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As sanctions in Cuba, the United States – once a driving force for hope – is now a source of pain



Just as the cruise ships have disappeared along with thousands of cash to Americans who owe and aahed – and shopped – in the midst of the crumbling grandeur of Old Havana.

For the Cubans, it is a bitter reverse fortune. President Barack Obama's opening of relations here, which led to his historic visit three years ago, inspired hopes for an economic boom, bringing US investment and visitors back to this communist island, virtually closed from the United States for more than half a century. A new crop of restaurateurs, IT entrepreneurs, artists, and fashion designers, tapping into a fresh sense of optimism, began to build businesses to cope with the seemingly lucrative detent.

But as an immersive frost sets in between the Trump administration and Havana, Cuba is instead faced with the worst economic setback this year.

Lines have been talking for hours in front of markets selling rationed meat. The site of the Nicaraguan embassy – a starting point for migrants trying to enter the United States via Mexico – is crowded with visa applicants.

Cuba's main protector, oil-rich Venezuela and the Cuban government's own failure to implement reforms faster, has harmed the fragile economy, analysts say. But especially in recent weeks, nothing has stuck more than stiff US sanctions.


The Empress of the Sea, a Bahamas flagship owned by the American Royal Caribbean, leaves Havana on June 5. It was the last cruise of an American operator to visit the Cuban port after the Trump administration announced new sanctions against the Communist government. (Adalberto Roque / AFP / Getty Images)

Measures taken by Washington, aimed at punishing Cuba for supporting the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, are immersing disturbances in foreign supply chains and scaring some of the Canadian and other banks that have helped fund 2 billion food imports annually, according to industry and Trump administration officials.

Unlike cash and the credit crunch, the Cuban government reintroduced a broad rationing last month, giving rise to several weeks of what many here describe as the longest food lines since Venezuelan oil and aid began flowing to the island at the beginning of 2000 & # 39; s.

Following new US travel restrictions announced this month, cruise ships – the largest single source of US visitors to Cuba – have begun to divert around Cuban ports and offer passengers alternative routes or refunds. Trump administration officials estimate that their penalties will reduce the number of Americans visiting Cuba by more than half. Almost 600,000 visited last year.

Washington is also targeting Cuba's energy supply, imposing sanctions on Venezuelan states and private carriers, which ferry more and more intermittent shipments of oil and fuel.

"We are talking about funding and funding going to a regime that suppresses 11 million people and supports a regime that suppresses 31 million people in Venezuela," said a senior Trump administrative officer who spoke under the assumption of anonymity. to discuss internal thinking. "We are serious. There are times of maximum pressure, and that's what has informed our thinking."

Cuban officials are opposed to US steps coming down hardest in government, but average citizens.


Cubans are waiting in line to buy rice in a state-owned shop in Havana. (Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters)

Recent lack of chicken, eggs, soap and other commodities has reminded the Cubans of the early 1990s – the astonishing "special period" of hunger and tribulation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government's past large cartridge.

The government has diversified Cuba's economy since these years, with new pillars such as tourism in place to protect against such a declining fall now. But the authorities are already warning people to prepare for more beautiful times.

The Cuban Government describes the food shortages as a temporary disruption they are working to rectify. Lines in the capital have declined significantly in recent days. But eyewitnesses say they stay longer than usual in other cities, including Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey. With access to future supplies, which are still unpredictable, some additional disruptions are expected in the coming weeks and months.

Others worry about the next round of US sanctions expected for days or weeks, with new limits on family remittances in the United States and elsewhere that allow many Cubans to meet.

On a swimming recent morning, Antonio Muñiz, an 83-year-old former factory worker, was waiting to buy meat in Old Havana. The Cubans had flooded the market after receiving an overnight shipment. Muñiz, a diabetic, had been in it for an hour; he had another to go before he would reach the door.

"This is different" from the special period, he said. "But we're heading for the same end. Difficulties in being able to live."

Tempers have flattened as frustrated Cubans jostles for food line positions. A social media campaign – # LaColaChallenge – has Cubans flooded Twitter with pictures of massive lines, including selfies of themselves tragicomically waiting in them.

Outside a Havana supermarket one morning, some worried customers owed in a line for the chicken government. 19659024] "This will never be corrected," said a 47-year-old man who would not give his name. "The problem is political. Leaders who only think they know what they are doing."

