Articles, Opinions, and Papers

June 2018
The Senate on Thursday easily passed its farm bill by a vote of 86-11, clearing the way for a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House's version of the sweeping agriculture and nutrition legislation.
Senate leadership's goal of holding a floor vote on the farm bill this week is now in doubt, as key farm-state lawmakers work to resolve a new demand from Sen. Marco Rubio over a provision that would promote agricultural trade with Cuba.
Cash-strapped Cuba wants to reboot its flagging mining sector by luring foreign investors with attractive untapped reserves such as nickel. While there’s been some interest, could frosty relations with the US and years of underinvestment mean Cuba will struggle to capitalise on its potential? Heidi Vella investigates.
TAMPA — June 16 will mark a year since President Trump announced a tougher Cuba travel policy, but unlike in much of the nation, the changes don’t seem to have hurt local bookings to the island.
Cuba's customs agency is threatening to confiscate packages sent from the United States with people who travel to the island to deliver items under the radar for shipping companies.
HAVANA--New President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Monday held his first official meeting with visitors from the U.S., discussing increased internet access for Cuba with Google executive Eric Schmidt and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.
May 2018
Cubans are increasingly using the balance of their cellphone accounts with the government's ETECSA telecommunications monopoly as a virtual currency sometimes called "el ETECSO."
HAVANA, May 24 (Reuters) - Rainfall has shuttered all but a few of Cuba's 54 sugar mills, with output down nearly 40 percent to the lowest level in more than a century, which could force the island to import, official media and industry sources say.
Cuban officials are still identifying the 111 people who died in last Friday’s crash of a Cubana Airlines 737 on takeoff from Havana. Two surviving passengers remain in critical condition. Some Cubans here hope the tragedy will bring changes to how Cuba – and the U.S. – approach air travel on the island.
HAVANA (Reuters) - A United Nations agency said on Tuesday an “unjust” U.S. financial and trade embargo on Cuba had cost the country’s economy $130 billion over nearly six decades, coming up with the same estimate as the island’s communist government.
April 2018
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba forecasts nickel plus cobalt sulfide production will exceed 50,000 tonnes this year even as prices rise, the head of the country’s state monopoly Cubaniquel was quoted by local media as stating on Tuesday.
Starting a business anywhere in the world is always like “swimming upstream,” says the entrepreneur behind a popular Havana restaurant.
Doing business with Cuba has been historically tricky, with complex U.S. rules to untangle, lack of direct bank transactions and an often unreceptive Cuban government.
March 2018
VARADERO, Cuba - World famous Varadero Beach is where you will find crystal clear water, and plenty of sun and sand, but the tiny island is also the setting and the inspiration for something relatively new in Cuba.
January 2018
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba canceled sugar exports this month and is struggling to meet local demand after rain all but washed out harvesting, the head of the state sugar monopoly said over the weekend.
Late last year, the Trump administration issued long-awaited regulations that impact U.S. companies seeking to do business in Cuba. Among other things, the new regulations block business with certain Cuban entities owned or controlled by Cuban military, intelligence or security services that are specifically included on a new Cuba Restricted List published by the U.S. State Department, and restrict individual people to people travel to the island.
Clandestina, which bills its cheeky T-shirts as “Designed in Cuba. Printed in the USA,” became the first Cuban brand to launch a website for U.S. sales in late October — just in time for its first experience with Cyber Monday and the Christmas retail season.
The next time your friend offers to pay for lunch and split the bill via Venmo, an online money transaction service, pause for a minute before hitting pay.
HAVANA (Reuters) - The European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini said on Thursday that member countries combined were now Cuba’s most important economic partner and announced a series of agreements as she ended a two-day visit to the communist country.
December 2017
HAVANA--Cuba now exports vaccines, diagnostic kits and drugs developed by its Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology —the largest research center on the island — to 51 countries. But except for a small shipment for a clinical trial, the United States isn’t one of them.
Scientists at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology say they have developed promising drugs, including one that could save the limbs of diabetics, but they face hurdles getting them into the U.S. market.
HAVANA--When Dr. R. Lee Clark, then president of the University of Texas’ famed M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, visited the island in November 1980 as part of a delegation, the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro wanted to hear about the latest advance in cancer treatment.
November 2017
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and Swiss firm Nestle on Tuesday laid the first stone of a $55 million coffee and biscuits factory joint venture in the Mariel special development zone, the latest major foreign investment in the Communist-run island.
Josefina Vidal, who was Cuba’s chief negotiator in the rapprochement with the United States, says the Trump administration’s new rules on travel and trade with the island confirm the “serious setback” in U.S-Cuba relations.
In March 2016, Havana was electric in anticipation of President Obama’s historic visit. Cuba was awash with a spirit of hope that relations between our two countries were finally on a path toward normal. Now, the Trump administration has released new, restrictive travel rules for Cuba — and yet, with two years of progress under our belt, it is clear a full reversal is impossible.
Way to go, Miami Republicans. You’re really socking it to engagement in your dreams.
The night before the White House planned to announce new regulations restricting U.S. business and travel in Cuba, the biggest champions of President Donald Trump’s tighter policy — Miami’s Republican lawmakers in Congress — were in the dark.
The days of Americans legally staying at Ernest Hemingway’s Old Havana haunt, the Hotel Ambos Mundos, or making purchases at Havana’s only luxury shopping arcade, will be over under new regulations the Trump administration issued Wednesday as part of a crackdown on U.S. business and travel to Cuba.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Rimco, Caterpillar Inc’s dealer for Cuba, said on Wednesday it would open a distribution center for the U.S. heavy equipment maker at Havana’s Mariel special development zone, making it the first U.S. company to open up shop there.
October 2017
HAVANA (Reuters) - Hip Cuban clothing brand Clandestina is not waiting to see how tighter U.S. restrictions on travel to the Caribbean island affect visits of Americans shoppers. Instead, the line is taking its apparel to the United States through e-commerce.
MARIEL, CUBA--After years of Cuba talking about the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone as the island’s economic future, the sprawling site 28 miles west of Havana is beginning to take shape with huge tracts of land leveled and ready for construction of two major manufacturing operations.
September 2017
NINGBO, China, Sep 19, 2017 (PR Newswire Europe via COMTEX) -- - The joint project promotes further the Sino-Cuban cooperation in the renewable energy sector.
As the business of regularly scheduled flights between the United Stated and Cuba undergoes growing pains, JetBlue Airways has set up shop on the island
August 2017
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban trade with socialist ally Venezuela has fallen 70 percent since 2014 due to the South American oil producer's inability to meet delivery contracts and purchase goods as it struggles with low oil prices and a resulting economic meltdown.
HAVANA, Cuba - Authorities from the Port of Houston signed a deal with Cuban officials Wednesday in Havana.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Communist-run Cuba said on Tuesday it was suspending issuing new licenses for certain private-sector activities from bed-and-breakfasts to restaurants until it had implemented new measures to curb wrongdoing such as tax evasion.
A new Kentucky chapter of an organization working to lift the United States embargo on Cuba will be unveiled Tuesday, featuring prominent state leaders and seeking to boost the export of Kentucky products like poultry, soybeans and bourbon into the country that has slowly opened to the American market over the past three years.
July 2017
A Coral Gables business consultant watched one day in June as Cuban authorities carried out chairs, tables, plates, sound systems and bottles of imported liquor from a popular private restaurant near the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
MINAS DE MATAHAMBRE, Cuba (Reuters) - A new lead and zinc mine in northwestern Cuba is on track to start production in October as part of the Caribbean island's attempt to breathe fresh life in its mining sector, the joint venture Emincar overseeing the project said this week.
Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, has traveled to Cuba several times to explore the possibility of doing business on the island.
WASHINGTON--Jeff Flake sees an opening in Cuba.
Cuba plans to produce 54,500 tonnes of nickel and cobalt sulfides this year, state-run television said at the weekend.

It has been nearly 17 years since Congress passed a law involving Cuba. The last time was in 2000 when the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act allowed food products to be sold to Cuba on a cash only basis as an exception to the comprehensive embargo.
June 2017
President Donald Trump's new policy on Cuba travel has winners and losers: Group tour operators hope to sell more trips, but bed-and-breakfast owners in Cuba say they're losing business.
Some U.S. executives that do business with Cuba breathed a sigh of relief after President Donald Trump outlined his new Cuba policy in Miami because it won’t have much impact on their companies. But others have pressed the pause button until they see how the new regulations implementing the changes are written.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Minnesota's government and businesses will continue to engage with Cuba in the areas they can, like agricultural trade, despite U.S. President Donald Trump's partial rollback of the detente, Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith said on Thursday.
Just as travel and tourism to Cuba from the United States was heating up, President Donald Trump made an announcement last Friday that will cool it down, probably way down. He said he was "canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba."
Several prominent free market advocates sent a letter to President Trump Wednesday discouraging the anticipated announcement to add travel and trade restrictions with Cuba.
President Donald Trump is expected to visit Miami Friday, where he will announce what is already highly anticipated to be a tightening of the rules on trade and travel enacted under former President Barack Obama.
Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo supports imposing a two-percent tax on sales of agricultural products to Cuba, to be used to compensate property owners confiscated by the island government.
May 2017
The congressional battle between lawmakers from farming states and Cuban American colleagues on funding food exports to Cuba could be coming to an end thanks to an “elegant” solution that is part of proposed legislation: a 2 percent user fee on agricultural products sold to the island that would be used to compensate those who have certified claims of properties confiscated by the Cuban government.
Washington D.C. - The Cuba Study Group partnered with a team of four MBA students (Laura Araujo, Emily Lagnado, Tyler Michael Sanchez, and Juan Valdés) from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management to produce a White Paper analyzing the Cuban coffee sector’s export potential to the United States. The students conducted extensive library, expert interview, and in-country research focusing on independent farmers and agricultural cooperatives, rather than the state-controlled coffee sector.
April 2017
The Trump administration and the Cuban government need to start a dialogue, the Republican governor of Mississippi said on Wednesday during a trip to the Communist-led island to scout trade opportunities for his state.
One of the main criticisms of President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba is that he did not extract any concessions from Raúl Castro on human rights—a criticism amplified whenever Cuban police break up a dissident meeting or demonstration. But making quid pro quo human-rights demands would have been a non-starter, just as it has been for the past 58 years. That approach would have made it impossible for the United States and Cuba to reach agreements on prisoner exchanges, diplomatic relations, and cooperation on issues of mutual interest.
An electric car dealer with a Miami subsidiary is telling Cuba-based diplomats struggling with a gasoline shortage on the Communist-run Caribbean island that they should fret no longer.
Although the Trump administration’s Cuba policy review has not been completed, a U.S.-based broadcast and video facilities company has received a license to operate on the island and to contract with a Cuban state enterprise.
March 2017
The tourists are still jamming Havana’s Cathedral Square and jostling to get into the popular private restaurants. But not too much is going right with the rest of the economy, and in the last year of his presidency, Raúl Castro faces a variety of economic challenges — that he may or may not take on.
Swiss firm Nestle is close to reaching a deal with Cuba on forming a new joint venture to build a $50-million to $60-million factory to produce coffee, biscuits and cooking products, company Vice President Laurent Freixe said on Wednesday in Havana.
February 2017
Humanitarian shipments, frozen chicken parts, chocolate bars, empty beer kegs from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, medicine, even a traveling Bible exhibit.
The governor of Colorado said on Sunday he believes the Cuban government wants to further improve relations with the United States under President Donald Trump, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the Communist-run island nation.
January 2017
Following on the heels of last's week threatened retaliation against Florida ports that sign agreements with Cuba, Gov. Rick Scott has tucked another anti-Cuba provision into his proposed state budget that is even more far-reaching.
A Miami-based auto company has received the green light to ship American-made electric cars to Cuba, following an effort by former President Obama to restore diplomatic relations with the island nation.
A high-level Cuban business delegation toured Port Everglades and met with port officials Thursday, although the planned highlight — the signing of a cooperation pact — was canceled after Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut off state funding to any port that entered into an agreement with Cuba.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government.
The first Cuban exports since the embargo went into effect over a half century ago arrived at Port Everglades Tuesday as port officials prepared to receive a business delegation from Cuba later in the week.
The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce met with Cuban President Raul Castro and in separate meetings with members of Castro's economic cabinet on Friday, as they prepare for the advent of a more hostile Trump administration next week.
HAVANA, Cuba—Cuba’s private-business owners, having profited from a growing flow of funds and tourists from the U.S. under the Obama administration, are facing uncertainty the influx—and their hard-won gains—will continue.
Saul Berenthal was to become the first Cuban American investor on the island with a plan to assemble tractors to help small farmers. But his full embrace of his Cuban roots backfired.
Artisanal charcoal will become the first legal Cuban export to the United States in decades under a deal announced Thursday between Cuba's government and the former lawyer for imprisoned U.S. government contractor Alan Gross.
The Obama Administration has said that trade with Cuba could reach up to $6 billion under its new policies, but U.S. companies in fact exported barely $380 million worth of goods to the island since the beginning of the thaw in bilateral relations two years ago.
December 2016
MIAMI - Venezuela's economic collapse continues to weaken Cuba's economy.
SANTIAGO DE CUBA--Cuban rum and cigars seem to have become the souvenir of choice for U.S. visitors to the island.
President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in March 2016 drove excitement for businesses considering the market that the island could become. The move made it possible to imagine an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba (which remains firmly in place) and a consequently sharp improvement in Cuba’s economic conditions.
"After the election, all of a sudden the Cuban side has seen that they ought to do their part to make this opening irreversible, and they are trying to sign deals that had been languishing," said Geoff Thale, program director of the Washington Office on Latin America. "We're going to see a number of agreements on the commercial side between now and Jan. 20."

Cuba, in Clothes

December 13, 2016

Deep in Bauta, a sleepy Cuban town 17 miles southwest of Havana, past rows of billboards painted with portraits of national heroes and narrow streets lined with colorful Spanish colonial houses, sits an abandoned factory on a plot of lush, overgrown farmland.
MELBOURNE, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- A Cuban-focused oil company said it was taking a closer look at the business climate there with the goal of accelerating its drilling program next year.
November 2016
WASHINGTON— General Electric Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit are among firms U.S. officials believe will secure agreements to operate in Cuba as the Obama administration presses Havana to complete pending deals before Donald Trump takes office, according to people familiar with the discussions.
MIAMI — A powerful coalition of U.S. companies is preparing to appeal to President-elect Donald Trump's business instincts and drop his vow to reverse one of President Obama's signature achievements: renewed relations with Cuba.
HAVANA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a group of Cuban students today that he won’t change Canada’s stance on Cuba, even though his views are at odds with the man set to lead Canada’s biggest trading partner.
The policy of rapprochement with Cuba promoted by the Obama administration has sparked a frenzy in U.S. companies rushing to register their brands on the island.
Since the mid-1970s when he was a graduate student in international economics, Richard Feinberg, now a professor at the University of California San Diego, has been fascinated by the challenges of reforming centralized economies.
When the U.S. and Cuba normalized relations two years ago, hope sprang eternal that Americans could now do business on the island. But we got another reminder this week that it may also require eternal patience.
This year’s Cuba trade fair is the largest ever, with 73 countries and 3,500 exhibitors present.
HAVANA - For a while Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons were the 70-something poster boys of U.S.-Cuba detente.
October 2016
South Korea and Cuba discussed ways to boost bilateral ties Monday, holding their first economic cooperation dialogue in 57 years.
HAVANA – Cuban and French officials on Wednesday held an initial meeting in this capital to define potential investment projects French companies could carry out on the Communist-ruled island.
A restaurant franchisor or a U.S. distributor of tires could negotiate a future contract in Cuba. A U.S. engineering or architecture firm could work on a public transportation project or new Cuban hospital. An American traveler to Cuba can load up on premium cigars and bottles of high-end Santiago or Havana Club rum.
WASHINGTON--It’s not that he’s not interested nor does he feel like he doesn’t have a strong case, but the idea of taking on the Obama administration in court is not something Javier García-Bengochea is eager to do.
The Obama administration's decision last week to again loosen trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba means it will soon be easier to enjoy a fine Cuban cigar and savor a swig of that island's flavorsome rum.
WASHINGTON--It’s not that he’s not interested nor does he feel like he doesn’t have a strong case, but the idea of taking on the Obama administration in court is not something Javier García-Bengochea is eager to do.
Americans traveling to Cuba will be allowed to bring home more of the communist-ruled island's coveted cigars and rum under new measures announced by the U.S. government on Friday to further ease trade, travel and financial restrictions that have been in place for decades.
Port of New Orleans Chief Operating Officer Brandy Christian joined Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in signing a memorandum of understanding with Cuba on Oct. 4 pledging to expand trade and commerce opportunities between Louisiana and the Caribbean nation, according to a prepared statement.
One of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s firms — Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts — paid consultants nearly $70,000 in 1999 to secretly look into doing business in Cuba while the communist country was still under a U.S. embargo, according to Newsweek.
Nowhere in Cuba are the effects of the continuing US economic embargo more apparent than the countryside, where farming cooperatives rely on outdated tools and processing plants can't obtain spare parts, Will Grant reports.
MIAMI — In a sign of the “uncomfortable” spot Donald Trump has put them in, the Miami Republican leaders who support a hard line on Cuba don’t want to talk about a news story detailing how one of the GOP presidential nominee’s companies helped violate the U.S. embargo of the communist island.
September 2016
A company controlled by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, secretly conducted business in Communist Cuba during Fidel Castro’s presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal, according to interviews with former Trump executives, internal company records and court filings.
VIENNA – Cuba and Russia relaunched their relations on Tuesday with a pacific nuclear energy deal signed in Vienna alongside the International Atomic Energy Agency's General Conference.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese leader to visit Communist-ruled Cuba on Thursday, landing in Havana to hold talks with Cuban President Raul Castro on topics from boosting trade to curbing North Korea's nuclear program.
WASHINGTON--A handful of experts urged the House Committee on Agriculture on Wednesday to loosen restrictions on farm trade with Cuba, as legislators further contemplate U.S.-Cuba ties.
Algeria is sending crude to Cuba for the first time to help offset lower supplies from Venezuela, hit by production problems due to low oil prices, sources with direct knowledge said.
Within maritime circles, there is tremendous interest in the promise of Cuban trade and how shipping can navigate the political minefield of the US embargo and the 180-day rule, which bars a vessel that calls in Cuba from visiting the United States for six months.
Cuba is in a period of profound change, which is impacting all aspects of life — including the food system. UC Food Observer learned about some of these changes, when editor Rose Hayden-Smith spoke to Dr. Pedro Sanchez.
August 2016
The start this week of the first regularly scheduled commercial flights from the United States augurs the likely demise of Cuba's “mules” — suppliers of last resort for scarce consumer goods on the island.
Despite all the hype on Cuba, commercial shipping's opportunities to do business with the island are unlikely to significantly improve until at least February 2018.
HAVANA — Ramses Fernandez’s most cherished possession is barely larger than a refrigerator, with the legroom of an economy airplane seat and a little more horsepower than a riding lawnmower.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Washington, D.C.-based Engage Cuba Coalition on Wednesday added New Mexico to its roster of states with a local council supporting an end to the 56-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.
The United States has more ties to Cuba than just Miami, including in telecommunications, health care, biotechnology and agriculture. Engage Cuba, a new advocacy organization, wants you to know that.
July 2016

Cuba: Open for Business?

