This, of course, is putting the cart before the horse… but carts and horses are appropriate for a discussion of Cuba, as that is what you find out in the countryside.
The recently announced thaw in relations with Cuba does not translate directly into the ability for you to go fish Cuba (if you are a Yank, like myself). It does make that more likely, but there is still a long way to go on that front and you have to get an end to the embargo through congress, a place still in fear of communism as if it were the 50’s. Congress has shown very little interest in actually legislating, so I’m not holding my breath.
Even the prospect of a lifting of the travel ban has already stirred up debate about the potential impacts. I see three camps of thought.
- The “Worst Thing Ever” Camp – This group fishes Cuba already. They are either sneaking in (not exactly hard, but still something most anglers won’t do) or they are not US Citizens and so can travel to Cuba when they damn well feel like it. The fear is that Americans are basically going to screw it all up. Prices are going to soar. The unique character of Cuba is going to be Starbuck-ized, overrun with Spring Breakers and exclusive resorts. Havana will become Miami’s South Beach, maybe even with a Kardashian or reality TV show. These folks tend to love the Cuba they know, the people, the places and the culture, and don’t really want it to be changed for fear that change will mean destruction.
- The “This is Awesome” Camp – This group is just waiting to head down once they don’t have to lie to Customs. They want to smoke a Cuban Cigar, have some Cuban rum and fish the waters they’ve read and dreamed about. They are ready to book, to fly, to fish and frolic in a new wonderland. They are excited and they are often excited for the Cuban people, who don’t exactly live in the lap of luxury. They may even point to the potential impact an influx of dollars has had on other “Communist” regimes… when markets start to open, political change is often close behind.
- The “We’ll See” Camp – This group will point out that tourism is still banned and Cuba’s rules on property ownership have not changed, making it hard for a Four Seasons or Disney Resort to drop a few hundred million on something spiffy. This group might point out the massive infrastructure improvements needed to convert largely rural Cuba into South Beach South and that such improvements would require billions of dollars, money the Cuban government doesn’t have. This group might also point out that Most of the Caribbean is not exactly South Beach, despite more favorable ownership laws and existing infrastructure. It doesn’t seem likely from this perspective that the place will be overrun or will even be likely to change much in the coming decade. (I fall into this camp, so I’m bias).
While I may fall into the “We’ll See” camp, I could be wrong and here is why. The Bahamas has about 300K people spread out on 5K square miles of land, most of that being fairly remote and hard to get to. Cuba, on the other hand, has 11,000,000 people and 42,000 square miles of land. It is a big country, both in terms of size and in numbers and so has a potential much greater than that of the Bahamas. Cuba’s GDP was $212,000,000,000, vs. the Bahamas $8,000,000,000. Cuba may be an island, but it is a BIG island with room to explore and grow.
How an opened up Cuba would impact the rest of the Caribbean is yet to be seen. I think there is a lot of fear if you are in Abaco or Andros or Nassau about what it could mean. Those places really do ride the waves of American consumer confidence and adding in a competitor the size and potential strength of Cuba could have some serious impacts, and not for the better.
It is easy to go some places and feel like the Caribbean is being overrun, but then you talk to some guides who go months without bookings, lodges that exist constantly teetering on the edge of going under, and you do wonder what the carrying capacity is, what the actual market is. How many lodges or guides can the industry support?
Cuba may (or might not) be opening up soon and I don’t think anyone knows what that will mean.