The White House today announced a “new course” on U.S.-Cuba relations that surprised most of the nation and had many U.S. fly anglers asking questions about how they might be impacted by the shift in policy.
First for the background: In 1959, when Cold War tensions were already heated, Castro’s communist ousting of the failed Batista regime ended a revolution that brought a strong sense of joy or fear to the island just off the coast of Florida. After first being elected president in Cuba, Batista was eventually a dictator who maintained power with an undemocratic use of the military to assert his will and control elections. The people in Cuba were in misery, and when Fidel Castro’s revolution ended with Castro in power, many thought he would serve the needs of the people. In many ways, he did improve their lives, and according to the CIA World Factbook, Cuba has since offered surprisingly positive numbers in areas such as health care and education. On the other hand, political opponents rejected Castro’s nationalization of many previously private industries and control over a wide range of human and religious rights as well as the media.
As communism quickly spread throughout Latin America, and Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union quickly became a tight bond, the island nation 90 miles off the coast of Florida was soon seen as an extension of the Soviet threat – this one near U.S. harbors. President Eisenhower used an economic embargo to address the Cuba crisis, and shortly after, the U.S. supported an attempted coup with the Bay of Pigs. In response to the U.S. threat to Cuba, Castro sought nuclear missiles from the Soviets, and the ensuing global event known as the Cuban Missile Crisis involved a scare that brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war before an agreement was made that led to the removal of the missiles from Cuba.
While Castro was seen by many as a problematic but temporary dictator, he has in fact outlived many U.S. presidents, first butting heads with Eisenhower and offering challenges to every U.S. president since. The 50 years following the Cuban Revolution included decades of tense relations, embargoes, and even reported assassination attempts at Castro, rumors of attempts to contaminate Cuban agriculture, and even a recent CIA scheme to use the Havana hip hop scene to generate a “grassroots” anti-government movement. Despite many years and attempts at change, the White House pointed out today that our policies have failed, and it’s time for a different approach.
As is the case with many attempts to bring social and political change with sanctions and embargoes, the people often suffer with no meaningful change as the result. The hope is that now, with changes to U.S.-Cuba relations, a political shift might occur through new means, such as Cuban access to U.S. culture and an open internet and media without any continued financial burden on the people.
And this leaves us anglers with the question, “How will this impact us in our desire to get on those flats?!”
To answer this question, it is essential to first note that there as many questions as answers. The White House states that they are seeking to, “Facilitate an expansion of travel to Cuba” [and] “With expanded travel, Americans will be able to help support the growth of civil society in Cuba more easily, and provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers. Americans will also be able to provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector” (whitehouse.gov). For now, this means the U.S. will continue to give licenses to those traveling to Cuba under a number of categories from journalistic activity to family visits.
For anglers, access to the waters 90 miles from the Florida Keys means accessing relatively undisturbed waters inhabiting many of the same species found in the Keys, including tarpon, permit, and bonefish. At the moment, it seems as though the upcoming changes ought to give American anglers easier access. Perhaps the 12 existing travel categories will eventually be expanded, but this will most likely depend on further action from Congress. As for access to Cuba for U.S. businesses, it isn’t unreasonable to assume this would include airlines and hotels. And for those looking to operate guiding operations in Cuba, there might be new opportunities to guide in Cuba or open a lodge (news of that to come).
Regardless of the impact on the fly fishing travel world, the changes announced today are historical and will forever change U.S.-Cuba relations. Let’s see how this unfolds.