(Bloomberg) -- President-elect Donald Trump was looking at buying hotels in Cuba as recently as six months ago, according to a top Spanish hotel executive who learned of it from industry contacts. That would be at odds with Trump’s stated Cuba policy and could have violated U.S. law against promoting tourism there.
The hotelier, Miguel Fluxa, executive chairman of Grupo Iberostar, made the comments to reporters at an event in Mallorca on Thursday to celebrate the closely held company’s 60th anniversary. The firm, which has more than 100 hotels, manages Havana’s five-star Parque Central, the city’s top-ranked hotel on TripAdvisor Inc. for several years.
Fluxa learned of Trump’s efforts from industry contacts in Cuba, not from the president-elect himself, an Iberostar spokesman said. Trump hasn’t offered to buy any of Iberostar’s 11 hotels in Cuba, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named, citing company policy. Fluxa’s comments were first reported by Spain’s ABC newspaper.
“In the last 12 months, many major competitors have sought opportunities in Cuba,” Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing at the Trump Organization, said in an emailed statement. “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’s interest in buying Cuban hotels would be hard to square with his plan to reverse President Barack Obama’s overtures. Obama has eased sanctions since 2014, allowing U.S. cruise ships to dock at ports on the island and letting U.S. airlines fly to Havana. Trump says he would reverse Obama’s opening unless Cuba allows more political and religious freedoms.
"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the deal," Trump said in a Twitter post Monday.
Trump on Saturday tore into the newly deceased ruler of the island, a socialist thorn in America’s side since the 1959 revolt that brought him to power.
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said in a statement.
Until mid-October, promoting tourism in Cuba violated U.S. sanctions. Before that, "U.S. persons could not lawfully go to Cuba for hotel prospecting relating to tourism” without a license from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said Richard Matheny, chairman of the national-security and foreign-trade regulation practice group at Goodwin Procter in Washington.
On Oct. 21, Cuba’s tourism ministry invited the Trump Organization and other businesses to the 34th Havana International Fair that month, the Miami Herald reported Friday. Among the invitees was Jason Greenblatt, executive vice president and chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, an email seen by Bloomberg shows.
Greenblatt was among aides to Trump who have repeatedly traveled to Cuba, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in July. When Trump was asked by CNN in March if he’d be interested in opening a hotel in Cuba, he said: “I would, I would -- at the right time, when we’re allowed to do it. Right now, we’re not.”
In September, Newsweek reported that a company controlled by Trump spent $68,000 on a 1998 business trip to Cuba.
Trump said this week he would be leaving his business "in total" and is drawing up legal documents to confirm the separation, which he plans to outline at a Dec. 15 news conference with his children. He hasn’t said whether he plans to sell or give his business to his children or only hand over management of the Trump Organization to them while he’s president.