MIAMI (AFP) - Cuba defied isolation as the Caribbean’s lone communist holdout to build an empire of Asian restaurants, European bars, African biotech firms and to peddle its famous Coppelia ice creams and even guayabera shirts abroad.
The reason: a drop-off in foreign investment in Cuba, according to a University of Miami study. And Cuba has found that international capitalism spreads faster than international communism.
Cuba’s Ministry for Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation in 2002 sought to “establish companies in (developing) countries (using) Cuban high technology, specialists and know-how with native manpower,” the university’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies said.
Cuba has capitalized on is best-known brands: the Tropicana night club, La Gloria Cubana cigars and the Bodeguita del Medio, a cramped downtown Havana bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway thanks to joint ventures abroad.
Cuba’s tourism company, Grupo Hotelero Grand Caribe franchised the “Bodeguita del Medio restaurant-bar in Dubai, Paris, Prague, Warsaw and five locations in Mexico.
Cuba’s biggest tourism group, Cubanacan earned 300 million dollars in 2002. It joined China’s Suntine International-Economic Trading Co. to build a five-star, 700-room hotel in Shanghai.
Cubanacan subsidiary Palmares opened a “La Gloria Cubana” restaurant in Shanghai as a joint venture with Shanshan. It has a “Gloria” franchise in Porto, Portugal, a Tocororo restaurant in Milan and a Daiquiri Scabrous in Panama City.
On the biotech front, Malaysia’s Bioven and Havana’s CIGB created Heber Bioven to make Cuban biotechnology products in Malaysia for Southeast Asian markets.
Cuba built its pharmaceutical industry on pirated international patents, but today holds 500 patents around the world, the university report said.
In May 2001, Cuban President Fidel Castro himself visited construction of a biotech research and production center outside Tehran, a joint venture of Iran’s Pasteur Institute and Havana’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).
Cuban newspapers called the center “the largest and most modern of its type in the Middle East,” with a price tag of 60 million dollars, the university said.
As in most joint ventures, Cuba’s contribution is not cash, but technology and the know-how of its scientists, the university noted.
Cuban doctors are famous in Africa, where for years they provided health care. Namibia’s Zenith Enterprises joined Cuba to make basic pharmaceuticals, from penicillin to pain killers. The new plant will soon export Cuban HIV (news - web sites)/AIDS (news - web sites) formulas to other African countries.
Namibia and Cuba also invested in guayaberas. The loose, four-pocket tropical shirts are de rigeur for day and evening wear and will be stitched with private capital, the university said.
If the line for Coppelia ice cream gets too long in Havana, there is an alternative: It is produced in Ipoh, Malaysia in a joint venture with Jawala Corp.