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Posted May 08, 2003 by publisher in Business In Cuba

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Over a year ago, while shopping in Arizona, I happened to notice the cover of a magazine called Cigar Aficionado. It featured a lady in a sarong standing on what looked like the most beautiful beach I had ever seen - white sand, turquoise water - I could almost feel the warm ocean breezes coming off the page. I said to my wife,” Whoever controls that beach is going to make a fortune.”

After a quick check on the internet, I discovered that the beach was being developed by a Canadian Company called Leisure Canada, and that the company traded publicly. I wanted to own a piece of that beach and bought some shares the very next day.

I recently relocated near the Canadian border. It is freezing here in the wintertime, and visions of my Cuban investment were not only attractive financially, but the idea of Caribbean sunshine really hits home when you are surrounded by snow. Cuba was calling me, and besides, I wanted to see my investment with my own eyes. There are not many ways for an American to legally travel to Cuba, but as an investor in Leisure Canada I could go as a “fully hosted” traveler. This meant that while I was in Cuba, the company would pay for all my expenses. As a significant shareholder, Leisure Canada was happy to have me see Cuba, and the flight was booked.

I stayed in the Dupont family’s old haunt of Varadero at a new resort called Las Paradises. Paradises was the only Spanish I picked-up; it means paradise and it was - beautiful beach, beautiful hotel and very friendly people. There are several myths about Cuba that I discovered during my stay. Myth #1: The people are miserable and starving in the streets. I saw far too many smiles for this to be true. The people I saw looked healthy, clean and with purpose. It was not even close to what I expected.

From Varadero, we headed east and stopped at one of Leisure Canada’s properties along the way, called Jibacoa. We drove up a lush hill and stood on a potential golf course that offered ocean views of the Straights of Florida. I expect I will stand in the same place one day, as part of the gallery, when Tiger Woods challenges for the Cuban Open.

Walking through Old Havana should be a required life experience for everyone. It is block after block of Spanish colonial architecture; much of it restored or in the process of being restored. I was told that every peso I spent in the Old City goes to restoration projects. Someday, and someday soon, these streets will be full of American tourists. Myth #2: Every corner has a machine gun touting soldier keeping the populace in-line. I never even saw a gun while I was in Cuba. Not one. Despite the lack of arms, Cuba is one of the safest places on Earth. The county has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and I never felt I was in any danger.

We lunched in Havana. Myth #3: The food is terrible. This may actually have some truth to it, but I ate very well. Fidel is apparently buying food directly from the United States at the moment, and my hosts said that the food had never been so good. And considering that all dining comes with lots of live Cuban music, the experience is beyond compare.

When Cuba does open up, I believe that every American Tom, Dick and Harry, will rush to see the island’s charms. There is always a market for the exotic and the new, and if you have read this far, then likely you will be one your way to Cuba when the embargo ends too. Myth #4: You’d be crazy to invest in Cuba.

Thanks! (Writer chooses to remain anonymous due to travel restrictions in US Embargo)

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