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Posted November 19, 2010 by publisher in Cuba-World Trade

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Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

The 2010 Caribbean/Central America Action conference will be held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami from December 1 through 3.

This is the only event that focuses on the economies of the Caribbean and Central America or the “third border” with the United States.

The annual conference enjoys a full agenda featuring high level political leaders and Presidents of countries as guest speakers but the emphasis is clearly business focused with topics such as agribusiness, apparel, energy, financial services, technology, telecommunications, transportation, and tourism industry sectors.

Attendees will have the opportunity to see the many countries and businesses set up in the Exhibit Hall and there are ample opportunities for networking with a broad cross-section of companies, organizations, and experts actively involved in “Supporting a Sustainable Caribbean Basin®”.

There is a full agenda but we are primarily focused on the Cuba session on Friday December 3 from 2:15 pm – 3:30 pm. Perhaps someday there will be more than one hour and 15 minutes allocated to discuss the largest island in the Caribbean but for now, we look forward to learning more from several experts in the arena.

Cuba Session

The Cuban economy has been under significant stress, but the outlook may be changing. The U.S. Administration is chipping away at travel restrictions and the Cuban government is altering internal policies that have long shaped the economic landscape. What are the implications for the rest of the Caribbean Basin if Cuba’s economy starts to accelerate, and which industries – including tourism and agriculture – are most likely to feel the impact? And how much can shifts in economic policy affect the rest of the region if the Cuban socio‐political structure stays static?

Panelists

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, US Congresswoman (invited)
Tim Ashby, Fowler Rodriguez Valdes-Fauli
Teo Babun, Babun Consulting Group Inc.
Jay Brickman, Crowley Maritime Corporation
Rafael Romeu, Economist IMF

We are fortunate and grateful to have interviewed two of the Cuba experts in order to learn more about their current involvement with Cuba related business opportunities.

Jay Brickman

Jay Brickman of Crowley Maritime Corporation is the VP of Government Services. Crowley Maritime is the premier shipping company of US agricultural goods to Cuba and Mr. Brickman has been a key Player in the US to Cuba shipping industry for many years. 

He was in Havana last week for FIHAV, the annual international business exposition, so Mr. Brickman is in a key position to discuss the current economic transition currently underway in Cuba.

Alimport has greatly reduced its purchases in the US since Cuba has suffered from a substantial reduction in their foreign reserves. Right now Alimport is looking to buy the most economical products possible with the best credit terms. . These two factors do not make it impossible for Alimport to purchase from the US but it does limit the type of products and the amount which they can purchase.

Alimport’s role has somewhat changed over the years. It is now much more into a purchasing/logistics role while some of its other functions have been turned over to the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, Foreign Trade and the Cuban Interest Section in Washington. This does not make it more difficult to do business in Cuba but it does mean that companies have to have more concern about other Cuban agencies.

The list of factors that have forced an economic transition in Cuba.

1. Because of the present worldwide economic situation many countries are reviewing their economic models. Cuba is no exception.
2. Hurricanes several years ago continue to have a long term effect on the agricultural sector.
3. Nickel prices are down.
4. Remittances from the US may be suffering because of the US economy.
5. Because of economic conditions and package plans it appears that tourist revenues are down.
6. During this period of economic stress Cuba is not able to reach out to agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank for support.

When asked about changes in the US policy regarding US ag sales to Cuba, Mr. Brickman feels that there have been some changes in the Obama administration that have made it somewhat easier for US based companies to do business in Cuba. Both the US Department of Commerce and OFAC have made it easier to obtain the needed licenses to do business in Cuba. There is still much to be done and it appears that the Obama administration will have difficulty in making significant changes to policy for the remainder of the term. Specifically with regards to the Ag bill HR 4645….a bill that would ease anti-business payment restrictions, he holds little hope that the bill has a chance of moving out of committee.

Brickman feels that while “top -down” changes may be difficult that there is both room and a climate for “bottom -up” changes. Both the US and the Cuban State Departments can make changes to improve over all relations. There are projects they can explore, negotiate and implement which do not require legislative changes. It is a question of thinking about Dr. Fisher’s concept of “Getting to Yes”.

Mr. Brickman will be in Washington before the conference and he hopes to be able to talk about HR 4645 and the economic opportunities in this period of transition in Cuba.

Dr. Timothy Ashby

Cuba consultant and attorney Dr. Tim Ashby of Pembury Capital Inc. was kind enough to spend some time talking about recent economic changes that he is seeing in Cuba.
He was in Havana last week for FIHAV, the international business fair, and Mr. Ashby has noticed many positive changes in Cuba in recent months. The 99 year land lease law designed to encourage foreign investment in Cuba and the recent approval of several golf course projects is a very positive economic change for the Cuban government and foreign investors.

Dr. Ashby says that the Cuban government is serious about expanding on the current economic changes and that there has been a close relationship with Vietnam in order to learn more about the economic model that is working in that country.

“Since there are hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign capital waiting to invest in Cuba, I expect the Cuban government to go even further and explore some version of a “fee simple” type of property ownership.”

Regarding golf course development projects in Cuba, fourteen projects have been approved and five are being fast-tracked for development. Coral Capital is working with Palmares to develop a golf course resort east of Havana. Ernie Eels has designed the golf course and construction should begin in early 2011.

The Cuban government is also allowing for more private businesses to be started and there is great excitement among the Cuba people who want to work for themselves in the private sector. These new businesses need supplies, parts and capital and ironically, these things are starting to come down from Miami despite the US trade embargo - brought by Cuban-Americans.

Currently members of the Communist Party and the military cannot take part in private economic activity, but Dr. Ashby thinks this too may change in the near future. “There’s no turning back now” he says.

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