Travel to Cuba Now that Castro is Dead

Fidel is gone and so are your travel plans to Cuba

Fidel Castro By Antônio Milena/ABr (Agência Brasil [1]) [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

by Antonio Milena / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0 BR


What will change in Cuba now that the retired but still symbolically powerful Fidel Castro has finally died? Wait and see is probably the most accurate answer. That’s because what will mostly affect Cuba’s relations with the United States and, by extension, Canada, is the incoming President-Elect Trump and how he gets along with Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and the man currently running Cuba.

After Fidel’s death on Friday, there was a stark difference between Obama’s cautious but still positive assessment of Fidel, and Trump’s blunt criticisms and hope for the future of the island state. What will President Trump do with Obama’s Cuba policy, when he moves into the White House in late January?

Much of the changes in American policy towards Cuba were enacted by executive order. That basically means a presidential memo that does not have the same force as a law passed by the American Congress. In other words, President Trump could, without the need to pass laws in Congress, undo much of the recent moves by the outgoing Obama administration:

  • direct travel between the U.S. and Cuba;
  • investment opportunities for American firms;
  • the re-opened embassy;
  • and other opportunities for Americans in Cuba.

This would not require Congressional approval as the policy was put in place by executive order, rather than legislation.

Will Trump make a hard right turn in U.S. policy towards Cuba? So far, the President-Elect has moderated some of his hard-line policies on immigration, for example. He may do the same with respect to Cuba. But it is certainly possible that it will become a lot trickier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba after January 20, 2017.

This also depends on Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, who has run Cuba since Fidel stepped down from actively running the country around 8 years ago. If Trump demands reforms – like elections, freedom of worship, and economic de-regulation – in return for maintaining Cuba’s current status with the US, how will Raul Castro react?

Cuba is still run by the Cuban communist party, and despite the reforms, the economy is still tightly controlled by the government, especially by the military. Will Raul Castro willingly accelerate the pace of reforms to please President Trump? It is clear that Raul is more of a pragmatist than Fidel, and he may enact some further reforms. Whether he can satisfy any demands that Trump may make when he takes over in the White House, is uncertain at this point.

That means that it might be a good idea to visit Cuba now, if you plan on doing so, and to do any paperwork necessary, if you are getting married to a Cuban citizen. Because it certainly is possible that new restrictions on travel to Cuba and on bringing Cuban spouses to America may be coming at some point over the next few years.

Of course, maybe Raul Castro will let Trump’s children build a Havana Trump Tower and Casino in the heart of Havana’s harbor district. And magically, relations between Cuba and the Colossus to the North will once again be on track. But don’t count on it. Better to firm up your travel plans now, while the going is still good.