A different Castro may bring a new, fast-growing market

Cuban President Fidel Castro has stepped down after almost 50 years in power. The ailing leader will pass the position to his younger brother, Raul. This power shift has long been suspected since the January election polls, projecting Raul as the presidential front-runner, ahead of Fidel.

In the news
Cuban President Fidel Castro has stepped down after almost 50 years in power. The ailing leader will pass the position to his younger brother, Raul. This power shift has long been suspected since the January election polls, projecting Raul as the presidential front-runner, ahead of Fidel.

Raul Castro has stated that he is willing to discuss Cuban/US relations with the next presidential administration, in the same way China opened trade with Nixon. Though Raul Castro has announced plans to enact "structural changes," US officials remain pessimistic about lifting its embargo, calling first for the release of political prisoners and a genuine democratic election.

Why does it matter?
Castro's resignation could open the gate for US tourism. It is currently illegal to do business with Cuba, but an exploding market could soon emerge.

"At the moment, it is definitely premature to lay down programs and reach out, but it is a market to watch because the moment Cuba opens up, every agency will jump on the opportunity," says RenĊ½ Mack, Weber Shandwick president of Travel and Lifestyle Practice.

Mack also notes that like post-Berlin Wall East Germany, Cuba "could overnight be on the cutting edge of technology and innovation in a brushstroke, a hot destination [with] travel packages and cruise ships instantly circling the island."

A travel market already exists amongst South Americans and Europeans, but from a US perspective, the chance to build a tourism base would jump-start campaigns, emphasizing the island's proximity and presence in American culture.

"Cuba's been off-limits for so long, there's already appeal," Mack says. "It's already so much a part of our culture, in terms of marketing. It's just a matter of being able to get in there."

Five facts:
1. The Cuban Ministry of Communications has blamed Cuban citizens' inability to access the Internet on insufficient telecommunications infrastructure, resulting from the US trade embargo. Cuban citizens can only access limited e-mail and a government-run "intranet."

2. Cuba, which has a population of about 11,382,800, is only 90 miles of water from the US, making it America's closest Communist neighbor.

3. The United States' Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 was passed for the purpose of "bringing democracy to the Cuban people," and codifies the 1962 economic embargo.

4. For the past 17 years, the United Nations General Assembly has called for an end to the embargo. This past October, 184 countries voted in favor of the resolution.

5. It's illegal for US citizens to buy or bring back Cuban cigars to the US, or receive them from someone who recently returned from Cuba.

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