Cuba readies for possible influx of U.S. tourists

Sun Apr 12, 2009 1:10pm EDT
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By Jeff Franks

VARADERO, Cuba (Reuters) - Behind the mangroves that skirt the blue waters of Cuba's Bay of Cardenas, a 1,500-slip marina is taking shape as the island's tourism industry braces for what could be its biggest challenge yet.

The Americans are coming -- or they may be, soon.

Rock jetties jut out into the bay and beyond them a plot of land the size of several football fields is taking shape, reclaimed from the water as part of a big new marina project at Varadero, a beach resort 80 miles east of Havana.

"The Americans will come here in their yachts and they'll put them in the marina," said a security guard, gesturing to the earth-moving and sand-dredging behind the mangroves.

"It's so close, they're expecting a lot of them," he added, referring to the United States just 90 miles away.

The United States and Cuba have been separated by a wide ideological gulf since Fidel Castro's 1959 Revolution.

For most of that time, Americans have been prohibited by their own laws from traveling to the communist-led Caribbean island under a 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo.

But that may change. Legislation to free travel by Americans to Cuba is pending in the U.S. Congress, and backers expect it could be approved in what they see as a developing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations under U.S. President Barack Obama.   Continued...

<p>People walk along Varadero beach in Matanzas April 9, 2009.REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>