WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a national coalition of private companies, organizations and local leaders dedicated to dismantling the embargo, released the following statement ahead of the two-year anniversary of Presidents Obama and Castro announcing the intent to normalize relations on December 17, 2014:
"Positive change is happening in Cuba, and it’s a direct result of the mutual decision to change our failed 55-year-old policy of isolation and antagonism. The Cuban private sector is growing rapidly, access to internet is expanding, and there is a liberalized real estate market. Civil society organizations advancing causes such as LGBT and women's rights, as well as religious freedom have risen in prominence. This wouldn't have been possible without the easing of U.S. travel and trade restrictions. A large increase in American travelers to the island has helped thousands of Cuban entrepreneurs whose businesses rely on tourism. The presence of U.S. companies like Google, Airbnb and various telecom providers is helping all Cubans reconnect to the world.
"Our new Cuba policy is helping real people, from entrepreneurs starting businesses for the first time to families that are being reconnected after 55 years of estrangement. It's time that the voices of the Cuban people, who overwhelmingly support engagement, are heard in this debate.
"For 55 years the embargo has only hurt American businesses and the Cuban people. Momentum is growing, both in Congress and across the country, to fully lift the embargo. We're hopeful that President-Elect Trump will continue to build on the progress that has benefited the American and Cuban people."
On Wed., December 7, over 100 Cuban private business owners sent a letter to President-elect Trump urging him to continue to build on the progress of the last two years that has helped Cuba's private sector to flourish.
Changes in Cuba
Cuba's private sector has seen significant growth over the past couple of years, aided by the expansion of internet access and an increase of foreign travelers. This progress has spread to other facets of daily life, like civil society and travel.
By 2015, Cuba had issued 500,000 private business licenses. The Cuban private sector now accounts for a third of its labor force.
Cuba now has over 4,000 privately owned restaurants.
There are 200 public wifi hotspots in Cuba, more than double the number before December 17, 2014. The government has a goal of 50% broadband internet penetration by 2020, with pilot programs being launched in restaurants, cafes, and even private homes.
Cubans can now buy and sell real estate.
The number of mobile phone subscriptions has reached over three million.
The Cuban government has eliminated the exit visa, allowing for Cubans to travel the world more freely.
Civil society organizations advancing causes like LGBT and women's rights, and religious freedom have risen in prominence, and the independent media is proliferating.
Many U.S. companies have begun to do business in Cuba following U.S. regulatory changes that have eased travel and trade restrictions on Cuba. In particular, the past two years have seen the return of direct commercial flights, cellular roaming in Cuba, and the first American hotels, cruise lines, and banks on Cuban soil in over 55 years:
January 2016: NBC Universal filmed a major motion picture, Fast & Furious 8, in Havana.
March 2016: Starwood Hotels and Resorts opened the first U.S. hotel in Havana, Cuba. The company has plans to open two more.
May 2016: Carnival Cruise became the first U.S. cruise ship to dock in Havana's harbor in 55 years.
June 2016: Stonegate Bank issued the first U.S. credit card intended for use in Cuba.
August 2016: Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Frontier Airlines now operate daily commercial flights from the U.S. to 10 Cuban cities.
September 2016: American telecom giants AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile now offer roaming services in Cuba.
December 2016: Google signed a deal allowing faster internet access on the island.
There is growing support in Congress to fully lift the embargo. Two bipartisan bills in Congress would take steps to dismantle certain provisions of the embargo if passed. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would repeal restrictions on tourism to Cuba, now has 54 cosponsors in the Senate and 132 in the House. Meanwhile, the Agricultural Export Expansion Act, a bill which would ease restrictions on financing agricultural exports to Cuba, now has 49 cosponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee also passed four pro-engagement Cuba amendments in a FY2017 funding bill.