No Castro payday coming

You have to hand it to President Obama.  With his sell-out diplomacy to Communist Cuba, he has in effect “hit for the cycle,” doing a solid for every last one of the world’s most unsavory dictatorships.  What’s left his remaining two years in office?  Perhaps a full-scale rebuilding of the Berlin Wall.   

There is however, one consolation.  The Castro crime family is unlikely to pocket much revenue in any American tourist trade.  To start with, the Cuban sanctions are in place by law, the Helms-Burton Act, so Congress gets the last word.  But even without U.S. legal restrictions, how many people really want to visit or invest in Communist Cuba?  Right now, the Castro brothers scoop up every cent they can from the roughly 2.5 million people who travel there every year – mostly ex-pats visiting family or left-wing Europeans on budget holidays.  The dedicated areas of the island for foreign tourists are primitive, while Havana and other towns are utter ruins.  The competition for real tourist dollars and investments from Florida, Mexico, and the rest of the Caribbean Islands is ferocious.  Meanwhile, the Castros are still struggling to build the first new golf course in 60 years.

If you are a dictator, the best kind of resource to have is oil, where a few foreign experts can come in and drill, then send you oodles of cash for the privilege.  Next-best is a heavy-industry  slave-labor economy, like they have done so well with in China.  The Castros’ old business, renting out the army as mercenaries, also paid well in the 1970s.  But the Castro family has been left shifting about as cut-rate hoteliers since the end of the Cold War, and it’s a miserable failure.  Not even bringing back the tourist sex trade has helped.  And that’s not due to the U.S. sanctions – Canadians and Europeans have been free all along to travel and invest in Cuba but have left disappointed.  Gulags, even ones with nice beaches, don’t attract repeat customers.

And, of course, in the best of circumstances, the travel industry is a low-margin affair.  Wage costs – Cuba’s supposed advantage, since it pays its workers nothing – are no help, either, as labor is cheap everywhere in the Caribbean.  Long-term investment is the real key, and were the Castro brothers to make every good-faith effort to restart commerce tomorrow, it would still take decades and cost billions of dollars for new roads, utilities, airports, hotels, shops, restaurants, and convention halls just to catch up to Haiti.  But the Castro crime bosses are not interested in plowing money back into the country – just in stealing whatever nickels and dimes that happen by.  So consequently, their Club Commie resorts will never amount to anything.

I don’t know exactly how many years Raúl and Fidel have left, but you can bet they will be long dead and gone before Cuba has a beach hotel with enough stars to attract the high-living Obama family, or most anyone else, for a vacation.

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, KY.

You have to hand it to President Obama.  With his sell-out diplomacy to Communist Cuba, he has in effect “hit for the cycle,” doing a solid for every last one of the world’s most unsavory dictatorships.  What’s left his remaining two years in office?  Perhaps a full-scale rebuilding of the Berlin Wall.   

There is however, one consolation.  The Castro crime family is unlikely to pocket much revenue in any American tourist trade.  To start with, the Cuban sanctions are in place by law, the Helms-Burton Act, so Congress gets the last word.  But even without U.S. legal restrictions, how many people really want to visit or invest in Communist Cuba?  Right now, the Castro brothers scoop up every cent they can from the roughly 2.5 million people who travel there every year – mostly ex-pats visiting family or left-wing Europeans on budget holidays.  The dedicated areas of the island for foreign tourists are primitive, while Havana and other towns are utter ruins.  The competition for real tourist dollars and investments from Florida, Mexico, and the rest of the Caribbean Islands is ferocious.  Meanwhile, the Castros are still struggling to build the first new golf course in 60 years.

If you are a dictator, the best kind of resource to have is oil, where a few foreign experts can come in and drill, then send you oodles of cash for the privilege.  Next-best is a heavy-industry  slave-labor economy, like they have done so well with in China.  The Castros’ old business, renting out the army as mercenaries, also paid well in the 1970s.  But the Castro family has been left shifting about as cut-rate hoteliers since the end of the Cold War, and it’s a miserable failure.  Not even bringing back the tourist sex trade has helped.  And that’s not due to the U.S. sanctions – Canadians and Europeans have been free all along to travel and invest in Cuba but have left disappointed.  Gulags, even ones with nice beaches, don’t attract repeat customers.

And, of course, in the best of circumstances, the travel industry is a low-margin affair.  Wage costs – Cuba’s supposed advantage, since it pays its workers nothing – are no help, either, as labor is cheap everywhere in the Caribbean.  Long-term investment is the real key, and were the Castro brothers to make every good-faith effort to restart commerce tomorrow, it would still take decades and cost billions of dollars for new roads, utilities, airports, hotels, shops, restaurants, and convention halls just to catch up to Haiti.  But the Castro crime bosses are not interested in plowing money back into the country – just in stealing whatever nickels and dimes that happen by.  So consequently, their Club Commie resorts will never amount to anything.

I don’t know exactly how many years Raúl and Fidel have left, but you can bet they will be long dead and gone before Cuba has a beach hotel with enough stars to attract the high-living Obama family, or most anyone else, for a vacation.

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, KY.