Another Obama-era symbol of engagement with Cuba will soon be gone, after the Trump administration told Marriott International its license to run the Sheraton Four Points hotel in Havana will not be renewed.
The hotel, reopened under the Sheraton brand in 2016, was the only one in Cuba managed by an American company.
“We have recently received notice that the government-issued license will not be renewed, forcing Marriott to cease operations in Cuba,” said Kerstin Sachl, the company’s director of public relations for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Sachl said the Treasury Department told Marriott that operations in Cuba have to cease before Aug. 31 and that the company will not be allowed to manage other hotels on the island as it had planned.
The inauguration of the Four Points Sheraton hotel in 2016, the first run by an American company since 1959, became one of the symbols of the thaw in relations with the communist country under President Barack Obama.
The agreement generated criticism from the start because the hotel is owned by the Gaviota company, which is linked to the Cuban military.
The administration renewed Marriott’s license for another two years in 2018 and the company had plans to manage a second hotel in Havana, the historic Hotel Inglaterra, although it had repeatedly postponed its opening.
More recently, the administration accelerated the dismantling of the “engagement” policies promoted by Obama, banning cruises to the island and imposing limits on flights and remittances.
The Trump administration has also increased the pressure against companies controlled by Cuba’s military and security forces.
On Wednesday, the State Department included seven hotels and companies, including Fincimex, on its list of restricted entities linked to the Cuban military. Fincimex is the Cuban company that processes all remittances to the island.
The administration’s decision “is not surprising but is disappointing” as the Four Points by Sheraton Havana was the sole space for Cuban employees who are Cuban to learn about how a global United States company operates,” said John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Marguerite Jimenez, an expert in the Washington Office for Latin America, said the decision sets a worrying precedent for other U.S. companies with businesses in Cuba.
“Whether claiming to support the Cuban people or Cuban private sector or not wanting to interfere in existing business operations, the President has said one thing on Cuba and consistently done another,” she said.
Groups of Cuban exiles and activists, who had previously criticized Marriott’s agreement with a Cuban military company, supported the administration’s decision.
“I would have preferred that Marriott didn’t do business in a country where there is so much segregation,” said Orlando Gutierrez, on behalf of the Cuban Democratic Directory and the Cuban Resistance Assembly. These two Miami-based organizations asked Marriott to hire the hotel workers in Havana directly.
The island’s government requires foreign companies to hire Cuban workers through a state agency. The employees at the Four Points Sheraton were no exception to this rule.
“We welcome the administration’s decision,” said Gutiérrez. “We believe that it is the correct response to the repression (of the Cuban government) in Cuba and Venezuela. It is only by doing away with the dictatorship that Cubans will have the freedom to make the country grow.”