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Joe Henderson: When U.S. plays the bully, other nations just take their money elsewhere

in 2017/Statewide by

Cuba enjoyed a record year for tourism in 2016 when more than 4 million people found their way to that island nation.

That was a 13 percent increase from the year before, much of it attributable to relaxed travel rules between Cuba and the United States. That might change if President Trump, as expected, rolls back many of the liberalized policy changes from then-President Barack Obama toward Cuba.

If that happens, consider it a nod from Trump to Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior U.S. senator. Rubio is a hard-liner against normalizing relations with Cuba as long as the Castro family is in charge.

Funny thing about all that though. Even as the Trump administration continues to put the bully back in the international pulpit it now occupies, it seems our neighbors are figuring out just fine how to get along without the United States.

Remember Trump’s promise to “Build That Wall” to separate the U.S. from Mexico? Every action has an equal opposite reaction.

In March, Forbes reported that U.S. tourism could take a $1.6 billion hit this year because Mexicans have apparently decided to spend their money in Canada instead of here. There was an 82 percent jump in the number of Mexican tourists heading to the Great White North after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced visa-free travel for citizens of that country.

The number of Mexicans booking vacations to the U.S. dropped 9 percent during the same period.

Canada is taking advantage of the anti-Trump sentiment by tweaking the U.S. in another way. NPR reported about new Canadian policies that make it easier to lure international workers with highly valued tech skills.

Workers with those skills have traditionally taken jobs in places like Silicon Valley and Seattle but now are skittish about the U.S. immigration policies. One company even reported a 30 percent jump in applications from tech workers now in the United States.

Crain’s, a business website focused on New York, reported a significant drop in tourists and groups from European countries. It said the international youth group World Merit, based in England, had booked nearly 1,000 beds over 10 days starting in late August as part of an event connected to the United Nations.

That event now will take place in the United Kingdom.

Against that backdrop, Trump may be preparing to return the U.S. policy toward Cuba to the Cold War days. That will give people like Marco Rubio the chance to sound self-righteous and touch at a photo op.

When that’s done, Cuba — like every other nation — will just find a way to fill the void the U.S. leaves behind.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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