policy unless the government there restores political freedoms and releases political prisoners. He is expected to make an announcement on the policies from Miami on Friday.