Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

The pro-Cuba business Cuba Trade Expo was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami on Friday where attendees learned about various US Cuba business related topics such as US Cuba relations, business in Cuba today, tourism, agriculture, energy, real estate, investing in Cuba’s future and the effects of recent changes to the US Embargo against Cuba.

A variety of panels consisting the following Cuba experts offered much insight into the current and future business opportunities in Cuba.

Experts on Cuba in attendance

Sebastian Arcos Florida International University
Tessie Aral ABC Charters
Dr. Timothy Ashby Havana Group
José Azel Cuban and Cuban-American Studies
Jonathan Bedard Cuba Trade Expo
Jay Brickman Crowley Maritime
Philippe Colombani Former Economic Advisor at the French Embassy in Cuba
Jake Colvin National Foreign Trade Council
Fernando Donayre Investor in Latin America
Alfredo G. Duran Miami lawyer
Mark Entwistle Chibas Consulting Inc
Larry Luxner CubaNews.com
John McAuliff Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Tony Martinez Esq. Latin America and Caribbean trade consultant
William A. Messina Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Robert L. Muse Washington CD and Cuba politics expert
Kirby Jones US-Cuba Trade Association and Cuba business expert
Jorge R. Piñón Cuban oil expert
Dwight Roberts U.S. Rice Producers Association President
Carlos A. Saladrigas Cuba Study Group
Daniel E. Waltz  Patton Boggs LLP Washington DC attorney
Johannes Werner CubaTradeNews.com
Antonio R. Zamora President of the US-Cuba Legal Forum, Inc. and the Foundation for the Normalization of US-Cuba Relations

Experts talk about the future of business opportunities in Cuba

Many of the Cuba experts at the Cuba Trade Expo offered very positive comments about the near future for better US Cuba relations and US Cuba business opportunities although most expect changes to happen slowly.

Dwight Roberts, President of the US Rice Producers Association was quoted by Reuters saying that he expects that the Obama Administration will continue to ease trade restrictions on US Cuba rice sales. Roberts expects that pressure on President Obama and Congress for a further loosening of Cuba sanctions would come this year from “everyone in agriculture and beyond” and he anticipates the removal by “bits and pieces.”

Travel service providers are especially bullish on Cuba travel because President Obama signed the Omnibus Appropriations act that generally eased travel restrictions on Cuban Americans. Furthermore, the Obama Administration is preparing to challenge a recent Florida law that appears to conflict with federal with regards to providing Cuba travel services. Tessie Aral of ABC Charters expects her Cuba travel business to increase by 50% due to these recent events.

Protest of the Cuba Trade Expo

As is a tradition in Miami, any event that even remotely promotes engagement with Cuba have drawn criticism from hardliner exile groups in the past but as you can see from the photos of the “protest” outside of the hotel, the hardliners now consist of only a handful of senior citizens. (As a side note, I personally find it sad that US Cuba policy is still based on Cold War mentality and obligated to a very tiny and shrinking minority of old Cuban exiles.)

The leading right-wing hardliner Cuba blog, Babalu Blog posted an entry calling for the protest of the trade expo that apparently was originally sent out to the NetForCuba mailing list. One would expect the invitation to protest the Cuba Trade Expo to be a call to action to many hundreds of people since NetForCuba and BabaluBlog have a very large audience. However, the turnout was pretty sad as you can clearly see by the photos in this article. The “outrage” is a fraction of what it used to be. Only about a dozen senior citizens could be bothered with protesting this event. The demographics of the protesters and small size of the turn out is very telling as to who really even cares about the US Embargo anymore.

Cuba Trade Expo 2010

Event organizer Jonathan Bedard is considered this first Cuba trade expo to be a success and he is already planning the 2010 Cuba Trade Expo.