Starwood now managing hotel run by military in Cuba
American hospitality giant Star-wood began managing a hotel owned by the Cuban military on Tuesday, opening one of the biggest holes in the US trade embargo on Cuba since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared dÈtente in December 2014.
The faÁade of the 186-room Quinta Avenida hotel in Havana's upscale Miramar neighbourhood has been emblazoned with the logo of Starwood's Four Points by Sheraton business travel brand and travellers can now book rooms through Starwood's website.
The Obama administration permitted the deal with a special Treasury Department licence and Starwood announced it on the eve of President Obama's March visit to Cuba.
Allowing a high-profile US corporation to work hand-in-hand with the Cuban military shows both the Obama and Castro governments' eagerness to build as many economic ties as possible before the president leaves office, said Robert Muse, a Washington-based expert on US law on Cuba.
"It certainly goes further and faster than anyone contemplated," Muse said. "The Cuban government proved that it can quickly and decisively deal with the US hospitality sector. No reason they can't do it again and again and again."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Starwood's presence would benefit US-Cuban normalisation by providing US visitors with a safe, well-managed place to stay. He also said that by contributing to Cuba's tourism sector, it would increase people-to-people exchanges between Americans and Cubans.
Toner said the US expected a "steady increase" in similar US business, which helps develop professional know-how on the island.
The hotel is being gradually refurbished and equipped with new beds, linens and other amenities. The 180-member Cuban staff has been retrainedby a team of 15-20 Starwood managers from other countries over the last few weeks and will be permanently supervised by about five Starwood managers under the terms of the contract.