29 JUN 2016:  American hospitality giant Starwood began managing a hotel owned by the Cuban military on Tuesday.  The facade of the 186-room Quinta Avenida hotel in Havana's upscale Miramar neighbourhood has been emblazoned with the logo of Starwood's Four Points by Sheraton business travel brand and travellers can now book rooms through Starwood's website.

The Obama administration permitted the deal with a special Treasury Department license and Starwood announced it on the eve of President Obama's March visit to Cuba. The stated intention of Obama's normalization of relations with Cuba is creating more freedom for ordinary Cubans to operate independently of their single-party government, which maintains control of the most aspects of the centrally planned economy.

Allowing a high-profile US corporation to work hand-in-hand with the Cuban military shows both the Obama and Castro governments' eagerness to build as many economic ties as possible before the president leaves office, said Robert Muse, a Washington-based expert on US law on Cuba.

“It certainly goes further and faster than anyone contemplated,” Muse said.

“The Cuban government proved that it can quickly and decisively deal with the US hospitality sector. No reason they can't do it again and again and again.”

The hotel is being gradually refurbished and equipped with new beds, linens and other amenities. The 180-member Cuban staff has been re-trained by a team of 15-20 Starwood managers from other countries over the last few weeks and will be permanently supervised by about five Starwood managers under the terms of the contract.

Starwood officials said they were investing millions in the rehabilitation of the hotel. They declined to provide a more specific figure.

In the midst of a boom in tourism to Cuba, the hotel is running at about 80 percent occupancy. Pablo Casal, the hotel's general manager, said he hoped to complete the renovation by the end of the year. In the meantime, reservations will come with a disclaimer that the hotel is undergoing rehabilitation.

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