Yet many more struck the Trump administration and insisted that the Cubans would tighten their belts in the light of "American aggression. "

" This situation we live can only be attributed to a single problem, the American blockade of this shameful Trump, "ventilated Rudilay Rodriguez, a 75-year-old pensioner. "The man is crazy, a paranoid… The situation has worsened for us since he has been there."

Tourism sanctions, Cuban authorities and business owners say, have caused particular damage to the island's growing private sector. It includes civilian owners of restaurants, Airbnb rental apartments and cultural tours, which since 2016 have been gearing their business to American travelers and bringing a dose of the free market to one of its last limits.

"The United States wants to attack the Cuban government and destroy the revolution and cause socialism to fall," said Deborah Rivas Saavedra, director of foreign investment at Cuba's foreign trade. "But those who are affected are those business people who [the United States] are likely to see benefit. Those who do not support socialism."


Tourist guide Nichdaly Gonzalez uses makeup as she waits for passenger ships in Havana. (Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters)

The American measures are widely condemned here by private business owners. Many owe their own government to move too slowly to open the economy. But after Obama's opening – his administration normalized diplomatic relations between countries and loosened restrictions on travel, banking and money transfers – they also feel betrayed by the United States.

Marvin Segundo, 35, still remembers the "thrill" of Obama's tour in March 2016 when the president moved into Havana.

"We really thought something happened during Obama and that the culture here would change," Segundo said. "I mean for a while it did."

Segundo launched a tour company after Obama's tour that allowed visitors to play basketball with themselves and other Cuban players for $ 55 a game.

"90% of my customers were Americans," he said.

But after the Trump administration began issuing travel warnings and restoring travel policies for Americans in late 2017, Segundo began to see a subtle fall. This month, the business fell by 60 percent from last year – a drop is likely to worsen after sharp new bricks on trips announced by Washington earlier this month.

Segundo's solution: to leave.

"I have to move to Chile and will try to do it there," he said. "All we have here is food lines and rationing."

"I feel sorry for it. I feel like something good was happening. I do not understand why the US is doing it here."

As oil shipments from tolerating Venezuela are becoming less reliable, they are State-controlled media have begun to urge the Cubans to maintain vital energy warnings that some fear a return to the kind of rolling blackouts in the 1990s.

"Today, reality is different in terms of diversifying our economy, but we must be prepared for the worst," former President Raúl Castro, late-brother revolutionary Fidel Castro, warned in a speech last month.


Cubans are waiting for the Panama Embassy in Havana to apply for a visa to travel to the Central American country. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

The Trump administration tightens sanctions only one year after Raúl Castro stepped down and left a person outside the family dynasty responsible for the island for the first time in almost 60 years.

Administration officials say President Miguel Díaz-Canel is navigating yet another delicate transition, and increasing pressure has caused him to call in support of Venezuelan Maduro in his standoff with US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Analysts and some Cuban insiders say the brains' confidence in Havana has become a misunderstanding by trying to portray Díaz-Canel as a continuity caretaker rather than a sign of change. Although Cuba has taken important steps towards modernization under Díaz-Canel – improved access to the Internet through smartphones and allows for wider private WiFi – it has moved much slower on the economic front and remains years after the liberalization reforms by Communist governments in China and Vietnam. , e.g.

Carlos Alzugaray is a former senior Cuban diplomat.

"This government has a problem," he said. "And the first problem is the way they hit themselves by constantly calling themselves" continuity "- which could be pleasantly ideological for some, but giving the bureaucracy the perfect excuse not to change anything."

Trump administration officials accuse Cuba of maintaining "Thousands" of military and intelligence personnel in Venezuela. Havana denies the claim.

Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba's director of US affairs, said Havana supports "any process that avoids military action, and it involves a negotiation that solves the Venezuelan problem."

Asked if it could mean accepting the United States insisting that Maduro leave power, he said, dependent on the Venezuelan leader.

"In the beginning, ask if Maduro is willing to give up power because Maduro has substantial support from the people," he said. "No one knows exactly how much support, but it is important. It is probably higher than some presidents in many Latin American countries currently have. It is probably bigger than the support President Trump has."


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