Within hours of President Barack Obama's announcement that he would seek to ease the 54-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Communist-ruled Cuba, Florida auto dealer Gus Machado was, as he put it, "knocking on doors."
Machado, an automotive icon in the state and a pillar of anti-Castro politics in Miami, was flexing his political muscle quickly among legislators.
"No way would I put a single dollar into Cuba as long as dictators and criminals are in power," he said. "We need to remind the representatives and senators in Washington of our line of thinking. We need them to work so legislation goes nowhere."
The complex political struggle looming over trade restrictions is just one barrier to reviving U.S. auto sales in Cuba. Another major headwind is purely economic: Nearly all Cubans live modestly and cannot afford new or used American cars.
Moreover, it's too soon to say what ground rules the government of President Raul Castro or his successor would write for American dealers and automakers who might want to sell cars in Cuba.
Despite the uncertainties, the Detroit 3 say they are watching Cuba.
"We're very encouraged by the news announced" by Obama, a General Motors spokesman said last week. "We will certainly evaluate any opportunities that may present themselves."
A Ford spokesman said: "We are reviewing the initiative to determine its potential impact for the auto industry."
Machado, who turned 80 last month, is the Cuban-American face of the auto industry. He has two dealerships in the Miami area: Gus Machado Ford in Kendall and Gus Machado Ford in Hialeah. Machado also is a founder of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, which lobbies Congress for democratic changes on the island with one big caveat: no Castro brothers.
Raul Castro formally assumed power in Cuba in 2008. Before that, Fidel Castro had ruled the country from 1959 to 2006, when an illness prompted him to hand over power temporarily to Raul and some cabinet ministers.
U.S. law severely restricts American companies from conducting business with Cuba, and Machado knows the lifting of sanctions -- and the sale of U.S. automobiles and other goods -- are a long way off.
"Everyone knows no president can really lift the embargo. There will have to be agreements, approvals in Congress," Machado said. "We'll give all our effort to see this won't happen to the benefit of dictators."
Obama's announcement calls for high-level diplomatic talks to begin immediately, along with the opening of an embassy in Havana. He called on Congress to have a "serious debate" about lifting economic sanctions.
Lifting the trade restrictions would require action by Congress, and the U.S. Senate and House will be controlled by Republicans in January.
The opposition to such moves already is gaining bipartisan momentum behind Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., both of Cuban-American descent, who vowed to staunchly fight the president's actions. The moves also pit Obama against top-ranking Democrats such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a longtime supporter of the U.S. embargo.
But some Republicans support change. For example, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said last week that he believed most of his fellow lawmakers favored a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. "My sense is that most of my colleagues feel we are long past due, and so I think the politics are good," he said.