Cuban Entrepreneurs Issue Policy Recommendations to Trump Administration

Washington, D.C. - At a press conference in Washington D.C. today, a group of eight Cuban entrepreneurs issued policy recommendations to the Trump administration on strengthening Cuba’s burgeoning private sector in a letter sent to U.S. Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce. Following President Trump's recently announced Cuba directive, the Cuban entrepreneurs highlighted specific ways the regulatory agencies could craft policies that support Cuba's private sector while expressing concern for a rollback of U.S.-Cuba engagement. 

President Trump's National Security Memorandum on Cuba policy cites the need to foster and grow the nascent private sector in Cuba as a core principle for regulatory changes towards Cuba. However, most entrepreneurs on the island are concerned that tightening regulations will deter Americans from traveling to Cuba and in turn, hurt Cuba's growing private sector. 

In order to better support Cuba's private sector, the entrepreneurs recommend making it easier for Cubans to open U.S. bank accounts, allowing a form of individual travel for Americans to Cuba, allowing entrepreneurs in Cuba more access to U.S. exports, and a continuation of bilateral dialogue between the two nations. A full list of a policy recommendations is available here

"Most Cuban entrepreneurs view improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba as a net positive for their businesses, and many developed their business model on this premise," the Cuban entrepreneurs wrote. 

"If President Trump is serious about helping Cuba's private sector, he will listen to Cuban entrepreneurs. Today, they are telling him that additional regulations on Americans who wish to travel to Cuba will harm their businesses and harm Cuba's private sector," said President of Engage Cuba, James Williams. "Americans are staying in private b&bs, eating at private restaurants, and taking private taxi cabs. Following President Trump's Cuba directive, Cubans across the island are concerned that a rollback of engagement will hurt the Cuban people." 

"Cuba’s entrepreneurs are eager to share how U.S. policy can best support them and their businesses, and I am glad they are in Washington at this important moment to share their stories. The past two years have shown that engagement between the U.S. and Cuba is positive for people in both our countries, especially entrepreneurs on the island," said Emily Mendrala, Executive Director of Center for Democracy in the Americas. 

“President Trump’s new policy has created confusion and fear among U.S. travelers and Cuban entrepreneurs,” said Collin Laverty, President of Cuba Educational Travel. “We should be promoting the flow of people, ideas, goods and services, not pumping the brakes.”

In May 2017, a new survey showed that American travelers overwhelmingly support Cuba’s growing private sector. According to the survey, 76% of U.S. travelers stayed in private B&Bs, while virtually of those surveyed ate at privately-owned restaurants or paladares.

The entrepreneurs represent a variety of industries in Cuba, including food service and hospitality, media, automobile restoration, concierge services, and event planning. 

Below is a list of the entrepreneurs issuing the recommendation:

  • Nidialys Acosta and Julio Álvarez, Co-founders of NostalgiCar, a restoration garage for classic American automobiles and upscale car service.
  • Robin Pedraja, founder of Vistar Magazine, a digital publication that is one of Cuba’s first independent media projects.
  • Reymel Delgado, founder of Estudio 50, an audio/visual production business in Cuba.
  • Niuris Higueras Martínez, founder of Atelier, one of Havana’s most successful paladares, a privately owned restaurant.
  • Celia Mendoza, founder of Concierge Habana, which provides VIP and specialized services to foreign visitors.
  • Julia de la Rosa, co-owner of La Rosa de Ortega B&B, listed on Airbnb.
  • Yamina Vicente, founder of Decorazon, a party planning and decorating business.

Letter text is available below and here. The full list of recommendations is available here.

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

The Honorable Steven Terner Mnuchin
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 
Washington, D.C. 20220

The Honorable Wilbur Ross
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20230

July 18, 2017
Dear Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Ross, and Secretary Mnuchin:


We were encouraged to read in President Trump’s June 16 National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba that the President wishes to encourage the growth of the Cuban private sector. To this end, we traveled to Washington, D.C. to present the attached recommendations to U.S. policymakers outlining ways U.S. policy can support Cuba’s private sector.

First, we recommend policymakers allow U.S. travelers to continue to travel as individuals to Cuba. U.S. travel to Cuba directly benefits private entrepreneurs and their families. The vast majority of U.S. individual travelers (vs. groups) frequent private lodging, restaurants and transportation services. Fewer travelers will have a direct negative impact on businesses in the hospitality sector as well an indirect negative impact on connected enterprises.  

Second, we encourage U.S. policy to allow Cuba’s private sector access to goods and remittances. Remittances are essential to Cuba’s private sector, providing the financing to begin, and the working capital to sustain, businesses. Remittances also provide Cuban consumers with the ability to patronize private businesses. A U.S. policy of not restricting remittances is therefore critical to the health of the private sector.

Third, we recommend greater flexibility for Cubans wishing to open bank accounts in the United States. Many Cuban entrepreneurs purchase goods and services in the United States to help run their businesses. Cubans are legally permitted to open bank accounts in the U.S., but there are restrictions on the allowable transactions, and limited and uncertain account services, impairing businesses in both countries.

Finally, we urge the U.S. to continue dialogue and cooperation with the Cuban government and other Cuban entities. Most Cuban entrepreneurs view improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba as a net positive for their businesses, and many developed their business model on this premise.

Sincerely,

Nidialys Acosta; Nostalgicar
Julio Alvarez; Nostalgicar
Julia de la Rosa; La Rosa de Ortega B&B
Reymel Delgado; Estudio 50
Niuris Higueras; Atelier Restaurant
Celia Mendoza; Concierge Habana
Robin Pedraja; Vistar Magazine                             
Yamina Vicente; Decorazón Event Planning