July 26, 2016

The recently published book by Richard E. Feinberg provides a good opportunity to revisit the economic prospects of Cuba. In the book’s title the question is omitted, so it echoes the official slogan that the Cuban government has been using to signal that something has changed. The content of the book, however, does include much to warrant a question mark.
As the thaw continues between the United States and Cuba, the U.S. Department of Transportation has granted FedEx the rights to operate a five-times-weekly freighter service between Miami and the city of Matanzas. While eight other airlines were granted rights to fly passenger routes between the U.S. and Cuba routes earlier this month, FedEx is the first American cargo carrier to earn this distinction.

HAVANA, Cuba—Though the U.S. embargo still officially bars them from hitting Cuba’s beaches as tourists, Americans are nevertheless shaking up the country’s tourism industry and communist economy as they flock to the island.
In another step toward normalizing relations with Cuba, coffee grown on independently owned farms can now be exported to the United States.
Despite the U.S. trade embargo on the island of Cuba, many Cuban-American families are supporting the economic recovery and growth of their relatives through remittances.
Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp (8058.T) is scouting for business opportunities in Cuba including infrastructure projects at its Mariel special development zone, a top executive said on Friday.
MIAMI — It’s a hot Saturday morning and the crowd is churning at Nooo! Que Barato!, the sprawling discount store where many Cuban Americans buy cheap goods for their relatives back home. But lately, shoppers at the store, whose name roughly translates to Wow! That’s Cheap!, are exhibiting more discerning tastes.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts this year became the first U.S. hotelier to ink a deal in Cuba in nearly six decades. Marriott International quickly announced plans to do the same, and a number of big-name competitors have since expressed interest in expanding to the island nation.
June 2016
HAVANA – Starting Monday, Havana ATMs will accept MasterCard cash advances, including those from Stonegate Bank, the first U.S. bank authorized to provide this service on the communist island, and the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, the Cuban Central Bank, or BCC, said.
American Airlines is now taking reservations and selling regularly scheduled flights between Miami International Airport and five Cuban cities to start in September for less than $300 round-trip, including taxes.
A "sit-in" by Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill to push for gun control legislation, forced a delay of votes on various proposals related to Cuba that was included in a draft budget for financial services and other government spending slated to before the House of Representatives Wednesday night.
The development of production facilities and supplies of products are the key sectors of Russia’s cooperation with Cuba, according to Deputy Industry Minister Georgy Kalamanov.
Cuba's iconic products — from coffee to rum to the island's fabled cigars — have been off limits to U.S. consumers for more than 50 years because of the economic embargo maintained on the communist country. Opportunities opened after December 2014, when President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced that the Cold War foes would begin normalizing relations.
FedEx Corp. won’t be flying a big cargo plane into Havana anytime soon.
HAVANA — Being an agricultural official in Cuba these days is like living in a resort town all your friends want to visit. You rarely get a moment to yourself.
The car was a Detroit classic on a Havana street, a pink and white 1956 Chevy Bel Air with a nickname out of a rock 'n' roll song: "Lola."
A Washington-based interest group has recruited a coalition of Texas educators and business and civic leaders to help convince members of Congress to eliminate the country’s embargo against communist Cuba.
Cuba made its first U.S. soyoil purchase in more than five years this month, the latest sign that drought and heavy rains in South America have tightened supplies and disrupted longstanding trade patterns.
Cuba is trying to reduce costs in the nickel industry to offset losses from low global prices, rather than raising output from 56,000 tonnes annually, industry executives said on a rare tour of one of the communist-led island's plants.
Cuba's long-term trading partners are using debt forgiveness, swaps and new financing to try to win investment opportunities on the island before U.S. companies turn up following its detente with Washington.
Japan’s largest trading houses are positioning themselves in Cuba before any easing of U.S. sanctions, seeking opportunities in infrastructure, resources and automobiles as the Caribbean nation emerges from near-isolation.
April 2016
An Alabama tractor company angling to become the first American business in more than a half century to set up manufacturing operations in Cuba is about midway through the approval process.
A Tampa company that’s in negotiations to open a warehouse outside Havana that would stock food, wine and other products needed in Cuba’s growing tourism industry is hopeful it will eventually get the green light, but Cuban officials have made it clear that the government will be its partner and it could take some time.
MIAMI — A U.S. talent agency signed a contract in Havana on Monday to work with a Cuban entrepreneur, a seemingly simple deal that marks a big change in the relationship between the two countries.
Cuban-born travelers can now book a cruise on Carnival Corp.’s Cuba sailings, the cruise giant announced Monday.
Want to use a debit card in Cuba? Have I got a bank for you -- the operative word being "a." Just 1 U.S. bank can currently issue a credit or debit card that's usable in Cuba: Stonegate Bank, based in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Following President Barack Obama's watershed visit to Cuba last month, the Caribbean island is moving one step closer to harmony with its northern neighbour. An application has been submitted for what will become the world's second-largest theme park, on the island's north coast, around an hour's drive east of popular holiday resort Varadero.
March 2016
Chris Rosander was touring a mango grove in Cuba last year with a group of U.S. agriculture leaders when he had a revelation: “Why don’t we import mangoes from Cuba?”
When President Barack Obama was working secretly to restore diplomatic and business relations with Cuba two years ago, he got some help from an unlikely place.
Nearly a dozen American corporate heavyweights — including Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, PayPal CEO Daniel Schulman, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson President and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky— went to Cuba this week to attend an “Entrepreneurship and Opportunity Event” along with President Obama.
Obama’s historic visit to Cuba comes amid a frenzy of deal-making by US corporations keen to take full advantage of opportunities to come. But one area – technology and telecoms – shows just how complicated unwinding 50 years of hostility will be for companies and Cubans.
Google is set to expand internet access in Cuba, Barack Obama has revealed during his historic visit to the Caribbean island.
President Barack Obama’s bid to crack open Cuba to U.S. businesses will take a big step forward next week when he becomes the first sitting president to step on Cuban soil in more than eight decades. Just don’t expect U.S. companies to follow en masse any time soon.
WASHINGTON—As the Obama administration works to expand economic relations with Cuba, it is competing for influence with a familiar rival: China.
February 2016
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Critics of the United States' travel and trade ban with Cuba say ending the trade embargo could be a boon to Louisiana's agriculture, petrochemical and tourism markets.
HAVANA – After winning the court case for rights to the Havana Club brand in the United States, the maker aims to have its rum become the first Cuban product to be sold in the U.S. when the long-standing embargo is lifted, because the North American country is a market with enormous potential and almost half the worldwide sales of premium rum.
Australian mining and agricultural companies will join the country's first official trade mission to Cuba, which leaves for Havana on Wednesday.
President Obama’s planned visit to Cuba next month marks the first time a U.S. president has made a state visit to that nation in 88 years.
During a week in which the United States and Cuba were trying to figure out how to do business with each other, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker took the Cuban foreign trade minister to lunch Wednesday at the White House.
WASHINGTON-Cuba’s top official for foreign investment used a historic speech before American business leaders on Tuesday to urge them to pressure lawmakers to end U.S. economic sanctions against his country, warning that their firms are losing ground to foreign competitors.
Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal, both 72-year-old retired software engineers, are slated to become the first Americans since 1959 to set up a manufacturing plant in Cuba.
WASHINGTON — Top Obama administration officials will open a round of talks on Wednesday in Washington aimed at expanding business ties between the United States and Cuba, pushing forward on President Obama’s directive to seek normalized relations, even while the American embargo continues to bar most trade and commerce between the two nations.
MIAMI — The Obama administration approved the first U.S. factory to be built and operated in Cuba in more than 50 years, in the latest sign of the rapidly changing relationship between the United States and the communist nation.
American earth-movers are coming to Cuba. Caterpillar, the construction equipment maker, said Wednesday it has signed a deal with a distributor to begin the process of selling its products in Cuba, becoming one of the first U.S. manufacturers to enter the island nation that is emerging from decades-long trade restrictions.
The 3.5 million tourists who flooded Cuba last year downed oceans of mojitos, lakes of daiquiris and rivers of thin, sour beer. Only an odd few accompanied their ropa vieja and croquetas with wine — mostly overpriced, low- to mid-grade vintages from Chile, Argentina and Spain.
PARIS — Cuban President Raul Castro held a series of meetings with senior French officials on Tuesday, the second day of a state visit to France aimed at boosting business ties between the two countries.
PARIS (Reuters) - Cuba sought to drum up foreign investment on Tuesday as ministers on a state visit to Paris promised French business leaders that the Communist-run country is open for business.
January 2016

The American Invasion of Cuba

January 29, 2016

ELLEN GAMERMAN AND KELLY CROW

The U.S. invasion of Cuba has begun. Following President Obama’s steps to ease travel and trade restrictions on Cuba last year, the island has been overwhelmed by cultural visitors on the hunt for the next exotic destination.
Within hours on Tuesday after the Obama administration announced new Cuban regulations that allow financing of authorized exports to the island and more exceptions to the embargo, Miami lawyer Andy Fernandez began fielding calls from clients interested in dusting off their Cuba plans.

