Starwood Hotels has attracted a great deal of attention before the president’s historic Cuba visit, but not because it’s where Barack Obama and his family are staying. In fact, no one will be staying there for a while.
Starwood Hotels — which has assets including Sheraton, W Hotels, and Westin Hotels — has just signed the first contract of the new era of relations between the United States and Cuba. In accordance with Cuban and U.S. authorities, they have made a three-hotel deal for an undisclosed amount.
Starwood says that it will be pumping millions of dollars into the new properties in order to “bring the hotels up to our standards.” That, however, is a long way off, and the Obamas have a special residence to visit anyway. An American-built mansion — believed to have been constructed as a winter White House for Franklin Roosevelt — will house the first family. Obama will the first high-ranking member of government to stay there since Vice-President Richard Nixon in 1955, reported Reuters.
Another odd facet of the deal is that Starwood may not be an American hotel company for much longer. Skift reported that it may soon become the largest U.S. corporation in history to come under Chinese ownership. The China-based company who set the winning $13 billion bid for Starwood, Anbang Insurance, beat out Marriott International’s own offering. Anbang has also purchased New York’s Waldorf Astoria.
Despite losing out on the deal to Starwood, Marriott plans to open business in Cuba as soon as possible. Also on the lodging front, internet upstart AirBnB already has more than 1,000 listings in the country since opening up shop in April, 2015.
Starwood Hotels finds itself at the unique intersection of the Obama administration’s newest foreign policy move and the response of Republican presidential candidates. In the debate in Miami before voting took place last Tuesday, all four rejected Obama’s current deal with Cuba. Donald Trump boasted he would negotiate a better one. Ted Cruz said he would break relations altogether. Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race this week, said that opening relations with Cuba was detrimental to the Cuban people — allowing money to flow into the coffers of the Castro regime, reported The Guardian.
“Nothing will change for the Cuban people … In fact things are worse, than they were before this opening.”
It appears Starwood Hotels may be one of these very deals that the GOP candidates are discussing. Furthering the points he discussed at the debate, Cruz released a full editorial in Politico detailing all of his gripes with Obama’s visit — notably human rights abuses and the opening of trade that could finance the Castro government.
“The White House keeps saying that this trip will chart a new course for people-to-people relations, but all that Obama’s appeasement of the Castro dictatorship has done so far is create a channel for inside deals between large corporations and the Cuban military, which holds all the keys to the island’s economy. The effect will not be liberalization but rather the institutionalization of the Communist dictatorship as the profits from this détente will line the pockets not only of Fidel and Raul Castro, but also of Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro Espin.”
The Starwood Hotel deal was announced Sunday, the same day that President Barack Obama began his visit to Cuba. He and the rest of first family will stay for two days before moving on to Argentina. Notably absent from the president’s Cuba agenda is a meeting with Fidel Castro.
[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]