MIAMI – As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump looked into the possibility of establishing hotels in Cuba, according to the head of a major Spanish hotel chain.
Miguel Fluxa, chief executive of the Iberostar Group, said at a public event Thursday that Trump’s interest in Cuba existed “no more than six months ago.”
“Trump until recently has tried to negotiate for hotels he wanted to have in Cuba,” Fluxa said at a 60-year anniversary event for Iberostar in Mallorca, according to the Spanish newspaper ABC.
“If American tourism continues, Havana will be a top-of-the-line global destination, as it already is,” Fluxa added.
He announced that his company planned further investments in Cuba – and thanked the Cuban government – when he mentioned Trump.
Fluxa did not respond to a request for comment from el Nuevo Herald.
In a statement, the Trump Organization said it “owns and manages billions of dollars of five-star hotels, luxury real estate and golf courses worldwide.”
“In the last 12 months, many major competitors have sought opportunities in Cuba,” the company said. “While it is important for us to understand the dynamics of the markets that our competitors are exploring, we do not intend to expand into Cuba nor have we ever done any business there.”
Trump tweeted Monday, two days after former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death, that as president he may “terminate” President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba unless the island’s communist regime agrees to more concessions.
On Oct. 21, Cuba’s tourism ministry invited the Trump Organization – and a number of other U.S. hotel and tourism operators – to the 34th Havana International Fair, which began in late October. According to an email obtained by el Nuevo Herald, among the invitees was Jason Greenblatt, executive vice president and chief legal officer for the Trump Organization. Also listed was an executive from Starwood, which has already signed deals to operate hotels in Cuba, and representatives of other U.S. hotel chains whose interest in the Cuban market has not been made public.
Greenblatt did not respond to a request for comment from the Miami Herald. He was one of the Trump executives who, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, visited Cuba as late as 2013 to explore investing in a golf course on the island.
Another one of the Trump representatives who traveled to Cuba, Ed Russo, denied to the Herald that the Trump Organization has had any recent interest in establishing hotels in Cuba.
“No, not at all,” Russo said, adding that it’s outsiders who have tried to get the company to jump in. “There are so many people pitching us offers, it’s crazy: ‘Come to this country, look at this property, buy this golf course.’”
“There’s no golf course in Cuba – absolutely not,” continued Russo, who lives in Key West. “Something has to happen at some point in time” in Cuba, he noted, but Trump “isn’t focused on that, I don’t think.”
Russo suggested that people with no knowledge of Trump’s business like to drop Trump’s name because he’s now president-elect.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are people out there that like to turn ‘I saw Donald Trump walk by’ into ‘I had a long conversation with Donald Trump’ – and it never happened,” he said.
Trump admitted to Miami Herald news partner WFOR-TV in October that “some meetings” took place. In March, Trump told CNN he’d be interested in opening a hotel in Cuba “at the right time, when we’re allowed to do it.”
“Right now, we’re not,” Trump said.
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