Setting sail for Cuba

January 13, 2016

At least three U.S.-based cruise lines have Cuba in their sights and have been advertising itineraries that leave from PortMiami this winter and spring.
Global consumer products company Unilever Plc (UNc.AS)(ULVR.L) will return to Cuba after a several-year absence, agreeing on Monday to build a $35 million soap and toothpaste factory in Cuba's special development zone at the port of Mariel west of Havana.
Mexico city, Jan 6 (IANS) The Mexican Senate urged the government to expand economic ties with Cuba, including through signing of a free-trade agreement.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Virginia's port authority will become the first U.S. port operator to sign a cooperation agreement with its Cuban counterpart, in an effort to increase trade and establish direct service with Cuba, Virginia's governor said on Monday.
December 2015
A Tampa company is trying to win approval from the Cuban government to open a warehouse distribution facility in Cuba that could potentially supply the island’s budding private sector and would stock U.S. products allowed to be exported to Cuba under exceptions to the embargo.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee business and community leaders assembled Monday to support a bipartisan public policy group in its effort to end the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.
November 2015
MIAMI - For the first time, American travelers will be able to use a debit card in Cuba. Stonegate Bank, based outside Miami, in Pompano Beach, announced Thursday that it will offer a debit MasterCard to Americans visiting Cuba under one of 12 categories approved by the U.S government.
A group of influential Wall Street dealmakers are betting that Americans have such an appetite for Cuban television – everything from sports, to music to even some government propaganda—that they’re planning to distribute the island’s TV programming to viewers in the U.S., the FOX Business Network has learned.
My grandparents were in Havana on New Year's Eve in 1958 when Fidel Castro and his comrades' Revolution officially triumphed. My grandfather still recalls hearing gunshots and shouts in the streets that night.
Last month as it always does, Island Travel & Tours, which offers air charter service between three Florida cities and Cuba, asked its local bank to request a $35,000 wire transfer to pay the Cuban government $194 per passenger for landing fees and for mandatory health insurance for travelers.
After standing by Communist Cuba during its years of international isolation, Mexico hopes to take advantage of Havana's thawing relations with the United States to become a leading business player on the island.
Cuba is seeking $8.2 billion of foreign investment in 326 projects ranging from the production of rum to an entirely new venture creating high definition, pay-per-view television.
Havana, Nov 3 (IANS) The US-Cuba Business Council held a meeting as the 2015 Havana International Trade Fair (Fihav) began in Cuba's capital to forge links between the business sectors of both countries and identify investment opportunities.
Chinese and British developers are building luxury golf resorts. Mexico and other countries are investing in a development zone. And Vietnam has inked a deal to build a hotel, following the path of Canadian and Spanish hoteliers.
Sprint signed a roaming agreement with Cuba's telecommunications company Monday, becoming the second U.S. company able to provide roaming service on the island.
October 2015
On Tuesday, the United Nations issued its 24th annual condemnation of the American embargo of Cuba. There was a silver lining. With the recent thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States, expectations are running high for political normalization between the two countries and the promising economic opportunities that should come with it.
HAVANA - Trade between China and Cuba reached $1.596 billion between January andSeptember in 2015, up 57 percent year-on-year, the Chinese embassy in Havana announcedThursday.
Howard Kass, Ubaldo Huerta and Hiram Centelles already are doing business in Cuba. They hope to do more next year as relations thaw and the Communist island opens itself up to more commerce with the United States.
Low commodity prices, a drought at home and Venezuela's economic crisis have created a cash shortage for Cuba's Communist government, restricting its ability to trade just as it could be taking advantage of an economic opening with the United States.
The governors of nine predominantly agricultural U.S. states asked Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba, given the importance of that country as a prospective market for many U.S. food products.
WASHINGTON- U.S. agricultural and food exports to Cuba continued dropping in recent months, despite this being the year the United States is working to substantially open trade with the island nation.
Oct. 04--When Stonegate Bank opened its doors in 2005 with 16 employees and two branches in Broward County, it didn't know the greatest financial shock wave in a generation would soon level banks across the nation.
September 2015
The council will work with Congress and the public and private sectors to support business ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
Sept. 24--In another sign of growing U.S. links with Cuba, shipping company SC Line has started up service between Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades and the communist-led island.
August 2015
As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the U.S. embassy in Havana last week, just a few rows to Kerry's left sat Pedro Freyre, waiting for the U.S. flag to rise over Cuba for the first time in 54 years.
While members of Congress wring their hands over whether to end the Cuban trade embargo, exporters in Latin America, the EU, Russia and East Asia are descending on Cuba and making deals left and right.
As we stepped outside of Jose Marti Airport amidst the humidity and frenzy of locals eagerly awaiting relatives, we were greeted by our driver, a 45-year-old Czech expat who arrived to Havana five years ago. Having missed out on the capitalist transformation after the 1989 fall of the USSR, our "man in Havana" was determined to "strike gold" this time around but in Cuba.
HOUSTON – For an estrangement that lasted 54 years, the resumption of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba happened rather quickly. Just seven months elapsed between Barack Obama’s December announcement of a change in US policy and the opening of a US embassy in Havana last month.
In December 2014, the United States announced that it would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and implement executive actions intended to ease the trade and travel restrictions currently in place. Establishment of a more normal economic relationship with Cuba could foster additional growth in U.S.-Cuba agricultural trade by promoting greater productivity in the Cuban economy; increasing demand for agricultural imports among Cuban consumers, food service providers, and food manufacturers; and providing the policy and legal framework for the resumption of U.S. agricultural imports from Cuba.
Contrary to popular belief, car collectors will not be descending on Cuba to buy up the thousands of antique American cars still on the road in the Caribbean nation. "We just don't see it," said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in insuring collector cars.
July 2015
With embassies now open in each country, it might seem that Cuba and the United States are ready to do business with each other. But there are still many barriers. Not only is a trade embargo still in effect, but businesses also are proceeding slowly when it comes to taking advantage of the limited commercial opening toward Cuba outlined by President Barack Obama as part of the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba.
Stonegate Bank Chief Executive David Seleski flew to Washington on Monday for a ceremony marking the reopening of the Cuban Embassy and resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States. Early the next day, he was on a plane to Havana to ink a historic deal of his own.
MIAMI- In the first major business deal since the United States and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations, Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Stonegate Bank said Wednesday that it is setting up a correspondent banking relationship with a Cuban financial institution.
WASHINGTON — Florida-based Stonegate Bank signed on Tuesday the first deal to set up a correspondent account in Cuba since President Barack Obama’s December move to re-establish relations with the island nation, the bank’s president said.
When Secretary of State John Kerry goes to Havana to raise a flag over the soon to be reopened embassy this summer, it won't be just an important symbolic moment.
The Obama administration’s sudden move to normalize relations with Cuba – including Wednesday’s announcement that the nations would open embassies in each other’s capitals — has fueled excitement in the business world at the prospect of a new market. A door long shut by the Cuban trade embargo is opening up, paving the way for U.S. companies to reap big rewards.
June 2015
For most Americans, Cuba is an isolated third-world island country with a backward economy and a regrettable political and human rights record. After 56 years of the Castro regime, this reputation has been well-earned, but there was a time when Cuba represented something quite different.
After decades on the U.S. no-go list, Cuba is developing into a hotspot in the Caribbean, spurring interest by companies ranging from Airbnb Inc. to Netflix Inc. Pernod was an early pioneer, joining with Cuba’s state distiller Corporacion Cuba Ron SA to produce Havana Club rum for world distribution, starting in 1993.
HAVANA- As U.S.-Cuban relations emerge from a deep freeze, U.S. port cities desiring to become gateways to the island are jostling for advantage.
May 2015
WASHINGTON — Florida banks, traders and travelers will benefit from Cuba's removal from the U.S. list of "state sponsors of terrorism," which officially takes effect on Friday, analysts said this week.
May 28--Airbnb has grown rapidly in Cuba because it took advantage of two well-established patterns: the tradition of renting out rooms to travelers to earn extra money and the kindness of friends and neighbors with Internet connections.
The Florida Bar is sending its first ever delegation of lawyers to Cuba this week to explore emerging new business opportunities as prospects heat up for closer political and commercial relations between the United States and the Communist-run island.
TAMPA — A 35-member business delegation returned from a four-day trip to Cuba over the weekend optimistic about the Tampa Bay area's prospects to renew relations and commerce once the U.S. trade embargo on the island is lifted.
April 2015
HAVANA: Cuban officials and New York business executives are exploring ways for companies to do business on the communist-run island despite the longstanding U.S. embargo that makes most trade and investment illegal, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Gov. Cuomo is set to depart Monday morning on a whirlwind, one-day trade mission to Cuba he says is a step toward bringing change to the communist country.
(Reuters) - A U.S. cancer research center and a software company reached agreements with Cuban partners during a two-day trade mission to Cuba led by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the first trip of its kind since the rapprochement between Washington and Havana.
Taking advantage of the headway provided by decades of doing business in Cuba, Spanish businessmen want to make sure they are well-positioned in the Caribbean island by the time the United States decides to lift its more than 50-year-old trade embargo.
PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - One of the most influential pro-business lobbyists in Washington said on Wednesday he is optimistic the U.S. Congress might lift the trade embargo against Cuba before the next presidential election in 2016.
U.S. companies can expect the same treatment as those from the rest of the world, receiving neither special benefits nor punishment, if there is a further commercial opening between Cuba and the United States, Cuba’s foreign trade minister said.
March 2015
TAMPA- U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Monday that she is planning a trip to Cuba as soon as diplomatic ties are renewed and that trading with the island can involve the U.S. business community in “positive change” in Cuba.
For the first time since 1999 two countries can make direct phone communication rather than through third party
A Mexican meat processing firm has become the first international company to get approval for an investment project in Cuba's first special economic development area, Mexico's foreign ministry said on Saturday.
February 2015
Heavy trucks groan through the muddy hills, laden with cement mixers, earthmovers and tractors. Gigantic cranes loom just beyond piers and shipping containers in Cuba's Caribbean waters. Stern guards keep watch. A billboard proclaims: "The economic battle is today our principal task."
On Dec. 17, 2014, Cuba and the United States ended their five-decade old confrontation. Canada had long worked to facilitate a rapprochement between Washington and Havana and again made an important diplomatic contribution to the December agreement.
January 2015
The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that U.S. efforts to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba and ease curbs on trade presents American companies with "extraordinary opportunities" to boost business by selling everything from cars to computers.
Jay Brickman envisions a day when the company he works for freely trades with Cuban entrepreneurs and the Cuban government without restrictions or crippling regulations.
MEXICO CITY — To the Cuban government, it is “The Blockade,” and sometimes, “The Genocidal Blockade,” as if U.S. Navy gunboats had circled the island and cut off its inhabitants.
A new agribusiness coalition is seeking an immediate end of the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, prodding Congress to act as the Obama administration eases some restrictions in place for more than 50 years.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill will travel to Cuba before the end of February to assess whether the island nation could be a suitable market for Missouri agriculture.
A new agribusiness coalition is seeking an immediate end of the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, prodding Congress to act as the Obama administration eases some restrictions in place for more than 50 years.
HAVANA - U.S. exports to Cuba hit one of their lowest points in a decade last year, a demonstration of the longstanding barriers to trade that will hamper President Barack Obama's recent move to expand ties, new figures showed Monday.
December 2014
HAVANA, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Cuba released more information on its fragile external finances this week than it has in over a decade, as it seeks foreign investment and credit following its sudden improvement in relations with the United States.
November 2014
HAVANA-Cuba asked international companies on Monday to invest more than $8 billion in the island as it attempts to kick-start a centrally planned economy starved for cash and hamstrung by inefficiency.
Foreign Commerce Minister Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz announced a list of 246 potential projects that would cost $8.7 billion to build, from a pig farm to an auto plant. The menu of possible investments is a key step in a push for foreign capital that includes the relaxation of investment restrictions and the creation of a special trade zone around a new deep-water port west of Havana.
September 2014
(Reuters) - Cuba offered to free jailed Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian in return for $55 million and company assets, his company said on Monday, but the deal fell through because the firm didn't have the money and the businessman wanted to clear his name.
May 2014
May 27 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the growth of free enterprise in Cuba upon his arrival in Havana Tuesday at the start of a three-day visit that was criticized by a leading supporter of the U.S. embargo in Washington.
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- The Illinois Corn Growers Association wants President Barack Obama to expand trade opportunities between the U.S. and Cuba.
March 2014
It's Saturday night at El Cocinero, a chic rooftop bar that has arguably become Havana's hippest watering hole in the year since it opened, and there's no getting in without a reservation.
Cuba’s government forecasts it will receive $8.2 billion from sending doctors and nurses abroad this year as it announced plans to raise salaries for medical personnel on the Caribbean island.
February 2014
TORONTO (AP) — A Canadian businessman who served 2 1/2 years of a 9-year prison sentence in Cuba for corruption has abruptly returned to Canada.
Feb 3 (Reuters) - Cuba will reduce production at one of its two nickel plants this year so it can carry out maintenance and capital improvements to make the plant competitive at low international prices.
January 2014
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff joined Cuban leader Raul Castro here on Monday for the inauguration of the first phase of the Brazilian-led modernization of the port of Mariel.
December 2013
Cuba travel agency owner Vivian Mannerud says she tried for three years to find a bank that would hold an account for her money remittance business, which was fully licensed by the U.S. government.
November 2013
President Raul Castro held talks with the CEO of Russian oil giant Rosneft about investing in Cuba's special development zone centered on the revamped port of Mariel, Havana's official media outlets said Monday.
HAVANA (AP) – More than a dozen Cuban state-run businesses have been authorized to begin selling their goods wholesale to selected buyers.
(CNN) - In the sleepy seaside town of Mariel, northwest Cuba, a hulking monument to the communist islands' evolving economy is rapidly taking shape.
What U.S. government subcontractor Alan P. Gross could not do in Cuba is being carried out by a Miami man who started out just wanting to cut the price of his phone calls to his father and grandmother on the island.
October 2013
HAVANA – The streets of central Havana were dark and almost silent as a young married couple climbed a chipped marble staircase to the top of an aging building. Dubied Arce and Dayelin Perez opened a narrow door to a flood of cold air, colored light and the twang of a country-and-western video blasting from a wall-mounted TV.
In the three years since the island's communist government expanded the opportunities for private business, the clothes stores have sprung up across Cuba, usually offering a wider choice and cheaper price tag than state-run alternatives. But now the government has announced it is tightening the trading rules, leaving thousands of retailers facing the loss of their licenses and their livelihood.
September 2013
Cuba has approved tax exemption rules for a special commercial zone at a massive port under construction west of Havana, in hopes of luring more foreign investment as the country tries to lift its economy with a series of reforms.
(Reuters) - Cuba published rules and regulations on Monday governing its first special development zone, touting new port facilities in Mariel Bay in a bid to attract investors and take advantage of a renovated Panama Canal.
HAVANA, Cuba: India has offered Cuba lines of credit and expertise for developing renewable energy projects, as the Caribbean nation seeks to diversify energy mix for reducing its dependence on oil imports.
Havana, Cuba – Havana's harbor has long been an unsightly jumble of piers left to crumble into piles of rusty, twisted rebar. Its dominant feature is a refinery smokestack across the bay that belches smoke and flame 24 hours a day.
HAVANA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Cuban nickel industry revenues were well below expectations in the first six months of the year, mainly because of low international prices, official radio reported this week.
August 2013

Foreign investment in Cuba

August 13, 2013

WE HAVE received the following letter from Stephen Purvis, a British businessman who was detained in Cuba for 15 months:
July 2013
Noel repairs the blades of the fan. He has a little workshop in a doorway in Cerro neighborhood. He repairs electric irons, blenders, every kind of obsolete motor, and does good things with rice cookers and water heaters. It's not a job that generates a lot of dividends.
A group of 38 business leaders and politicians from Tampa flew to Cuba in late May. Tourist visas forbid them from any official meetings. But there was no mistaking that the trip was about promoting Tampa as Cuba’s future trading partner.
Cuba will be providing expertise to Jamaica on the manufacture and assembly of solar light panels, according to Jamaican Energy Minister Philip Paulwell.
June 2013
Cuba and Bolivia began their first-ever business forum and roundtable at the Hotel Nacional in Havana on Thursday. The forum was led by Estrella Madrigal Valdes, the president of Cuba’s Chamber of Commerce, who called for increasing trade and business ties between the two countries.
May 2013
His wares banned in much of the world, the Vietnamese salesman hawking a rat poison laced with salmonella sought to prove the bait was as safe as claimed. He sliced open a packet with a pair of rusty scissors, dipped his finger into the sticky, bad-smelling rice, brought out a few grains and then chewed them gingerly.
Placing zeros to the right seems to be the preferred sport of those who put a price on the homes they sell in Cuba today. A captive market at the end of the day, the buyer could find a lot of surprises in the wide range of classified ads.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla met Tuesday with Zambian Foreign Minister Efforn Chakupa Lungu in Havana. The two sides reportedly expressed a willingness to strengthen the countries’ diplomatic ties, which were first established in 1972.
April 2013
HAVANA -- In some ways, Yosuan Crespo's real estate office resembles any you might find in New York, London or Tokyo. There are slick posters of hot properties hanging from the ceiling, a steady stream of hopeful buyers and sellers and a constant clack of computer keys.
Havana, April 25 (IANS) Cuba's biotechnology industry is expected to double over the next five years, bringing in more than $5 billion in export revenues, an official said.
Cuba and Saudi Arabia have signed a bilateral agreement aiming to rehabilitate water networks in Havana, Cuba’s government announced. The agreement will involve $30 million in funding from the Saudi Fund for Development; the money will target efforts to improve the city’s drinking water supply.
HAVANA: Cuba on Tuesday unveiled rules for its first free trade manufacturing zone, a vast $900 million project being paid for mostly by Brazil in the port of Mariel near Havana.
March 2013
(Reuters) - Cubans are building private food distribution networks from the farm through to retail outlets as communist authorities gradually dismantle the state's monopoly on the purchase and sale of agricultural products.
The 15th Havana Cigar Festival took in more than $1 million at the auction of six lots of luxury humidors packed with cigars, held over the weekend during the exclusive dinner that put the finishing touch to a week dedicated to premium cigars, the stars of the Cuban tobacco industry.
February 2013
HAVANA (Reuters) - Russia will lease eight jets worth $650 million to its Cold War- era ally Cuba and will partially write off the country's multi-billion-dollar, Soviet-era debt under agreements signed during Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Havana on Thursday.
Associated Press

HIALEAH, Fla. - Somewhere on the streets of Havana is a cherry-red Lada car rebuilt almost entirely with parts that arrived from Miami in a visitor's suitcases.
January 2013
La Habana, 31 ene (EFE).- El presidente de Cuba, Raúl Castro, y el exgobernante brasileño Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visitaron el miércoles el proyecto de ampliación del puerto de Mariel, que se ejecuta con inversión del país sudamericano, informaron hoy medios locales.
HAVANA - A half-century later, Jose Rafa Malem remembers the balmy breezes blowing through the bar's arching porticos, the grain of the tall wood stools, the whiff of Pedro Domecq brandy on his father's breath.
December 2012
In spite of a decades-long embargo imposed by Washington against the communist government in Cuba, a few states in the US export produce to the island.
EFE - The association representing the more than 360 Spanish firms with operations in Cuba asked Iberia airline and Spain's government Tuesday for the carrier to reverse its decision to eliminate service between Havana and Madrid.
LA HABANA - La compañía Aeroflot y otras líneas aéreas de Rusia podrán volar a partir de este lunes a diversas ciudades de Cuba y ya no solo a La Habana, según un acuerdo firmado entre los dos países, informó la agencia cubana Prensa Latina.
MIAMI - A Miami man faces up to 20 years in prison for allegedly trying to smuggle birds from Cuba into the United States in his pants.

The U.S. Attorney's office says Alberto Diaz Gonzalez pleaded guilty Thursday to attempting to import undeclared wildlife from the Caribbean island.
November 2012
Haiti and Cuba strengthened their ties Wednesday by signing a series of cooperation agreements in fields including public health and agriculture. The agreements were signed during Haiti President Michel Martelly’s visit to the island this week, which included a meeting with Raul Castro, president of the Council of State of Cuba.
The Brazilian-Cuban joint venture Brascuba S.A will soon start production in Cuba of Brazil's popular Plaza brand of cigarettes, official media said. The firm's director of exports, Ernesto Tabio, announced that by mid-2013 they plan to start exporting the product to Brazil, the official AIN news agency said.
RICHMOND - Queen Victoria is said to have had a bite of an Albemarle Pippin and - poof! - away went the British tariff on the juicy, Virginia-grown apple.
Nov 20 (Reuters) - A Cuban nickel plant damaged by Hurricane Sandy more than three weeks ago is now up and running, according to official media in Holguin province where it is located.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Brazilian builder Odebrecht SA will begin administrating a Cuban sugar mill next week in the first sign the industry is ready to accept foreign participation since the 1959 revolution, two company sources said on Wednesday.
October 2012
The jingle for the Hola Habana TV show has a distinctly retro ring to it, but in Cuban terms the daily programme is groundbreaking. In a country where commercials were banned as brainwashing and property deals long prohibited, state television is now advertising private houses for sale.
September 2012
Associated Press

JARONU, Cuba - Cuba's signature industry is showing signs of life two years after the worst harvest in more than a century.

Hulking processing plants are coming back online and production is rising, a boon to rural towns like Jaronu where producing sugar has been a way of life fo
JARONU, Cuba (AP) - Cuba's signature industry is showing signs of life two years after the worst harvest in more than a century.

