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The Fallout Of The Trump Administration's New Restrictions On Travel To Cuba


The Trump administration's new restrictions on Americans' travel to Cuba are meant to punish the Cuban government, but others are feeling the pain as well. Cruise lines are rerouting ships around the island, upsetting passengers' plans. And Cuban civilians who've been making money off American visitors are rethinking their livelihoods.

Camilo Condis rents an apartment to tourists in Havana and also works at a restaurant. He says this policy will have ripple effects.

CAMILO CONDIS: It's going to affect not only me but all of the private sector in the country. A big part of the economy for civil society in Cuba comes from tourists. And from there, the money moves around the whole country.

SHAPIRO: That was Camilo Condis in Havana.

And we're joined now by Collin Laverty. He runs Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes trips to the island for Americans. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

COLLIN LAVERTY: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Have you talked with Cubans in the last day since this policy change was announced?

LAVERTY: Yeah. Unfortunately, the phone is ringing off the hook. And, of course, social media is now big in Cuba with more Internet, so Facebook and WhatsApp. We're just flooded with messages. And I can say it's a message of concern, of sadness and, to some extent, chaos in terms of how they're going to survive this and provide for themselves and their families.

SHAPIRO: I know your company has surveyed hundreds of Cuban business owners. How dependent are they on American tourists?

LAVERTY: Well, we released a study last week of hundreds of Cuban entrepreneurs, and it was quite astounding. You know, over 95% of Cubans said that changes to travel would either harm or greatly harm their business. And 97% said that their earnings were directly or indirectly linked to more U.S. visitors. And then over 50% of those surveyed said that they support five or more members of their family.

So you can imagine this is taking food off the table and money out of the pockets of average Cubans that, supposedly, we're trying to help.

SHAPIRO: But earlier restrictions on Americans' travel to Cuba were only lifted a few years ago. Is it really possible that American tourism has become such a crucial part of the economy in such a short time?

LAVERTY: Well, if you see particularly for the private sector, you know, the private sector in Cuba went from less than 100,000 people to over a half a million people.

SHAPIRO: You mean people leaving government jobs and, instead, driving taxis or renting out their home with Airbnb or things like that?

LAVERTY: Correct - graphic designers and barbershops. And so all of these things - the growth of the private sector coincided and was directly linked to more U.S. visitors.

And then not only the economic impact, but the message. You know, time and time again, we talk about policies that support the Cuban people. Yet, as we heard from Camilo, the voice of the Cuban person is often absent. They're usually, unfortunately, kind of the political football that's being thrown around in the midst of all these policy changes.

SHAPIRO: This doesn't entirely end the ability of Americans to visit Cuba. So how much of a decrease do you expect actually to come out of this?

LAVERTY: We'll just have to see. I think Americans are generally curious about Cuba, and they want to go there. So I think in the long term, it'll reestablish itself and people will find ways to go to Cuba legally.

SHAPIRO: Well, just explain what those ways might be at this point.

LAVERTY: There's still a number of categories. You know, the Trump administration eliminated people - the people, which is one of 12 categories. But you can still go down for religious purposes. You know, bands that want to perform, sports teams that want to play in a competition. There's a very broad category called support for the Cuban people, where if you go down and interact with independent Cubans, like cultural groups, NGOs, then your trip would be legal.

So I think the industry and the American traveler will adapt and figure out a way to continue to visit the island. But in the meantime, you know, Cubans will suffer the consequences.

SHAPIRO: I know it's only been one day, but have you figured out what this is going to mean for your company, your business?

LAVERTY: Well, we've been around for quite some time. And I think we'll see a decline, but we're in it for the long run. And we'll figure out how to get through this and become stronger because of it.

SHAPIRO: Collin Laverty runs Cuba Educational Travel, which facilitates Americans' travel to the island. Thanks very much for joining us.

LAVERTY: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.