Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker has relentlessly pursued President Barack Obama’s signature effort to restore U.S. trade with Cuba, but her family’s Hyatt hotel chain has yet to announce plans for any new lodgings on the communist island, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group has learned.
By comparison, luxury hotelier Starwood Hotels and Resorts has committed to managing three new hotels in Cuba and its parent company, the Marriott hotel chain, has announced plans for a new hotel there as well.
Pritzker has been the main cheerleader under Obama for increased U.S. trade with Cuba. She has led business delegations to the island, including one that numbered among its participants Marriott President Arne Sorenson.
A Commerce Department spokesman speaking on background told TheDCNF that “Pritzker resigned from the Hyatt board upon becoming Secretary of Commerce,” and “recused herself from all matters that would affect Hyatt’s financial interests, including policy matters affecting the hotel industry sector, as well as matters in which Hyatt is specifically a party.”
The absence of Hyatt investments in Cuba could embarrass Obama as he mourns the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. It also gives ammunition to President-elect Donald Trump who has vowed to end Obama’s Cuban policy.
When Castro died, Obama claimed the U.S. could “partner” with Cubans, saying “the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
In a March 2015 interview with the Miami Herald, Pritzker promised that American businesses could change Cuba’s economy and advance the Obama administration’s opening to the authoritarian regime, saying the U.S. “will allow the business community to be the face for positive change in Cuba.”
Then in an October 2015 meeting in Washington, D.C. with Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca, Pritzker declared ““This shift in policy is rooted in a fundamental desire to improve the lives of people in both of our nations. We want to help all Cubans plug into the global economy and enjoy a higher standard of living.”
But no such Hyatt partnerships have been forthcoming since President Obama’s 2014 announcement of efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Due to substantial congressional opposition, Obama has limited his actions to regulatory efforts to relax U.S. economic sanctions.
“The idea that the Pritzker’s won’t move their own hotel there when their personal interests are at stake speaks volumes about their faith in the Cuban ‘opportunity’ and about depth of their own cynicism,” former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States Roger Noriega told TheDCNF.
Noriega co-authored the Helms-Burton law that significantly tightened the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba in 1996 while serving as a senior staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Humberto Fontova, a well-known anti-Castro author, told TheDCNF the lack of any Hyatt investment in the country was “hypocritical,” but not surprising because “there are no property rights in Cuba. How many people realize that the Cuban constitution still outlaws private property? And I have to think that some of the more prudent ones (at Hyatt) are looking at that.”
Starwood and Marriott will not own the hotels they operate in Cuba, but will lease them from the Cuban military, which runs many business operations in the country. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, President Raul Castro’s son-in-law, is a general in the Cuban military who runs the most lucrative state-owned businesses on the island.
Even though Pritzker is a sitting cabinet member, she continues to have deep financial ties to the hotel chain, holding at least $51 million in Hyatt Corporation class A and B stock, according to her 2015 federal financial disclosure form. She also holds at at least $550,000 in Hyatt stock in offshore banks in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, according to her disclosure.
The Pritzker family is one of the most famous and powerful families in Obama’s home town of Chicago. James Pritzker was a top individual hard-money donor to Democrats, as well as $16.6 million to liberal Democratic activist groups, according to the OpenSecrets.org. Pritzker recently became a woman and now goes by “Jennifer.”
Penny Pritzker helped young Barack Obama when he was an Illinois state senator. She was national finance chairman for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign and co-chairman of Obama for America in 2012.
Hyatt is an active global investor. Just since January 2016, Hyatt has announced hotel openings in Sao Paulo and Rio, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay. Previously, Hyatt opened five new hotels in Communist China and one in Nicaragua. Other overseas Hyatt investments include hotels in Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Croatia and Jordan.
Trump has signaled his hard-line stance on Cuban issues by naming outspoken Cuban-American lawyer and anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone to his Treasury Department transition team. The Treasury Department oversees the Cuban embargo.
“These deals are in direct contravention of the letter, spirit and intent of current U.S. law, as codified by statute,” Claver-Carone told Congress in March testimony before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade in testimony about Obama’s Cuban policy changes.
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