Hulking processing plants are coming back online and production is rising, a boon to rural towns like Jaronu where producing sugar has been a way of life for generations.
July 2012
Cuban President Raul Castro is meeting Chinese leaders in Beijing, signing agreements aimed at deepening already close ties between the two allies.
February 2012
HAVANA - Cuban imports from the United States fell sharply in 2010 while the country increasingly turned to trade with ally Venezuela, according to newly released government statistics.
September 2011
HAVANA, Cuba — On this island of constant shortages and scarcities, the latex condom has uses that stretch far beyond the bedroom.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, will lead a delegation to Cuba next week on a six-day trip in an effort to increase trade to the island nation.
After attending a screening of the documentary The Tenth Inning at the University of Pennsylvania last October, Adrian Lorenzo, then an outfielder for the university’s baseball team, was taken aback by scenes of poor Dominican children playing baseball with old, worn-out equipment.
August 2011
The JP Morgan Chase Bank of New York has agreed to pay $88.3 million to settle allegations of “egregious” violations of Cuban Assets Control Regulations, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday.
HAVANA — Production of Cuban cigars and tobacco leaf are on the rise after falling on hard times in the country famed for its "puros" due to smoking bans and the international financial crisis, according to local reports.
July 2011
U.S. authorities are investigating a leading Dutch bank for alleged dealings with countries under trade sanctions, such as Cuba and Iran, that could draw a fine of "several hundred million" dollars, according to news reports.
HAVANA -- Each morning before the sun rises too high, Cubans gather at a shaded corner in central Havana, mingling as though at a cocktail party. icebreaker is always the same: "What are you offering?"
HAVANA — Cuba has more than 900 agricultural experts advising farmers in Venezuela, an official Cuban news agency said Wednesday.
HAVANA — Want some paprika-infused chorizo sausage? How about a bit of buffalo mozzarella? Or maybe you just need more cooking oil this month, or a homemade soft drink you can afford on paltry wages. Perhaps you are looking for something more precious, such as an imported air conditioner or some hand-rolled cigars at a fraction of the official price.
Cuba would plunge swiftly into chaos if Venezuela’s ailing President Hugo Chávez is replaced by someone less willing to subsidize Havana to the tune of $3.5 billion this year, analysts said Friday.
June 2010

Ga. governor heads 43-member trade mission to Cuba

June 8, 2010

Will Weissert- AP, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue met Monday with officials from Cuba's Chamber of Commerce and its food import company, part of a two-day visit to explore his state's trade and tourism possibilities here. The Republican governor is leading a 43-member delegation that includes state lawmakers, port officials and representatives from agribusiness and the University of Georgia. The meetings were "as much about building a relationship with (Cuban officials) as learning about the business environment there," spokesman Bert Brantley said. Perdue's schedule did not include a meeting with President Raul Castro or his brother Fidel, who once regularly met with visiting U.S. politicians but has seen far fewer visitors since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and disappearing from public view nearly four years ago. Washington's 48-year-old embargo prohibits most trade between the two countries. But sales of American food and farm items to Cuba have been allowed since 2000, and the U.S. has been the island's top source of agricultural goods since 2004. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Georgia ranks third among states in exports to Cuba, including nearly $16.3 million so far this year in goods such as poultry, soybeans, pork, sausage and margarine. In a statement, Perdue said Georgia could one day be a hub for Cubans visiting the U.S. via Atlanta's international airport - though it is hard now to imagine droves of islanders vacationing in the U.S. since overseas travel requires expensive, often hard-to-obtain official permission. However, U.S. tourism to Cuba - outlawed in most cases under a federal travel ban that bars American tourists from coming to the island - rose 24 percent last year, according to Cuban government statistics posted online Monday. The National Office of Statistics reported that more than 52,000 American tourists visited last year, with most presumably coming through third countries like Mexico, Canada and Jamaica, compared with about 42,000 in 2008. It gave no explanation for the increase. That figure does not include Cuban-Americans, who have been able to make unlimited trips to visit family on the island since the Obama administration eased restrictions in April 2008. Visits by U.S. governors are fairly common, most recently by New Mexico's Bill Richardson last August. Most duck questions about lifting the embargo since it is currently written into federal law.
February 2010

Cuba sharply reduces US food imports amid hardship

February 10, 2010

Paul Haven, Washington Post

HAVANA -- Cuba has slashed food and agriculture imports from the United States - its largest food supplier despite decades of sour relations - as the communist government tightens its belt in the face of a crippling economic malaise. Imports fell 26 percent in 2009 to $528 million, after peaking at $710 million the year before, according to a report Wednesday by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Economic Trade Council, which provides nonpartisan commercial and economic information about the island and claims to have no position on policy. "The decrease has nothing to do with U.S. regulations, U.S. law or U.S. policy," said John Kavulich, a senior policy analyst at the council. "It is a function of Cuba not having the resources." Kavulich said Cuba has increasingly turned to other countries like Vietnam that will sell it lower-quality food and not ask for payment for as long as two years. Despite the half-century feud across the Straits of Florida, the United States is the largest seller of food to Cuba: Food and agriculture products have been exempted from the 48-year embargo since 2000. Cuba waited more than a year after that to start importing U.S. food - angered by a provision requiring it to pay cash upfront before delivery. But a hurricane in late 2001 hurt food production and gave it little choice. Today, Cubans getting food from monthly ration books eat chicken from Arkansas and wheat from Nebraska. Upscale markets stock everything from Kellogg's cereal to Heinz ketchup to Oreo cookies - though the prices are exorbitant. Imports from other major trading partners such as Venezuela, China and Spain are also down. Rodrigo Malmierca, the minister of foreign trade, said in November that trade during the first three quarters of 2009 was off 36 percent. Cuba's economy has recently been hit by a triple-whammy of bad news: Three major hurricanes did more than $10 billion in damage in 2008, the global economic crisis dampened tourism profits and a drop in commodities prices hurt nickel sales for much of 2009. President Raul Castro has tried to offset falling imports by increasing domestic agriculture production, turning over tens of thousands of hectares (acres) of fallow land to small farmers. He has warned repeatedly that the government can no longer afford to spend so much subsidizing life on the island, and that Cubans must work harder and take more responsibility for their economic well-being. The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and heavily subsidizes all aspects of life while paying an average salary of about $20 a month. Cubans get free health care and education, and usually pay next-to-nothing for housing and utilities. Havana has taken baby-steps toward changing that system, eliminating some staples from the ration book, dropping free lunches for workers at some state enterprises and trimming health and education spending.
December 2009

Creditors still fret despite Cuba improvements

December 23, 2009

Marc Franks, Reuters

HAVANA, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Cuba managed to stop the hemorrhaging of foreign exchange that left it unable to pay many bills the past year, officials said this weekend, but creditors who are owed an estimated $2 billion do not expect to be paid in full any time soon. Cuban officials told the National Assembly over the weekend the country's economic crisis had stabilized, but government spending would be limited in 2010 as the island continues to deal with effects of devastating hurricanes in 2008 and the global financial meltdown. Cuba, which is heavily dependent on imports, stopped paying many suppliers last year and froze the Cuban bank accounts of most foreign companies operating on the island as the crisis drained its cash reserves. Economy Minister Marino Murillo told the assembly that the government had turned 2008's $2.3 billion trade deficit into a surplus of $400 million by cutting imports 37.4 percent, or $6 billion, this year. That, he said, helped offset a 22.9 percent drop in exports, or $3.1 billion, caused by plummeting prices for Cuba's key export products including nickel, tobacco, lobster and technical assistance to oil producing clients such as Venezuela and Angola. Murillo said Cuba's overall economy grew 1.4 percent in 2009, down from 4.2 percent the previous year, and would put in a similar performance in 2010. Murillo did not say if the government had improved the country's cash reserves, which are never publicly disclosed, but did tell the assembly that spending would be dictated by a simple principle. "The amount of foreign exchange we plan to spend in 2010 will be less than the income we expect," Murillo said. Regarding debt, he said, "Negotiations with some countries and suppliers to restructure debts and guarantee payment under more favorable conditions have begun." LITTLE TO CHEER His words brought little cheer to creditors, who had hoped for a signal that the money they are owed would be forthcoming. "I see nothing in Sunday's report that indicates significant amounts of money will be generated or put aside to pay fresh debt racked up to suppliers and banks this year," a foreign businessman, who asked his name not be used, said on Monday. "Further, I see nothing indicating fresh money flows from current or new exports," he said. There was a little bit of good news from President Raul Castro, who told the assembly that the government had unblocked about 30 percent of funds of the frozen bank accounts of foreign companies. There have been estimates that as much as $1 billion has been locked up in the accounts. Castro, who took over for his ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2008, has repeatedly called for making the communist system more productive and efficient to ease its chronic economic problems. Murillo said in his speech the government would loosen its stranglehold on the finances of export industries such as nickel and tobacco, and foreign exchange earners such as communications and tourism. Few details were provided, but it appears that the change will allow state companies to retain a percentage of their earnings instead of handing all profits over to the government, which then allocates them as is currently done. Osvaldo Martinez, head of the National Assembly Economic Commission, said the new system was aimed at ensuring that the companies will have the foreign exchange they need to guarantee production "with priority over any other use" by the state.
November 2009

Cuban spending on U.S. food may decline

November 3, 2009

Will Weissert- AP, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Cuban purchases of U.S. food will fall by at least a third this year as the island slashes imports to stabilize an ever-weak economy further hammered by the global economic crisis, a top trade official said Monday. Igor Montero, head of the state import company Alimport, calculated that the communist government would spend less than $590 million on American food in 2009 once banking, shipping and other transaction costs are included. That's down at least 32 percent from last year's $870 million. Montero blamed the economic crisis, but also took a swipe at Washington's 47-year-old trade embargo, even though it exempts food, arguing that America should begin buying Cuban products and allowing its citizens to visit the island as tourists. ``If we aren't given more possibility to generate revenue through Cuban exports to the United States, or an exchange of visitors, it's going to be very difficult to continue to reach the levels of trade we've grown accustomed to,' Montero said. He said 2009 will mark the first year American food imports to Cuba have not increased since the U.S. Congress authorized direct sale of agricultural products to Cuba in 2000. Because of a dispute over financing, Cuba refused to import even a single grain of rice until a hurricane caused food shortages in November 2001. After that, the United States quickly became Cuba's top source of food and will still retain that title in 2009. Cuban officials have begun a campaign to increase domestic food production as falling imports have squeezed product supplies at the country's farmers and supermarkets. But so far, those efforts have led to little increased output. Last year Cuba spent a record of more than $710 million for U.S. agricultural products of all kinds -- a figure lower than the one Montero gave because it does not include transaction costs -- according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. That was 61 percent more than in 2007, the council reported. The spike came as Cuba stockpiled food in the face of rising commodity prices, a strategy that backfired when three hurricanes hit the island, damaging many of the warehouses where perishable items were stored. Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca said foreign imports as a whole were down 36 percent to about $10 billion so far this year, and about 80 percent of that was food. Some 51 percent of imports come from the United States, he said, though Cuba's top trading partner remains Venezuela, led by socialist ally Hugo Chávez, followed by China, Russia, Spain and Brazil. In a speech kicking off a foreign trade fair east of Havana on Monday, Malmierca said ``complex economic factors' have forced Cuba to delay payments to many of its foreign suppliers. But he said that the island ``is ready to hold dialogues to fix that.' Thirty-five U.S. businesses, most of them food, agriculture or shipping companies, brought about 200 representatives to Cuba for the fair. Among those here were state agriculture officials from Maryland, Virginia and Georgia, Montero said. Terry Coleman, Georgia's deputy commission of agriculture, said the White House should push to modify banking regulations so that Cuba can transfer payments from its banks to American ones without having to go through financial institutions in third countries. ``We are hoping and praying for a real approach to trade,' he said. ``Normal trade is direct. You buy, you send the products to the ships and there's no middle man.' .
September 2009

Connecting businesses in Cuba

September 14, 2009

Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Across the street from the massive Karl Marx theater sits a beige-colored building that has become a critical stop for businesses preparing for the economic future of the Caribbean's largest nation. The law office of Lex S.A. -- a spinoff from the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba -- helps about 100 companies a month register their trademarks and brands in Cuba. Some are already doing business on the island under exclusions to the U.S. embargo, others await the day when the sanctions end and the two nations resume normal trade. On the wall is a picture frame crowded with the logos of some of the firm's recent clients: Sprite, Cafe Pilon and Kmart. As the pace of legal U.S.-Cuban trade continues to speed up -- despite the nearly 50-year-old embargo -- institutions such as Lex will likely play a critical role in the emerging partnership. LOOPHOLES EXIST Most U.S. companies and their subsidiaries have been banned from conducting business on the island since the embargo was solidified in 1962 under the Kennedy administration. But the sanctions contain exemptions and loopholes that do allow some transactions. About 158 U.S. firms currently do business with the island, mainly under food and agriculture exclusions carved out in 2000, and more than 5,000 U.S. companies have registered their brands on the island, said Kirby Jones, the founder of Alamar Associates, which has been helping U.S. companies make Cuban contacts since 1974. The Coca-Cola Co., which owns Sprite, said their trademark registration was simply in the interest of protecting their brand. ``These registrations should not be interpreted as a precursor to a launch in Cuba but part of a normal and legal course of business,' the company said in an e-mail. Kmart and Cafe Pilon did not respond to interview requests. NEBULOUS NETWORKS While dealing with Cuba has gotten easier in the past decade, the lack of traditional business institutions can sometimes be baffling for newcomers, Jones said. ``Say you are in the business of manufacturing tractors and say, `I want to get ready for business in Cuba' and reach for the phone. Who do you call?' he said. ``It's not a system set up as in other countries. You can't say `I am going to call the ministry of X and scout around and find out who might purchase my widgets.' ' Another key business institution in Cuba is Alimport, the government-run importer of food and agricultural products that supplies national distributors, such as Cubalse, Cimex and Palmares. Richard Waltzer has been dealing with Alimport since 2002 when his Fort Lauderdale company, Splash Tropical Drinks, began sending juice and daiquiri mixes to the island. Splash also exports third-party grocery products such as peanut butter, crackers and coffee creamer. Waltzer said Cuban officials have always been ``very accommodating' and have helped turn the nation into one of his most important export markets. Splash does not disclose revenue, but sales to the island now represent about 10 percent of business, he said. Hoping to capitalize on his experience, Waltzer recently launched the Havana Group to help other businesses develop Cuba strategies. ``I look at this as an opportunity to build American brands there,' he said. ``At some point in the future when the embargo is lifted -- and I feel that is going to happen -- we will have established the business relationships and business model to help other companies to do what we have been doing successfully for the last seven years.' Relationships are key to business, and that holds true in Cuba, too. But because the U.S. bars most business travel to the island, those contacts can be hard to make from abroad. (For example, Miami Herald requests for basic business information made via phone calls and e-mail to Alimport, Cimex, the organizers of the annual Havana International Fair and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., were not returned.) EXPOS ARE KEY Marvin Lehrer, senior advisor for the USA Rice Federation, has been attending trade fairs in Cuba since 2001. He said the expos were key to brokering some early deals for U.S. rice growers, but since then -- as more business is done via e-mail and phone -- the event's importance has faded. Still, he said, it is a key venue to make initial contacts and get a feel for the Cuban market. ``If an American wants to sell to Cuba and thinks he has the right product, then go to the trade show,' he said. ``You might say `I will never do this again,' but you might also make a sale.' One organization that will likely see its fortunes turn if the embargo is ever lifted is the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba. Located on the corner of a leafy green street in Havana -- with its windows and doors flung open to mitigate the effects of a power-rationing program that prohibits air conditioning in many government offices -- the chamber has not had a U.S. member since it was relaunched in 1963 under the Fidel Castro regime. Still, it is a place where international entrepreneurs gather information or meet others in the business community. The arrival of U.S. representatives ebbs and flows with the changing political winds, said Ibrahim Rodríguez Cuevas, an expert in international law at the chamber. During the initial days of the Obama administration, there were hopes that the U.S. might make a dramatic move to dismantle the embargo, he said. Since then, it has become clear that any changes that come will be gradual and tenuous. ``Things looked like they were going to improve,' Cuevas said. ``But politics seems to have everything on hold again.' A Miami Herald staff writer reported from Havana. The name of the reporter was withheld because the journalist lacked the visa required by the Cuban government to report from the island. Past requests by The Miami Herald for such a visa went unanswered.
August 2009
HAVANA -- The three-level Carlos III shopping center in downtown Havana is a showcase of embargo-skirting goods. There are Wilson baseball caps, Westinghouse light fixtures, Proctor-Silex juicers and GE microwave ovens -- and that's on the second floor alone. On the streets outside, trendy Sean John jeans and Ray-Ban sunglasses fight for space with ``Che' Guevara T-shirts. Dell computers power some government ministries, and at least one Boeing 767 plies the skies for Cuba's national airline. With so many U.S. goods on display, Cubans might be forgiven for thinking the nearly five-decades-old embargo doesn't so much keep products out as make them more expensive. ``The embargo is not between America and Cuba,' said Manuel, 46, a Havana cab driver. ``It's between Cubans -- those who can afford things and those who can't.' While it is illegal for most U.S. companies and their subsidiaries to do business on the island, their products still flood the markets. Some items -- such as food, agricultural goods and medicine -- are there legally under exceptions to the embargo. But others are spirited in by entrepreneurs, government front companies and independent distributors that worry little about U.S. laws. ``There is nothing we make that can't be purchased from foreign suppliers,' said Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Muse, an embargo expert. ``To the extent that they (Cubans) want it, they can get it.' PRODUCT PATHWAYS Nestled inside the Hicacos shopping center on Cuba's exclusive Varadero beach is a shop that sells dozens of models of New Balance running shoes. Speaking from the company's headquarters in Boston, New Balance Vice President Edward Haddad said the company complies with the embargo but speculated that the sneakers may have been purchased from the company's independent Central American distributor that operates out of the duty-free zone in Colón, Panama. Entrepreneurs from across the Caribbean stock up on a variety of goods in Colón for resale, he said. ``One of the reasons there may be so many American goods in Cuba is due to the nature of the way that region operates,' he said. ``A lot of it is cash and carry. They will go into the Colón Free Zone, buy products and bring them back. And the brand owners are completely unaware of what's going on.' Kim Freeman, a GE spokeswoman, could not explain how the company's microwave ovens ended up on the shelves of Carlos III with a price tag of 260 convertible pesos, known as CUCs, or about $312. ``G.E. consumer industrial agreements with our distributors require them to comply with U.S. trade control regulations, which prohibit sales by U.S. companies to Cuba,' Freeman said in a statement. Carlos III is managed by the state-owned conglomerate CIMEX. ``We will investigate and take appropriate action if we confirm those agreements have been breached,' she added. Even items the size of jetliners have a way of slipping through the cracks. Take, for instance, the Boeing 767 operated by Cubana de Aviación. Built in the early 1990s, the plane began commercial service with Brazil's Varig airline before being transferred to a Portuguese charter company, according to Airframes.org. The aircraft was eventually acquired by STP Airways of Sao Tome e Principe in 2008. Since then, the plane has been spotted operating for Cubana at several airports in Europe, according to three aircraft-tracking sources. `We can't control how Boeing airplanes are traded in the after-market,' said company spokesman Nicolaas Groeneveld-Meijer, who emphasized that the company adheres to the embargo. ``Airlines of other countries are free to sell their Boeing airplanes to Cuba second- or third-hand. We don't provide technical support to those airplanes, in accordance with U.S. restrictions.' In some cases, businesses can be found liable if their products end up in Cuba's stores. Since January, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, or OFAC, has sanctioned eight companies and individuals for violating the embargo. In July, OFAC fined Philips Electronics of North America $128,750 after one of its foreign affiliates sold medical equipment to Cuba. The company voluntarily disclosed the violation but declined requests to talk about the issue. While that case was clear-cut, most are not, said Timothy Ashby, a Cuba expert with the law firm of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal in Miami. In some cases, Cuban-American travelers legally take in consumer goods that end up on the black market; other times, the products enter from third countries without the manufacturer's knowledge. All the holes in the embargo make it ``virtually impossible to sanction producers,' Ashby said. LOCAL BUYING POWER While U.S. consumer goods may be readily available on the island, they are not always within reach of average Cubans. Take the Wilson baseball cap, for example. With a price tag of 11.20 convertible pesos, that makes it about $14. Now consider that base minimum wage on the island is about $10 a month. If the same cap were adjusted for the U.S. minimum wage, it would cost $1,624. (The comparison is not entirely accurate, though, for a nation where housing, food and medical treatment are either free or subsidized.) Although prices on many imported goods are exorbitant by Cuban standards, on a recent weekday Carlos III and other stores that sell such products were buzzing with shoppers. José, 36, went to Trasval, a massive hardware store crammed full of ProLine tool sets and Rubbermaid trash cans, to find a new horn for his 1980s-era Peugeot. It took him about three months to raise the 36 CUCs, or $43, he needed to make the purchase. ``I got lucky,' said José, a cab driver. ``A guy gave me a $20 tip for taking him to Varadero.' The rest, he saved in dribs and drabs. While virtually all imported goods are sold in CUCs, the vast majority of Cubans are paid in pesos, which trade at a rate of 24 per CUC. Cab drivers and those employed in the tourism industry are better off than many because they often have access to tips in CUCs, which they are expected to turn over to the government but sometimes keep. Those reliant on government salaries often suffer. ``The only way you can walk in there (CUC stores) is if you have relatives abroad sending you money or you are doing something illegal,' said Miguel, 46, a physical education teacher who said he makes about $15 per month. ``We live in a system that makes everyone a criminal.' Given time, many will admit that they've skimmed from work or done black-market labor to earn extra money. The popularity of the CUC stores and their imported goods becomes apparent when compared with what pesos buy. The motto of the Variedades 23 y 10 store in the Vedado neighborhood is ``Everything in the local currency.' But on a recent weekday, the sprawling store -- which used to be a Woolworth's -- featured empty display cases powdered with dust and a smattering of items. There were T-shirts for 80 pesos ($3.30), men's slacks for 160 pesos ($6.67) and packaged food. But most of the activity revolved around a small butcher's station, which was displaying four pieces of meat: two types of mixed sausage, a slab of bacon and a chicken. ``This isn't particularly empty,' said an elderly woman as she wandered off with a loaf of bread and a pair of flip-flops. ``Sometimes there's more, but sometimes there's less.' However, as market forces and U.S. business interests keep chipping away at the embargo, some believe the day is not far off when U.S. companies can trade with the island directly. ``The embargo doesn't really work, and there's no good way of enforcing it,' said Ashby, the Miami-based lawyer. ``You won't see the embargo go away all at once, but I think within seven years most of it will be gone.' Miami Herald reporters Al Chardy and Rui Ferreira contributed to this report. In addition, a Miami Herald staff writer reported from Havana. The name of the reporter and the last names of the people interviewed in Cuba were withheld because the journalist lacked the visa required by the Cuban government to report from the island. The government routinely denies Herald requests for such visas.
July 2009

