Eagle Brands Chairman Carlos de la Cruz doesn’t reject the idea of investment in Cuba, but the influential Cuban-American business leader said Thursday that he sees as many risks as rewards.
‘‘The problem that we all have is we all think that Cuba offers tremendous opportunities,’’ de la Cruz said in a keynote speech at a Coral Gables conference that examined the future of U.S.-Cuba economic relations.
Instead, de la Cruz, who is also chairman of the Coca-Cola bottlers in Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago, said that, in the case of Coca-Cola, there could be business restraints that would make establishing bottling plants in Cuba expensive and problematic.
The investor, he said, would have to outfit at least two and maybe three plants because the island is long and thin. Plus, an investor would have to buy bottles, set up recycling facilities and purchase a fleet of trucks for delivery throughout the island, de la Cruz told about 60 diplomats, academics and business executives in attendance.
The forum, presented by Florida International University in partnership with Holland & Knight, was a daylong affair at the Biltmore Hotel.
For more than a decade, state and local governments and private groups have carried out a series of studies attempting to predict Cuba’s future and quantify potential business opportunities after a change in government in Cuba, where President Fidel Castro has ruled since 1959.
But de la Cruz said the future is unpredictable and that Cuban leaders will change the system “when they want to change it.’‘
‘‘Cuba is a myth,’’ said de la Cruz, referring to the expectations prompted by all the studies and plans. ‘‘We live in Never-Never Land and use Monopoly money’’ in all these efforts “to analyze what is going to happen in Cuba.’‘
Taking issue with forecasts of huge potential, the soft drink bottler said there was no reason to expect investments in Cuba would be more profitable than other countries in the region.
‘‘Why should it be any easier in Cuba than it is in the Dominican Republic?’’ he asked.
Earlier in the day. Tim Lynch, the director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University, listed investment needs in Cuba. They are estimated at more than $2 billion for telecommunications, mass transit and infrastructure.
David J. Goldfield, regional director of the Export Development Corp. of Canada and former Canadian ambassador to Cuba, warned U.S. businesses about possible missteps and misconceptions about Cuba.
‘‘It would be a disservice to U.S. business to assume a post-Castro Cuba will be a blank slate,’’ Goldfield said. ‘‘There are myriad business relationships’’ that will continue.