Cuba unfreezes some bank accounts to boost trade

July 23, 2009

Marc Frank, Reuters

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban central bank has authorized the release of some funds in foreign business accounts that have been blocked by the government for months and caused a growing reluctance to trade with Cuba. Central bank Instruction #3 issued this month allows the transfer or payment of foreign exchange from the frozen accounts with the approval of a government ministry, business sources familiar with the resolution said. They said some 600 accounts, with frozen funds estimated at $600 million to $1 billion, would potentially be involved. Faced with a drying-up of liquidity as the global financial crisis increasingly hit home, Cuba's state banks in January began telling many businesses their funds were simply not available for the moment. While renewed access, even if only partial, to accounts is welcome, business sources said it is being offered with the proviso that they continue to do business with the island. They said the government and state-owned firms were reaching out because of mounting supply problems in the country as traders and companies balked at doing new business unless their accounts were unfrozen. "The ministries have set their priorities and are contacting suppliers. They are saying they can unblock some of the supplier's funds in exchange for new business which they are guaranteeing will be paid without further problems," a Spanish businessman said, asking not to be identified. "That is better than nothing, but if you are not on the priority list you are out of luck for now, and if you don't strike a new deal forget your money for the time being, at the least," he said. Another foreign businessman said it was unheard of for depositors to have to go to ministries to unblock accounts. Cuba has a dual monetary system under which a foreign exchange equivalent called the convertible peso (CUC) circulates along with the peso. Foreign businesses operate within the country using the CUC, pegged at 1.08 to the U.S. dollar and 24 times the peso's value, depositing them in state banks where they are available as foreign exchange for transfer or withdrawal. A government report seen by Reuters this week said the country would be short around 30 percent of the resources it had planned on in 2009, or some $4 billion, and cut its growth forecast from 6 percent to 2.5 percent. The report blamed the "global economic crisis", the decades-long U.S. trade embargo, hurricanes that hit the island last year and "the low efficiency of the economic model" for a liquidity crisis that has it also seeking to restructure debt with official and commercial creditors. The new payment scheme appears to be part of a gradual decentralization of control over foreign exchange exercised by the Central Bank of Cuba, which previously had to approve any purchase of more than $10,000 by the state-run companies that account for more than 90 percent of economic activity. In March, the government eliminated the central bank's control and began a process of assigning foreign exchange budgets to government ministries to spend as they see fit. It also authorized them to seek fresh credit. The measures came after President Raul Castro replaced his economic cabinet following a dismal 2008 that saw the current account, or balance of payments that measures the flow of foreign exchange in and out of the country, go from a $500 million surplus to a deficit of more than $2 billion, according to various estimates. Communist authorities often do not comment on internal reforms and official decrees announcing them are often published well after they are signed. (Editing by Jeff Franks and Editing by James Dalgleish) .
June 2009

U.S. ports set to deal with Cuba

June 18, 2009

Rick Jervis- USA Today,

NEW ORLEANS — Some U.S. port cities are putting plans in place to increase travel and trade with Cuba — just in case relations with the communist island begin to thaw. U.S. lawmakers are still far from lifting the 47-year-old trade embargo on Cuba, but the election of Barack Obama, along with a Democratically controlled U.S. Congress, has some city leaders banking on improved relations. In New Orleans, city officials met recently with trade and Cuba experts to discuss how to rekindle relationships in Cuba and bolster trade with the island if relations improve. Leaders also plan to take part in a trip to Cuba with Tulane University this fall. "We have the right geography, given where we're located, as well as historic ties," says Councilman Arnie Fielkow. "We need to start developing the relationships and getting ready for the time when the U.S. brings down the embargo." Other developments include: FIND MORE STORIES IN: Barack Obama | New Orleans | Cuba | Mobile • Mobile, Ala., is adding its representatives to a group of 60 state and trade officials visiting Cuba in July. • In a recent report, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce analyzed the economic impact to the city if the embargo is lifted, even if Cuba remains communist. • Rep. Kathy Castor, from Tampa, has requested that her city be allowed to have direct charter flights to Cuba to let Cuban Americans more easily visit the island. Through executive order, Obama already has made it easier for Cuban Americans in the U.S. to visit relatives in Cuba and authorized expansion of telecommunication service to the island, says John Kavulich, a policy adviser with the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a non-profit group that provides information on trade issues with Cuba. Congress also has loosened restrictions on sending agricultural items, he says. Increased trade with Cuba could bring a much-needed economic boost to port cities at a time when communities are looking for ways to weather the recession. "It would be good for everyone all around," says Steven Cernak, director of the Port of Galveston. However, even if restrictions continue to relax, Cuba is drowning under large amounts of debt and has a reputation for not paying bills on time, Kavulich says. U.S. companies are willing to sell Cuba rice, poultry and other items allowed under the embargo because U.S. law requires Cuba to pay upfront, he says. "There are always those who believe that Cuba represents a country like Saudi Arabia 90 miles south of the U.S., with unlimited resources," Kavulich says. "The reality is Cuba remains a bankrupt country." Loosening up gateway of New Orleans Havana and New Orleans were two of colonial Spain's most important New World ports in the 18th and 19th centuries. The two cities were vibrant trading partners right up to the 1962 U.S. embargo, Fielkow says. That tie is one of the reasons New Orleans is seeking stronger links with Cuba. Even under the embargo, many of the products allowed into Cuba come through the Port of New Orleans, says Robert Landry, the port's marketing director. The port has seen a steady increase in the amount of poultry dispatched to Cuba, from 9,500 tons in 2005 to 18,500 tons last year, according to port records. Bolstering that relationship could significantly improve the city's economy, still battered by the 2005 floods, and recapture New Orleans' status as a "gateway to the Americas," Fielkow says. Mobile, Ala., rooted in history with Cuba The ties between Mobile and Cuba stretch back more than 300 years. Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, the French-Canadian trapper who founded Mobile in 1702, is buried in Havana's cathedral, says Mobile Mayor Sam Jones. (D'Iberville's brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, later developed New Orleans.) A 9-foot-tall statute of d'Iberville stands in downtown Mobile, facing Havana. A similar statue stands on Havana's seaside Malecon, facing Mobile, Jones says. The loosening of trade restrictions with Cuba "has been something we've been waiting to happen for some time," Jones says. Jones may still have awhile to wait, says Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst with the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute. Changes to the embargo would likely require Cuban officials to make notable economic, democratic or human rights changes, he says. Lifting of the embargo "is a few steps down the road still," Peters says. var yahooBuzzArticleId = 'usatoday:'+storyURL+'?csp=34'; var yahooBuzzBadgeType = 'text'; var sclListBottom = ""; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' Share this story: '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +='Digg'; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +='Newsvine'; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +='Reddit'; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +='Facebook'; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +='What\'s this?'; sclListBottom +='; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; sclListBottom +=' '; document.write(sclListBottom); .
May 2009

Cuba's Undersea Oil Could Help Thaw Trade With U.S.

May 19, 2009

Nick Miroff, Washington Post

Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, an end to the 1962 U.S. trade embargo against Cuba may be lying untapped, buried under layers of rock, seawater and bitter relations. Oil, up to 20 billion barrels of it, sits off Cuba's northwest coast in territorial waters, according to the Cuban government -- enough to turn the island into the Qatar of the Caribbean. At a minimum, estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey place Cuba's potential deep-water reserves at 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, stores that would rank the island among the region's top producers. Drilling operations by foreign companies in Cuban waters are still in the exploratory stage, and significant obstacles -- technological and political -- stand between a U.S.-Cuba rapprochement eased by oil. But as the Obama administration gestures toward improved relations with the Castro government, the national security, energy and economic benefits of Cuban crude may make it a powerful incentive for change. Limited commercial ties between U.S. businesses and the island's communist government have been quietly expanding this decade as Cuban purchases of U.S. goods -- mostly food -- have increased from $7 million in 2001 to $718 million in 2008, according to census data. Thawing relations could eventually open up U.S. investment in mining, agriculture, tourism and other sectors of Cuba's tattered economy. But the prospect of major offshore reserves that would be off-limits to U.S. companies and consumers has some Cuba experts arguing that 21st-century energy needs should prevail over 20th-century Cold War politics. "The implications of this have the potential to be a sea change, literally and figuratively, for the Cubans," said Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Omaha who studies Cuba's energy sector. At a House subcommittee hearing last month on U.S.-Cuba policy, former oil executive Jorge Piñón told lawmakers that the United States has a strategic interest in helping Cuba tap its potentially vast hydrocarbon stores and that U.S. companies should receive special permission to do so. "American oil and oil equipment and service companies have the capital, technology and operational know-how to explore, produce and refine in a safe and responsible manner Cuba's potential oil and natural gas reserves. Yet they remain on the sidelines because of our almost five-decade-old unilateral political and economic embargo," said Piñón, a member of a Brookings Institution advisory group on Cuba policy reform. Cuba has said it welcomes U.S. investment, but American companies remain largely silent on the issue, at least in public, bound by trade sanctions that were established under the Kennedy administration. When Cuban oil officials and U.S. companies attended a joint energy conference at an American-owned hotel in Mexico in 2006, the Bush administration forced the facility to expel the Cuban delegation, attempting to thwart any potential for partnership. "Until trade barriers are removed, Chevron is unable to do business in Cuba," said Chevron spokesman Kurt Glaubitz. "Companies like us would have to see a change in U.S. policy before we evaluate whether there's interest." Robert Dodge, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said his organization is not lobbying for access to Cuba, and Texas congressional representatives with ties to the oil industry said they are focused on opening U.S. territorial waters to drilling. But observers of U.S.-Cuba relations say American companies haven't been sitting on their hands and remain in conversations with Cuban counterparts. At the 2006 Mexico energy conference, U.S. oil companies "all had plans to move forward as soon as the U.S. government gives them the go-ahead," said Benjamin-Alvarado, who attended the conference. If that go-ahead is granted, American companies would be entering a drilling contest crowded with foreign competitors. Several global firms, including Repsol (Spain), Petrobras (Brazil) and StatoilHydro (Norway) are exploring in the Gulf of Mexico through agreements with the Castro government, and state companies from Malaysia, India, Vietnam and Venezuela have also signed deals. Sherritt International, a Canadian company, has had oil derricks pumping heavy crude along Cuba's north coast for more than a decade, extracting about 55,000 barrels a day, mostly for Cuba's domestic energy consumption. But most of Cuba's undiscovered reserves are thought to be in two offshore areas. The oil and gas that make up the USGS estimate lie in an area known as the North Cuba Basin, a short distance off the island's northwest coast. The larger deposit is thought to be in a section of the gulf known as the Eastern Gap, to which Mexico and the United States also have a claim. Cuban officials believe there are 10 billion to 15 billion barrels of crude stored there under more than 5,000 feet of seawater and 20,000 feet of rock-- costly to extract but accessible with existing technology. By comparison, U.S. proven reserves total 21 billion barrels. The Eastern Gap area is also coveted by American companies, but in Florida, where anti-Castro and anti-drilling sentiments run high, the Cuban government's energy ambitions have alarmed lawmakers who see the threat of ecological calamity in Cuba's plans to drill in that part of the gulf. "They'd be drilling right in the Gulf Stream," Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said in a telephone interview, describing a nightmare scenario in which ocean currents could carry spilled crude into Florida's marine sanctuaries and blacken beaches along the Eastern Seaboard. "There would be a monumental disaster," he said. "There simply should not be drilling out there." Other U.S. lawmakers said oil deals with the Cuban government would throw a lifeline to the island's feeble economy and the 50-year rule of Fidel and Raúl Castro. They also question how reliable a partner Cuba would be. "What if we make those investments and then U.S. assets are nationalized?" Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked after last month's subcommittee hearing. Because it would take three or more years for Cuba to fully develop its energy resources, according to Piñón, U.S. participation in the island's energy sector could benefit a Cuban government not necessarily led by Fidel, 82, or Raúl, 78. Helping Cuba develop its own reserves, he said, would allow the island to gain the political independence and economic footing needed to negotiate a reconciliation with the United States without outside interference. "Since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Cuba's communist government has had to largely rely on foreign providers -- first the Soviet Union, now Venezuela -- to fulfill its energy needs," Piñón said. Cuba's "petroleum dependency" on Hugo Chávez's government "could be used by Venezuela as a tool to influence a Cuban government in maintaining a politically antagonistic and belligerent position toward the United States," he said.
March 2009

Executives at Miami conference forecast growing trade with Cuba

March 23, 2009

Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel

Text size: Executives at Miami conference forecast growing trade with Cuba By Doreen Hemlock |South Florida Sun-Sentinel March 21, 2009 Political changes in Washington and Havana are stoking hopes for U.S.-Cuba business, but experts at a Miami conference said Friday they expect reform to come slowly though long-term opportunities abound. U.S. companies sold more than $700 million in food to Cuba last year under exemptions to the four-decade U.S. embargo against the communist-led nation, making the United States the island's top food supplier. Business could jump in other fields, too, should officials in Washington ease the embargo, panelists said. Travel companies are especially bullish. The Obama administration already has lifted some restrictions on U.S. residents visiting Cuban relatives on the island, allowing trips once a year instead of every three years. That modest change could lift sales by up to 50 percent this year for authorized charter flight companies, said Tessie Aral, of ABC Charters in Miami. Organizer Jonathan Bedard of Cuba LLC started the Cuba Trade Expo this year. More than 100 people attended, including many Cuban-American business leaders, underscoring a growing pragmatism toward the island even in Miami's Cuban community once dominated by hard-liners. Two executives from Broward County Click here for restaurant inspection reports highlighted the potential for trade. Richard Waltzer, president of Fort Lauderdale Is your Fort Lauderdale restaurant clean? - Click Here. manufacturer Splash Tropical Drinks, said he has been selling juice and daiquiri concentrates to Cuba since 2002, with sales rising about 20 percent each year. He has added four people to his staff of about 50 to handle the Cuba sales that now top several million dollars annually. "Cuba is a huge opportunity for the United States," Waltzer said, urging Florida agriculture officials and lawmakers to more actively push business with the island the way that officials in other states already do. Jay Brickman, vice president at Crowley Maritime Corp. which ships U.S. foods to Cuba from Port Everglades, said Cuba is modernizing to handle growing trade. A Spanish joint venture in Havana, for example, offers new facilities for containerized and refrigerated freight, including computerized warehouses. But like many executives at the expo, Waltzer and Brickman don't foresee change coming fast. Even if officials in Washington opt to lift the embargo, Cuba has its own restrictions, including limits on foreign investment and private property, that will present challenges for U.S. firms for years to come, said Jake Colvin, vice president at the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington, D.C. The council favors open, rules-based trade. Yet now is the time to prepare, suggested Jorge Pinon, a former oil industry executive and fellow at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy. U.S. firms face competition, since every other nation already can do business with the island. Brazil recently announced its intention to become Cuba's top trade partner and has expertise in areas from sugar farming to ethanol to deep-water oil drilling that make it a formidable player on the island. Doreen Hemlock can be reached at dhemlock@Sun .
February 2009

US farm sales to Cuba rise 61 pct, group says

February 11, 2009

International Herald Tribune- AP

HAVANA: Cuba spent a record $710 million on U.S. farm imports last year, a 61 percent increase over 2007, as hurricanes destroyed much of the country's farms, a leading trade research group said Wednesday. Spending on imports jumped with rising food prices during the first part of the year, said the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. It climbed increased more after three hurricanes hit the island, crippling food production in many parts of the countryside. Cuban food and farm imports from the U.S. have climbed annually since 2001, a year after the U.S. modified its trade embargo to allow the direct, cash-only sale of farm goods to the island. The U.S. is Cuba's top foreign source of food. Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma hit Cuba in 2008, causing more than $10 billion in damage and forcing a sharp increase in food imports. The Cuban government has not released a breakdown of import or export figures for the year.
November 2008

Cuba aspira a exportar fármacos genéricos por $220 millones

November 19, 2008

AFP, El Nuevo Herald

Cuba proyecta exportar medicamentos genéricos y hemoderivados por unos $220 millones en el 2009, un 22 por ciento más que este año, informó este martes un alto funcionario del sector. El director de Exportaciones de Farmacuba (comercializadora), Roberto Domínguez, citado por la agencia cubana Prensa Latina, dijo que ese grupo empresarial espera ‘‘sobrepasar los $180 millones en exportación en el 2008' y llegar a los $220 millones el próximo año. Según González, Farmacuba logró colocar este año en el mercado internacional "una amplia gama de medicamentos genéricos (de uso cotidiano)', como tabletas, cremas, antibióticos y colirios, y que su "línea de hemoderivados tiene un mercado importante en Argelia, Siria, Sudán y naciones centroamericanas y sudamericanas'. El experto subrayó que la isla destinó este año "poco más de $100 millones para importar medicamentos', aunque no precisó cuáles. Las exportaciones de medicamentos genéricos y hemoderivados se suman a las de unos 40 productos de la biotecnología cubana, entre ellos 10 vacunas, que la isla vende a más de 50 países. Heber Biotec S.A., el brazo comercial del Centro de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología (CIGB) de La Habana, tuvo ventas en el 2006 -última cifra disponible- por $50 millones. Esas exportaciones corresponden fundamentalmente a la vacuna contra la hepatitis B, producto líder del CIGB, el interferón (antiviral e inmunomodulador) y la estreptoquinasa (trombolítico). Los medicamentos constituyen uno de las principales exportaciones de bienes cubanos después del níquel, tabaco, azúcar y productos del mar..

hina expands trade with Cuba

November 19, 2008

Will Weissert, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- China's president was signing dozens of trade and investment deals with communist ally Cuba on Tuesday, part of a Latin America trip on which Chinese businessmen have been snapping up all manner of raw materials. Taking the long view at a time of financial crisis, China is investing heavily in commodity-producing countries, and Cuba is no exception. The deals agreed to by President Hu Jintao included purchases of Cuban nickel and sugar, along with pledges to send food and building materials to help the Caribbean nation recover from three major hurricanes. Other deals promise stronger ties in the future, such as a Chinese commitment to help renovate Cuba's aging ports, which are vital since Cuba receives virtually all its imports by sea. Hu also thanked Cuba for sending doctors to China after last year's devastating earthquake, and for educational programs on the island attended by about 2,000 Chinese citizens, including medical and tourism students. Accompanying Hu on a visit to a school for Chinese students on Tuesday, Cuban President Raúl Castro sang snippets of a song about China and Mao he said he learned as a young man. At first, the hundreds of students gathered in an auditorium seemed confused, but they soon sang along, clapping in time. 'Even though the physical distance that separates China and Cuba is great, friendship between both people goes back a long way,' Hu said. Cuba depended heavily on Soviet largesse and turned a cold shoulder to China during the Cold War's Sino-Soviet split. But ties warmed after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Cuba now has no problem dealing with both Beijing and Moscow. With bilateral trade topping $2.6 billion a year, China is Cuba's No. 2 trading partner after Venezuela, where socialist President Hugo Chavez provides nearly 100,000 barrels of oil a day to the island at favorable prices The ties have brought a tangible benefit to residents of the Cuban capital, where more than 3,000 shiny new Yutong buses replaced the infamous, smoke-belching 18-wheeled 'camellos' of the Soviet era. But Hu's visit poses something of an ideological challenge, since some Cubans speculated that Raúl Castro might follow a Chinese model of reform after becoming president in February. China transformed its economy three decades ago by embracing market reforms even as its Communist Party maintained strict political control. Cuba's communist government, however, still controls well over 90 percent of the economy and shows no sign of easing its grip on political or economic matters, even as Raúl Castro has expanded foreign trade 39 percent since becoming president and signed a major offshore oil exploration deal with Brazil. On the eve of Hu's visit, the Communist Party newspaper Granma praised China's reforms as having 'sparked a gigantic investment process that brought quick results.' But it also criticized ``the evils of such an accelerated spiral: unequal distribution of the country's income, a marked difference between city and country, and the erosion of the environment.' Hu brought a large delegation of Chinese businessmen who have busily pursued deals despite the global financial crisis, continuing a trend that has seen China's trade with Latin America jump from $10 billion in 2000 to $103 billion last year..
In just six years, trade between Cuba and Virginia farmers has grown from less than $1 million to more than $32 million. And Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Todd P. Haymore is hoping for even more growth. He recently returned from the Havana International Trade Fair in Cuba, where he and others pushed Virginia's apples, soybeans, poultry, wood and other products. Virginia is among the top five states exporting to Cuba. A nearly 50-year-old trade embargo prevents U.S. tourists from visiting Cuba and prohibits nearly all trade. But a law passed by Congress in 2000 allows the Cuban government to buy U.S. food and agricultural products with direct cash payments. Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
October 2008
TOKYO, Oct. 6 (AP) - (Kyodo)—A government-backed body is likely to resume accepting new applications for trade insurance on exports to Cuba as early as December, Japanese officials said Monday. Nippon Export and Investment Insurance and Cuba's central bank have struck a basic deal that the Japanese government-backed body will insure up to a total of 6 billion yen in 2009 for business with Cuba, the officials said. The underwriter suspended accepting new trade insurance applications for business with Cuba in August after the central bank failed to pay for Japanese imports on time. The insurer, also known as NEXI, will formally decide on the resumption after seeing whether the central bank will be able to pay part of its liabilities, the officials said. In 2008, it insured a total of 22 billion yen in connection with Japanese exports to Cuba. The central bank, which handles settlements for Cuba with Japanese firms, has a debt of about 25.5 billion yen from NEXI. The central bank has promised to pay its debt to NEXI over the next three to four years, the officials said. Cuba was cash-short on the back of rising fuel and food prices, according to the officials..
August 2008

Cuban creditors and suppliers fret over payment

August 28, 2008

Reuters- Mark

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban creditors and suppliers said this week they were worried the import-dependent nation faced a new cash crunch after it notified at least two foreign governments that it could not meet debt payments. Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity for themselves and the countries involved, said the governments were notified that official debts needed to be renegotiated and Cuba did not have the funds to fully meet August payments to them or their companies. Communist-run Cuba started restructuring many of its official and commercial debts five years ago and since then its payments performance had markedly improved. President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel Castro earlier this year, has however warned that high food and fuel costs mean Cubans may need to tighten their belts. "This is really bad news," said a western businessman with years of experience in Cuba. "Everyone is nervous," he added. "But obviously Cuba is in far better condition than the last payments crisis in 2002." Cuba's foreign exchange earnings have more than doubled to around $10 billion since earlier in the decade, due mainly to the sale of medical and other services to oil-rich ally Venezuela, nickel prices and revenues from pharmaceutical projects abroad. Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) stopped accepting new applications for trade insurance for business with Cuba as of August 5 after Cuba failed to pay exporters and notified Japan that high fuel and food prices meant Havana needed to restructure its official debt. Cuba was hit hard by soaring prices for food and fuel, its main imports, during the first six months of this year and by a sharp decline in the price of its main export, nickel. The international credit crunch and U.S. pressure on banks not to deal with Cuba may also be causing problems, diplomats said. Cuba last reported its foreign debt as just over $15 billion in 2006, of which $7.794 billion was active and being serviced and $7.592 billion was debt it defaulted on before 1991. Cuba does not include debt to the former Soviet Union in its figures. SIGNS OF TROUBLE President Castro warned in a series of speeches in July that Cuba was not immune to the "international economic crisis," and said plans to increase Cuban salaries likely would be slowed and a strong economic recovery might weaken. Vice President Carlos Lage announced in June that "some of the main investment projects have been reduced and further reductions will be necessary," providing no further details. Lage said the country spent $1.47 billion last year to import 3.423 million tonnes of food. The same amount of food this year at current prices will cost $2.554 billion, a billion dollars more, he said. "The 158,000 barrels of oil per day that we consumed last year cost $8.7 million per day and this year costs 32 percent more, or $11.6 million per day," he added. Canadian oil firm Pebercan Inc., which produces oil in Cuba, said in late June it had not received debt payments totaling $37 million in April and May from state-owned Cuba Petroleos due to "the difficult economic situation" and rising food and raw material costs. Cuban sources reported the government was ordering state companies and government offices to restrict fuel consumption and take other belt tightening measures. It was impossible to determine the extent of the financial problems as Cuba's reserves are a state secret and no debt figures were available for 2007. It was also unclear if Cuba had approached its major allies and short and medium term creditors, China and Venezuela, or European banks and suppliers who provide trade credits. Cuba is not a member of the International Monetary Fund or any other multilateral lending organization. The country has a Moody's rating of Caa1, or speculative and poor. (Editing by Jeff Franks and Michael Christie).
July 2008

Cuba's Parliament Meets, Discusses Ways to Reduce Imports

July 14, 2008

Sun Sentinel- Doreen Hemlock

Cuba's parliament kicked off the first of two session of the year Friday, with an empty chair for former president Fidel Castro and a ministry report highlighting efforts to stretch scarce foreign currency in the communist-run nation. Some 569 deputies, or nearly 93 percent of all delegates, attended the meeting, many dressed in shirt sleeves in plaid, prints and tropical colors -- a sharp contrast to U.S. legislative sessions where members tend to wear dark suits. The deputies often clapped in unison, and at least once, voted with a show of hands that seemed unanimous. Steel and Metalworks Industry Minister Fernando Acosta told the group of his ministry's recent gains, as it strives to substitute local production for imports to reduce spending of limited dollars and euros. But Acosta said expansion is hampered by delays in obtaining imported raw materials, quality control problems and corruption, such as worker theft. Average wages for the nearly 54,000 ministry employees rose by the equivalent of 50 cents a month last year to $18.16 at current exchange rates, he said. The session followed days of meetings between parliamentary committees and ministry officials. On Thursday, Labor and Social Security Minister Alfredo Morales said the administration proposes to postpone the retirement age by five years, to 65 years old, to increase the workforce and better address the challenges of an aging population. The international press attending the opening session for about an hour. Highlights of the rest of Friday's talks and a speech by President Raul Castro are to be broadcast starting 6 p.m. tonight on Cuban state TV..

Foreign investment projects in Cuba down: official

July 10, 2008

Reuters- Marc Frank

HAVANA, July 9 (Reuters) - Expectations that Cuba's new President Raul Castro would open up the country to more foreign investors have yet to materialize, according to testimony before a parliament commission published on Wednesday. The Communist Party newspaper Granma reported there were less investment projects than when Raul Castro provisionally took over the government in July 2006 for ailing brother Fidel Castro. Granma, quoting testimony by a senior investment official, reported state companies are involved in 234 joint ventures and 12 cooperative production agreements, involving about 2 percent of the work force. At the close of 2005, the government reported there were 258 joint ventures and 115 cooperative production agreements. In July 2007 Castro called for more foreign investment, especially in agriculture, but to date the only new agreements signed and announced have been with Venezuela or risk contracts to explore for oil in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters. Cuba has formed 24 new ventures with Venezuela, which under socialist President Hugo Chavez, has become Cuba's close ally and major benefactor. Officials say that despite fewer investors, direct investment has increased, as have venture revenues and profits. Foreign Investment Minister Martha Lomas told Reuters earlier this year Cuba remained interested in any offer that dovetailed with its development plans, but only major players need apply. The Cuban state controls more than 90 percent of economic activity and usually retains more than 50 percent control over joint ventures. Cooperative production agreements generally involve a foreign investor supplying machinery, credits and supplies in exchange for a percentage of profit or product. One of the longest standing ventures, involving Belgian beer giant InBev NV (INTB.BR: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), has been the subject of controversy in its attempt to take over U.S. firm Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc (BUD.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). U.S. law forbids companies from investing in Cuba, though foreign firms with less than 50 percent of their operations in Cuba, may control U.S. firms. (Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Jeff Franks and Anthony Boadle).
April 2008

Cuba rethinks rice imports due to soaring costs

April 19, 2008

Reuters- Mark Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has begun clearing sickle bush from thousands of hectares of rice land as soaring prices force it to reconsider importing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the population's main staple, local media reported. "The Ruta Invasora rice farm is working to recover a large part of its land largely covered with Marabu (sickle bush) and other brush," Camaguey province's weekly Communist party newspaper reported. Before the collapse of former-benefactor the Soviet Union, Cuba's nine provincial rice farms, covering 150,000 hectares, produced up to 260,000 tonnes of consumable rice. Decapitalization, plague and drought followed. Last year the farms produced around 70,000 tonnes while dry-land rice farms at the municipal level and private producers added another 150,000 tonnes to output. In recent years, Cuba has imported more than 500,000 tonnes of rice annually, mainly from Vietnam. "The price of a tonne of rice has gone from $223 in 2002 to $855 this year," Igor Montero, the vice president of state-food importer Alimport, said this week on national television. The price and availability of rice is a politically volatile issue in Cuba, with the government subsidizing the cost through a ration system. Rice is the Caribbean island's most important staple, with minimum domestic consumption estimated at 700,000 tonnes annually. New Cuban President Raul Castro has prioritized agriculture since taking over for his ailing brother, Fidel Castro, in February. The younger Castro, 76, has increased resources flowing to the sector, decentralized decision-making and distribution, increased prices the state pays for products to private and cooperative producers, among other measures. The Camaguey newspaper said Venezuela was providing financing for machinery and other supplies to get that particular provincial farm up and running again. "With adequate resources production should return to previous levels of 24,000 tonnes per year," farm director Idelino Alvarez was quoted as stating. A recent national radio broadcast reported that in Granma province, Cuba's biggest rice producer, "new lands are being readied to plant rice." Cuban yields compare poorly with other Caribbean Basin areas, so improved cultivation could double output without increasing land use. A rice joint venture with China, Taichi SA, has worked for a decade to raise yields on small local plots. Vietnamese experts have also provided assistance for a number of years. (Reporting by Marc Frank, editing by Matthew Lewis).
February 2008

U.S. farm sales to Cuba highest since 2000

February 15, 2008

Miami Herald- Wilfredo Cancio Isla

After two years of shrinkage, U.S. sales to Cuba of agricultural goods during 2007 bounced back to $437.7 million, the highest annual total since such sales were authorized in 2000. The 2007 total represented a strong increase over the $340.4 million recorded in 2006 and the $350.2 million recorded in 2005, according to figures compiled by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York group that monitors bilateral trade. The $437.7 million made Cuba the United States' 37th largest trading partner for the year, according to the council, which obtains its data from the U.S. government. Since Washington first authorized such sales to Cuba as a humanitarian exemption to the U.S. trade embargo, Havana has bought nearly $2 billion in those goods from U.S. companies. The Cuban government reported last month that it had bought $600 million in goods from U.S. companies in 2007. Cuba claims its figures include transportation, banking and other charges associated with the purchases, but the council's report notes that Havana's figures are ``suspect.' Cuba has tried to use its U.S. purchases as a way of pushing U.S. providers to lobby Washington to ease trade sanctions on the island..
January 2008

Johnson plans another trip to Cuba

January 29, 2008

Associated Press

BISMARCK – North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson is making another trip to Cuba next month to push North Dakota farm products. Johnson said he has traveled to Cuba seven times in the past seven years to pitch the state’s commodities. He said the state has sold about $30 million worth of peas and lentils to Cuba since 2001. But he said a deal he helped broker last year that would have sent 100 tons of seed potatoes to Cuba has languished. Rules have not been crafted to deal with potato food-safety issues, known as “sanitary and phytosanitary measures,” that ensure the commodity is disease- and insect-free, Johnson said. “It’s disappointing,” Johnson said. U.S. regulators “are still dithering around with the protocol – it’s hard to say where the block is.” The United States established a trade embargo with Cuba in 1962, but Congress passed a law in 2001 allowing cash sales of U.S. agricultural goods and medicine to Cuba. Johnson said he had hoped that the potatoes would have been sent in the fall, in time for farmers there to plant this spring. He remains hopeful the seed potatoes will be shipped this fall. It would be the first time Cuba has bought U.S. seed potatoes, Johnson said. An 18-member delegation, made up mostly of representatives of the North Dakota potato industry, will make the trip on Feb. 18, and return about five days later. The trip will highlight the state’s potatoes but other commodities also will be pitched, Johnson said. Trade with Cuba will be tougher this year because of the rising prices of farm commodities, he said. “There could be significant problems paying these prices because they don’t have a lot of spare cash,” Johnson said. “Whether they get it from us, they won’t be getting it cheaper from anyone else.” Duane Maatz, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, said potatoes are a commodity that hasn’t seen a huge increase in price such as wheat and corn. Maatz said getting approval to ship potatoes from North Dakota to Cuba could drag on for years. Maatz said it took four years to ship the state’s spuds to Brazil. “It’s going to take a little time,” he said. State Seed Department Commissioner Ken Bertsch is slated to make the trip to Cuba next month. He said such things as transportation and the specific types of potatoes that the Cubans want to buy still must be worked out. “There are technicalities in trading with a country (on commodities) that we haven’t traded with before, that we need to get a handle on,” Bertsch said. He called them small hurdles. Price may be a bigger factor, he said. “I wouldn’t expect out producers to sell potatoes to Cuba at a discount just because it’s Cuba,” he said. North Dakota potato farmers “still have to make some money.” .
November 2007

For U.S. Exporters in Cuba, Business Trumps Politics

November 12, 2007

New York Times- James C. McKinley Jr.

HAVANA, Nov. 11 — A trade fair in Communist Cuba is perhaps the last place you would expect to find a Republican governor from the American heartland. Yet last week, Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska was here to sign a deal to export $11 million worth of his state’s wheat to the island. Asked the obvious question about whether longstanding American trade sanctions should be lifted, Governor Heineman ducked and weaved like a professional boxer. “Well, I try not to get into that, because that’s up to the president and the Congress, but I will say expanding trade relationships is good for Nebraska and altogether good for America,” he said. Just weeks after President Bush delivered an address calling on the world to isolate Cuba, officials from Minnesota, Alabama and Ohio — and more than 100 American businesses — were working the giant Havana International Fair, trying to secure part of the $1.6 billion the Cuban government spends each year to import sugar, wheat, livestock, poultry and beans, among other staples. Those business interests clash with the Bush administration’s anti-Castro policies, as well as the need of both Democrats and Republicans to court Cuban exiles in Florida, a crucial voting bloc. So while some trade with Cuba is allowed, it is fraught with restrictions. A 1992 law, for instance, denies ships access to American ports for six months after they have docked in Cuba, making shipping tricky, to say the least. Several Americans here said they were frustrated that the sanctions have proved more a source of irritation for those who want to do business with Cuba than a crippling blow to Fidel Castro. “They are doing everything they can to make it difficult,” said Ralph Kaehler, a Minnesota farmer who sells cattle feed in Cuba. “It’s unfortunate.” American businesspeople and state officials have been coming to the fair for six years, ever since Congress gave in to pressure from the agriculture lobby in late 2000, during the waning days of the Clinton administration, and lifted a four-decade ban on selling food to Cuba. Since then, the number of farm states and agribusinesses who want a piece of the Cuban market has been growing, despite the Bush administration’s steady tightening of sanctions. For farm states, the need for jobs has trumped cold-war politics. “It’s helped our economy,” said Ron Sparks, the Alabama agriculture commissioner, as he talked with people near the booth for the Mobile Port Authority. “It’s helped our farmers. I don’t talk national policy.” Now in its 25th year, the annual trade fair drew more than 1,000 companies from 53 countries to a sprawling fairground known as Expocuba just outside Havana. The atmosphere was festive, with more than a dozen restaurants where people drank Havana Club rum and puffed on Cuba’s famous cigars, a treat several Americans appeared to enjoy. The five-day fair, which ended Saturday, also attracted hundreds of ordinary Cubans. Aside from state officials, the American delegation included several shipping companies and large agricultural outfits like Pilgrim’s Pride, Cargill and Purdue. Their sales representatives worked in the booths all day before returning to the Hotel Nacional, an art deco landmark, and then heading out to enjoy the Havana night life. Some Americans at the fair predicted that Cuba’s market would open up more after Fidel Castro gave up power permanently, and they said they wanted to get a head start on deal making. Many envision a return to the prerevolution days when the United States was Cuba’s biggest trading partner, as wheat and durable goods flowed south while sugar, tobacco and rum flowed north. But financial and travel restrictions have never been tighter, as the Bush administration has quietly stepped up the prohibition of tourism to and from Cuba and invented new ways to squeeze the island financially. It has also increased efforts to fine international banks that handle transactions in dollars for the Cuban government as well as companies that do business in both Cuba and the United States. American farmers complain that Washington has also tried to find ways to hinder agricultural sales to the island. Since the ban was lifted in 2000, an exception to the general trade embargo against Cuba, sales from American farmers to the island have risen to about $500 million a year, Cuban officials say. But the Bush administration has required the purchases to be made in cash and, since 2004, that the payment must be received before shipment. The system has created immense logistical headaches for American shippers and food exporters. Loads of grain and poultry end up waiting for days on a dock until proof of payment arrives, shippers said. “There are lot of delays in loading because of that,” said Eric T. Junker, the owner of Americana Marine Services, which ships grain to the island. President Bush and other supporters of the sanctions maintain that every dollar that enters Cuba helps support a despotic regime. In his speech on Oct. 24, Mr. Bush asked Congress to maintain the embargo and said the transfer of power from Fidel Castro, who has been ill, to his brother Raúl, amounted to “exchanging one dictator for another.” He called for elections after Fidel Castro’s death. Cuban officials argue the embargo hurts American farmers more than it does the government here. But they also acknowledge the American attempts to punish foreign companies for doing business here have hurt them in dozens of small ways, from limiting their ability to buy to certain medicines to making it impossible to get spare parts for scientific equipment. “The blockade makes doing business here insecure,” said Pedro Álvarez Borrego, the chairman of Alimport, the government-owned company that imports food. The biggest blow, however, has been to tourism. The minister for tourism, Manuel Madero, said that before Mr. Bush took office, about 80,000 Americans visited Cuba every year, usually going through Mexico or another country. He declined to give a number for the current year, but said it had been reduced to trickle. Luis M. Morejón, who operates a small tour company, said he used to arrange tours for at least 30 Americans a year in the late 1990s. “Now this whole year I haven’t had one,” he said..
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will close deals for Canadian wheat and Vietnamese rice at the annual trade fair in Havana that opened on Monday, while U.S. food sales dwindle. American vendors and Cuban officials blamed the tightening of U.S. financial sanctions against Communist Cuba, a policy U.S. President George W. Bush reaffirmed two weeks ago. "Vietnam gives them credit, we don't," said Marvin Lehrer, the USA Rice Federation's director for Latin America, as he handed out hot samples of chicken-flavored long-grain rice. Sales of U.S. rice to Cuba dropped to 80,000 tones last year from 175,000 tonnes in 2005 and prospects are not good for this year, Lehrer said. During the fair, Cuba's food import agency Alimport will buy 200,000 tonnes from Vietnam under a contract worth $100 million, its president Pedro Alvarez said. Seven years ago, the U.S. Congress allowed agricultural sales to Cuba as an exception to the trade embargo enforced against Fidel Castro's government after his 1959 revolution. Sales of U.S. food -- which Cuba must pay for in cash -- have totaled $1.8 billion, but business peaked in 2004 when the Bush administration made transactions harder by requiring payment before shipment. Sales peaked at $392 million in 2004 and declined to $340 million last year. Cuba has turned to Brazil, Argentina and Canada for grains, soybeans and chicken, said Alvarez, who will sign a contract for 150,000 tonnes of Canadian wheat on Tuesday. "American producers are been hurt by the embargo. Trade with the United States is uncertain because Cuban payments get blocked," he said. Bush rejected any easing of U.S. sanctions against Cuba in a speech on October 24 in which he said the transfer of power from ailing Fidel Castro to his brother Raul amounted to merely "exchanging one dictator for another." Tighter enforcement of sanctions by his administration has led international banks to shun dollar transactions with Cuba and close offices in Havana, making Cuban payments harder. The number of U.S. companies attending this year is down to 100 from 150 in 2006. Some exhibitors who had planned to have stands at the fair stayed away. Farm state officials traveled to Havana to help reverse the fall in business, including Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, on his second visit to Cuba this year, and agricultural commissioners from Minnesota, Gene Hugoson; and Alabama, Ron Sparks. "We haven't gone downhill, our sales are steady," said Sparks, whose state has sold poultry, utility poles, some cotton and soybeans to Cuba. But the shipping company that handles most of the freight to Cuba sees little chance of business picking up while Bush remains in the White House. "There is a great hesitation right now as people wait to see a change in the U.S. administration," said Jay Brickman, vice president of Florida-based Crowley Maritime Corp. "The Bush administration is very clear about its policy," Brickman said. "People feel they're not gonna get any trade and they have to go to other markets. They have no choice.".
HAVANA -- Cuba pledged to sign nearly $450 million in contracts with hundreds of U.S. and international firms, kicking off the island's largest annual trade event despite decades of economic sanctions. Less than two weeks after President Bush asked lawmakers to renew a 45-year U.S. economic embargo against the Communist-run island, Cuban officials touted their 25th annual trade fair as proof that the policy has failed. "For Cuba, this is a demonstration that the genocidal, economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States for nearly 50 years has failed to achieve its objective of isolating us from other countries," Foreign Trade Minister Raul de la Nuez said at the fair's opening ceremony. Nearly 1,000 companies from 53 countries displayed products - from Chilean wine to Arkansan chicken - at the gathering, which runs in Havana until Saturday. Cuba's top six trade partners are Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada, Italy and Brazil, which together account for 70 percent of commerce the island has with firms from 176 countries, de la Nuez said. Foreign trade grew 12 percent in the first nine months of 2007 over the year-ago period, de la Nuez said without providing specific figures. Cuba inked deals worth $432 million at last year's trade fair. The U.S. embargo, which took its current form in 1962, chokes most commercial exchange with the island. But a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000 now allows American food to be sold directly to Cuba for cash. Ramiro Valdes, a former interior minister who now serves as minister of communications, noted that while the embargo aims to "keep even one dollar from entering Cuba ... at each one of these fairs, there are more people and more businesses working to neutralize it." Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman attended the fair on his fourth visit to Cuba Monday, as commodities merchants agreed to sell $10 million-worth of Nebraskan wheat to Cuba - bringing the total value of Nebraska farm products sold there since 2005 to more than $70 million. "Nebraska has been rewarded for our diligence in maintaining a strong export relationship with Cuba," Heineman said in a statement posted on the Internet. Absent Monday was ailing leader Fidel Castro, who has strolled the fair chatting up sales representatives in past years. Castro, 81, has not been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery forced him to cede power to his younger brother Raul more than 15 months ago. A third brother - the 83-year-old Ramon Castro, a rancher who has never served in government - said Monday that Fidel is well. "Everything is fine. He is working a lot." Ramon Castro attended the trade fair with John Parke Wright IV, director of a Naples, Florida-based cattle, feed and equipment exporter. Wright said U.S. businesses are preparing for a new president to change U.S. policy toward the island after Bush leaves office in January 2009. "We're getting ready for a new business plan," he said. "This is the time to make contracts - right now." Alabama State Port Authority representative Maria Conchita Mendez also expected the embargo to end soon - regardless of who becomes the next U.S. president. "There is more to Cuba than the politics," she said. "There's a lot of economic opportunity here.".
September 2007

Cuba's trade prospects challenging

September 19, 2007

Miami Herald- Jane Bussey

Though Cuba's economy is small -- close to the size of that of the Mexican city of Guadalajara -- it still offers interesting prospects for commerce, trade experts said Tuesday. Without a nod to the highly charged political issues that usually swirl around Cuba, the SeaCargo Americas Conference dissected the Cuban economy and its trade and economic potential in a roundtable Tuesday. 'It is limited,' said John Price, president of the business consulting group InfoAmericas. ``But Cuba is interesting as a trading partner.' According to Price, because the Cuban economy doesn't have a lot of productive sectors, it has to import about $10 billion a year in goods. Oil products account for about a third of those imports. Despite the U.S. trade embargo, the United States is still one of the largest exporters to Cuba, though its exports -- largely food and agricultural products -- reach only about $350 million a year and have fallen slightly as Cuba has turned to other countries for food imports. But Cuba is riding the same crest of commodity exports that is buoying economies in much of South America, helping its economy to grow 9.5 percent in 2006 and 8.5 percent in 2005, Price said. RECENT IMPROVEMENT Although some economists question Cuba's reported economic growth, there is no doubt that the Cuban economy has performed much better in the past few years than over the previous decade. Part of that growth comes from a huge jump in the price of nickel, which is being exported for the rapidly growing stainless-steel industry in China -- the world's No. 1 producer of stainless steel. Subsidized oil products exported from Venezuela also have reduced the vulnerability of the Cuban economy, Price said. The well-attended panel came on the final day of a two-day meeting that looked at challenges facing the sea cargo industries, ranging from security issues to the changing marketplace. 'This presentation is about business and not politics,' said moderator Manuel Almira, the assistant director for business Development at Port Everglades, as he introduced the Cuba panel. The U.S. embargo against Cuba means that all U.S. exports to the country, whether express packages or shiploads of rice, wheat and corn, must receive a U.S. license and the Cuban government must pay before the goods are shipped, said Jay Brickman, vice president of Crowley Liner Services in Fort Lauderdale. Crowley runs a weekly container service to Cuba. MUST BE AUTHORIZED U.S. exports are limited to authorized agricultural products, Brickman added. 'The question we were asked constantly was `Does it include M&M'S [candies]?' ' Brickman said. ``And the answer is yes.' Brickman also noted that the United States is a big exporter of telephone poles -- also considered agricultural products -- heading south to Cuba on barges. Despite Crowley's regular service to Havana, Brickman said containers return empty because they are not authorized to carry any goods from Cuba to the United States. He noted that Cuba's main import agency, Alimport, handles the logistics and negotiates competitive transportation contracts along with the goods. 'When they sit down to negotiate their contracts, they come very well prepared,' Brickman said, adding that Alimport has offices in Europe, Asia and Canada and knows transportation pricing. Like the rest of the region, Cuba faces major challenges in how to stretch its limited resources. Price pointed out that nickel prices are falling and that the tourism sector has the worst record in the Caribbean in attracting return visitors. Capital for future investments will need to come from outside Cuba, and the future depends on Cuba's ability to attract those investments, Price said. U.S. companies are not allowed to invest in Cuba and U.S. service firms also do no business there..
August 2007

Cuba buys seed potatoes from US growers

August 1, 2007

Miami Herald- James MacPherson

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota will ship 100 tons of seed potatoes to Cuba, marking the first time the communist country has bought U.S. seed potatoes in decades. The deal, announced Monday, calls for the seed potatoes to be sent to the island in time for farmers there to plant this year, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said. "It's a very small amount - only about $15,000 worth - but it is significant in testing the waters," Johnson said. The United States established a trade embargo with Cuba in 1962, but Congress passed a law in 2001 allowing cash sales of U.S. agricultural goods and medicine to Cuba. Johnson said he has traveled to Cuba six times in the last six years to push North Dakota farm products. He said the state has sold about $30 million worth of peas and lentils to Cuba since 2001. "Every single time I've been to Cuba they've asked about potatoes," Johnson said. Two Cuban inspectors toured seed potato fields in the state's Red River Valley last week and will return in the autumn when the potatoes are ready to be shipped, Johnson said. Cuba officials have said the country imports up to 40,000 tons of seed potatoes annually from Canada and Holland, but the country wants to find other sources. "One flattering aspect of the whole thing is that they're shopping here," said Duane Maatz, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association. "Our reputation for quality seed is very good - and that's been good for North Dakota." Shipping potato seed from North Dakota is cheaper than shipping it from Europe, he said. "We have the freight advantage over Europe and better standards of quality for viruses than eastern Canada," Maatz said. North Dakota has more than 180 potato growers but only about three dozen potato seed producers, Maatz said. Growers in the state sold potato seed to Cuba through the 1940s, Maatz said. "We do have some varieties that work well with their traditions and customs," Maatz said. "What we have here is what they want in their food supply.".
July 2007

Cubans to purchase potatoes from North Dakota

July 31, 2007

Miami Herald- James MacPherson

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota will ship 100 tons of seed potatoes to Cuba, in time for farmers on the communist island to plant before the end of the year, the state's agricultural commissioner says. The deal, announced Monday, is the first time Cuba has bought U.S. seed potatoes, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said. "It's a very small amount - only about $15,000 worth - but it is significant in testing the waters," Johnson said. Two Cuban inspectors were in the state last week touring seed potato fields in the Red River Valley, in eastern North Dakota, Johnson said. The inspectors will return to North Dakota this fall when the potatoes are shipped out, he said. The United States has a trade embargo with Cuba, but Congress passed a law in 2001 allowing cash sales of U.S. agricultural goods and medicine to Cuba. Johnson said he has traveled to Cuba six times in the last six years to push North Dakota farm products. He said the sales of North Dakota peas and lentils to Cuba have totaled about more than $30 million since 2001. "Every single time I've been to Cuba they've asked about potatoes," Johnson said. Johnson led an 18-member delegation this spring that included potato growers for the first time. Cuba officials say the country imports as much as 40,000 tons of seed potatoes annually from Canada and Holland, but the country wants to find other sources. "One flattering aspect of the whole thing is that they're shopping here," said Duane Maatz, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association. "Our reputation for quality seed is very good - and that's been good for North Dakota." Potatoes grown for seed are susceptible to disease if grown in warmer climates, Maatz said. Shipping potato seed from North Dakota is cheaper than sources in Europe, he said. "We have the freight advantage over Europe and better standards of quality for viruses than eastern Canada," Maatz said. North Dakota has more than 180 potato growers but only about three dozen potato seed producers, Maatz said. Growers in the state sold potato seed to Cuba through the 1940s, Maatz said. "We do have some varieties that work well with their traditions and customs," Maatz said. "What we have here is what they want in their food supply.".

U.S. trade limits with Cuba to stay

July 29, 2007

Miami Herald- Pablo Bachelet

WASHINGTON -- The House on Friday rejected an initiative to ease restrictions on U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, virtually burying any chance that U.S. policy toward the island could be relaxed by Congress this year. By a 245-182 margin, the House voted down an amendment presented by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., that would have allowed Cuban officials to travel to the United States to inspect U.S. export facilities and products and let Cubans make direct payments to U.S. banks for any purchases. The initiative, inserted as an amendment to a broader farm bill, would also have allowed the Cuban government to pay for goods after they are shipped from a U.S. port, rather than before as now required. The vote is especially significant because opponents of the Bush administration's tough line on Cuba believed a powerful coalition of agricultural interests teamed with a Democratic majority in Congress would this year chip away at U.S. restrictions on trade with and travel to Cuba. Proponents of change also hoped that the Democratic majority would be more skeptical of U.S. policies toward Havana, and that Fidel Castro's long illness would spur U.S. lawmakers to modify U.S. policies toward the communist government. But these aspirations fell flat as Cuban-American lawmakers and their allies went on the offensive, arguing U.S. policy should not be changed until a democratic transition gets under way in Cuba. Last month, the House rejected a proposal to slash a Bush administration plan to boost aid to Cuban opposition groups, and declined to even allow amendment votes on travel restrictions, citing procedural reasons. 'The signal is very clear that the tables have turned on the Cuba debate in Congress,' a jubilant Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told The Miami Herald after the vote. ``Our fears were not realized when people said now all pro-Castro amendments will be passed and totally change U.S.-Cuba policy.' 'This vote was pivotal; this vote was monumental,' she added. Opponents ``could put up their amendments but now people are on record as supporting a path that is not economic engagement with a regime that oppresses its people.' The Cuban government has repeatedly complained that U.S. restrictions made it more expensive for Havana to purchase U.S. medicines and food products. In a speech Thursday, Raúl Castro said the Bush administration has 'acted with special viciousness' and called the financing requirements ``an extraterritorial imposition of U.S. laws.' According to a recent report by the U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent government agency that studies trade-related issues, lifting some U.S. restrictions would boost U.S. exports to the island by between $176 million and $350 million. U.S. food and medicines exports to Cuba have been permitted since 2000. American farmers became the largest suppliers of foodstuffs to Cuba in 2004. However, in recent years Cuban purchases have dipped. U.S. exports to the island totaled $338 million in 2006. Cubans still rely on ration cards to buy many food items. Raúl Castro has said the Cuban economy needs an overhaul to provide better livelihoods for its citizens, though he blames the hardships on the United States. The ITC estimated that the restrictions the Rangel bill sought to overturn added between 2.5 percent and 10 percent to Cuba's cost of buying U.S. agricultural goods. In the past, Cuban-American lawmakers and their allies declined to challenge agricultural amendments on Cuba in a floor vote because agriculture was a sensitive issue for lawmakers from farming communities, Ros-Lehtinen said. But she said Rangel 'overreached' by adding banking and other provisions in his bill. Rangel called his amendment 'a real win for America, a real win for American farmers and a real win for democracy.' He criticized the embargo as 'truly ineffective' and said it had less to do with communism and more with Florida politics. Opponents of the amendment argued the initiative would provide Cuba, deemed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, direct access to U.S. banks, and that Havana would use the visas for its inspectors to infiltrate spies into the United States. The defeat is also significant because Rangel is the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade matters. Ros-Lehtinen credited Weston Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz for swaying many Democrats on Cuba. 'She really pulled a lot of Democratic votes for us,' Ros-Lehtinen said. ``She was just a tiger on this bill.' On the floor debate, Wasserman Schultz said the amendment ``needlessly adds a volatile political issue to this [agriculture] bill.' .
June 2007

More imported sugar on Cuba's plate

June 6, 2007

Miami Herald- Wilfredo Cancio Isla

The sugar consumed in Cuba has an increasingly foreign flavor. A steep slump in the nation's once-principal industry has forced the Cuban government to import sugar from Brazil and Colombia for the past six years. Preliminary results of the 2007 harvest do not indicate a change in that trend. Although this year's harvest ended May 23 without any official comment on its production total, estimates from analysts and industry sources indicate it totaled 1.1 million metric tons. If accurate, the 2007 harvest would be the worst in 100 years, comparable only to those in 1903 and 1904, when production rose just above one million MTs. Authorities at the Sugar Ministry had set a goal for 2007 of 1.5-1.6 million MTs, but now acknowledge that barely 17 of the 51 active mills met their production plans, affected by the bad weather in eastern Cuba. 'The harvest was a disaster, even though it had more resources and 30 percent more cane was available than in the previous period,' said dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who every year analyzes the harvest for foreign publications. ``We'll have to continue to import sugar for a long time.' OUT OF BRAZIL In 2001, many Cubans were startled when the government shops that distribute the food items on ration cards began to sell unrefined sugar made in Brazil. The card allows each Cuban a monthly quota of five pounds of sugar. In more recent years, the shops have been selling increasing amounts of Brazilian and Colombian sugar. Brazil's Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade has reported that exports of sugar and sucrose to Cuba in 2006 amounted to 309,659 MTs, with an approximate value of $50.5 million. The Colombian Association of Sugar Cane Harvesters, known as ASOCANA, reported that between 2002 and 2006 that country sent 425,609 MTs of refined sugar to Cuba. Cuba needs about 700,000 MTs per year to satisfy its domestic demand, and a smaller amount that will allow it to fulfill its export commitments. In 2005, the Cuban government signed contracts with Belarus for the purchase of about 50,000 MTs of beet sugar. In late 2003, the state-run company Alimport announced it planned to buy U.S. sugar for domestic consumption, but the deal never materialized. MILLS SHUT DOWN During the industrial restructuring decreed by Fidel Castro in 2002, Cuba shut down 70 of its 155 sugar mills, stopped cultivating sugar cane in 3.4 million acres of land and reduced the industry's labor force by 25 percent. Sugar has historically been considered the nation's economic bulwark. 'The situation is chaotic, and I don't see the sun rising any time soon,' said a veteran cane worker in Camagüey province. ``This industry was dismantled four years ago and we cannot now expect miracles.' According to official data, almost 50 percent of the drop in sugar production was caused by a surplus of rain that reduced output and limited work on the fields. Only the provinces of Matanzas and Cienfuegos met their production goals..
May 2007

Cuba to buy $118 million in U.S. food

May 30, 2007

Miami Herald- Anita Snow

HAVANA -- Cuba agreed Wednesday to buy $118 million in U.S. food products ranging from pork and corn to soybeans and Spam, and said it was negotiating deals that could bring the total to nearly $150 million. "The sales this week went beyond all of our expectations," said Jim Sumner of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, one of more than 200 Americans from 25 states who visited Havana for talks with communist officials. "When the embargo is lifted, which we hope will be very soon, these deals will be much greater." Although Washington's 45-year-old embargo remains, U.S. food and agricultural products can be sold directly to Cuba under a law passed by Congress in 2000. Since 2001, Havana says it has spent more than $2.2 billion on American farm products and related costs. A smiling Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said Americans are "recovering the market" they lost in the 1960s with the imposition of the embargo. "The active and massive participation of the American business community makes us very happy," said Alvarez, whose company organized the latest round of negotiations with U.S. farm producers. Cuba expects this year to match the $570 million it spent in 2006 on American food and agricultural products, including shipping and banking costs. Cuban Commerce Minister Raul de la Nuez said most of the food would be sold at heavily subsidized prices, on the government's food ration and at public schools and workplace dining rooms. "This will help feed our people," De la Nuez said. "We have a common goal of normalized relations between the United States and Cuba," Kirby Jones, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, told the gathering. "One day, we hope there will be free and open trade.".

Cuba works toward potato deal with North Dakota

May 24, 2007

Miami Herald- Will Weissert

HAVANA -- (AP) -- Cuba will dispatch experts to the fields of North Dakota this summer as it closes in on the first agreement to import American seed potatoes, officials said Thursday. Two Cuban agricultural inspectors plan to inspect the state's varieties and watch how seed potatoes are packed for shipping. If all goes well, Cuba is prepared to buy about 100 tons of seed potatoes to plant in its fields and see how they fare. Pedro Alvarez, head of communist Cuba's food import company Alimport, said the island already imports as much as 40,000 tons of seed potatoes annually from Canada and Holland, but that ``of course we'd like to diversify our suppliers and varieties.' He said Cuba plans to test the North Dakota seed potatoes in its soil before buying larger quantities. Officials hope to have the state's potatoes planted in Cuba when growing season starts in November. Roger Johnson, North Dakota's agricultural commissioner, led an 18-member, three-day trade mission to Havana. He noted seed potatoes are more expensive than table potatoes and highly perishable -- making the prospect of sending them all the way to this Caribbean country tricky. 'We want to start small because the risk is enormous,' he said. Washington's 45-year-old embargo forbids American tourists from visiting Cuba, and chokes off most trade between the two countries, though the direct sale of food and agricultural products began in late 2001. Alvarez said Cuba has since spent more than $2.2 billion on American food and agricultural imports, including shipping and hefty bank fees to send payments through third nations. Johnson, making his sixth trip to Cuba, said North Dakota has sold more than $30 million worth of products to the island since 2001, mostly peas, and garbanzo and lentil beans. During this trip, Cuba agreed to buy 10,000 tons of North Dakota red spring wheat and is negotiating the purchase of soybeans, corn and other crops. Cuba also is interested in a similar inspection and testing process for North Dakota barely malt, another American product that would be the first of its kind imported to Cuba. 'We're sure it will be very good,' Alvarez joked, ``because American beer is very good.'.

North Dakota hopes to send potatoes to Cuba

May 23, 2007

Miami Herald- AP

HAVANA -- (AP) -- North Dakota wants to ship potatoes to Cuba, and was looking Tuesday for ways to get them to this Caribbean island without spoiling. Representatives from two potato producing companies and state experts on plant diseases and potatoes were meeting with top representatives from Alimport, Cuba's food import company. 'If we can begin sales of North Dakota potatoes and do it in a way that gets them down here in good shape, that would be a very successful trade mission because we've been talking about it for five years and so far it hasn't happened,' said Roger Johnson, agriculture commissioner for the state. Washington's 45-year-old embargo forbids American tourists from visiting Cuba and chokes off most trade between the two countries. But direct sale of U.S. food and agricultural products began in late 2001 and continues despite some bureaucratic hurdles. So far, Cuba has spent more than $2.2 billion on American food and agricultural imports, including shipping and hefty bank fees to send payments through third nations. North Dakota has sold about $30 million worth of products to the communist country, mostly peas, as well as garbanzo and lentil beans. Since 2004, tighter U.S. restrictions have required the island to pay for goods in full before they leave American ports. Idaho Gov. C.L. 'Butch' Otter traveled to Havana last month to discuss shipping his state's potatoes to Cuba. That trade mission resulted only in a single agreement for an Idaho company to send $100,000 worth of boneless pork legs here, and Idaho officials said any agreements to ship spuds or seed potatoes hinge on a future visit to the state by Cuban trade officials. Cuba traditionally produces sweet potatoes, but the island's warm climate makes such crops especially susceptible to blights and pests. Those same diseases can affect potatoes arriving from the United States, and American trade restrictions sometimes create shipping delays that can make highly perishable potatoes go bad en route. 'The uncertainty of shipping, given the ports and all the [U.S. government] rules, that's an enormous concern,' said Johnson, who was on his sixth trip to Cuba. A longtime critic of U.S. trade sanctions, Johnson said North Dakota officials want to build long-term business relationships in Cuba. 'In my judgment, it won't be long before the embargo's going to be lifted,' he said. ``I don't know anyone who really in their heart or in their mind can make a case for continuing it.'.

Cuba expects up to $150 million in new U.S. trade

May 23, 2007

Miami Herald- Anita Snow

HAVANA -- Communist Cuba expects to sign contracts for much as $150 million in American agricultural goods next week at the largest gathering of U.S. farm producers here since Fidel Castro fell ill last summer. Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the island's food import company Alimport, said that talks beginning Monday should produce enough deals to ensure Cuba buys as much U.S. goods in 2007 as it did last year. About 100 American farm groups and companies from 22 U.S. states are participating. In 2006, Cuba spent $570 million for U.S. food and agricultural products, including shipping and banking costs, Alvarez said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. So far this year, his government has spent $225 million to purchase and import American goods. 'We are hoping that by the end of the coming week, we will have between $100 million and $150 million in new contracts,' Alvarez said, adding he expects as many as 250 Americans at the talks that will wind up with contract signings on May 30. Washington maintains a 45-year-old trade embargo on the island, but U.S. food and agricultural products can be sold directly to Cuba under a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000. Since Havana first took advantage of the law in 2001, it has spent more than $2.2 billion on American farm products, including hefty transportation and financing costs. 'We would buy double that if not for the restrictions,' Alvarez said, referring to American regulations that include time-consuming paperwork and cash-only financing. Since then, he has been seen only in official photographs and videotapes, but authorities report that he is getting better. In recent weeks he has written a string of essays on international affairs, often denouncing the use of food crops to produce ethanol. During the only other large gathering of U.S. agribusiness interests in Cuba following Castro's illness in July, fewer than 80 American farm groups and companies converged here in November during the annual International Fair of Havana. Cuba generally uses the gatherings to register its objection to the U.S. trade embargo, with American farm producers anxious to do more trade with the island chiming in with their own objections. Last week, rice producers from the United States and 23 Latin American countries meeting in Mexico adopted a statement encouraging the U.S. Congress to eliminate U.S. trade and travel sanctions on Cuba. 'These restrictions prejudice significantly U.S. agricultural producers as well as exporters, transporters and other related economic activities,' participants in the Pan-American Rice Congress said. As a preview to next week's gathering, North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Roger Johnson is leading a trade mission to the island this week. An Alabama trade mission arrives Friday. Alabama Agriculture Department spokeswoman Christy Rhodes Kirk said that the delegation, including several state lawmakers, will help companies negotiate the sale of products including poultry, lumber, utility poles, cotton, peanuts, fish and snack foods. Alimport's Alvarez said Cuba expects other large delegations from Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, and smaller groups from California, New York, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Washington state..

Despite hassles, trade with Cuba goes on

May 15, 2007

Miami Herald- Martha Brannigan

Fidel Castro used to fete visiting American business delegations with mojitos at receptions in Havana. His brother Raúl has shunned that role since assuming power from the ailing Cuban dictator last summer, instead letting officials such as National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón do the mingling. Initial exuberance that Raúl Castro's transition to power would spur warmer political and economic relations with the United States has waned as the Bush administration has held its hard line. But despite the headaches that come with exporting agricultural and food products to Cuba, a steady parade of hopeful U.S. salespeople keeps slogging away. In March, a Nebraska entourage led by Gov. Dave Heineman went to tout corn and soybeans, and Delaware -- on its first trade visit -- offered up poultry and winter wheat. In April, Idaho's Gov. C.L. Butch Otter led a 35-member delegation there to hawk peas, lentils and pork. Raúl Castro's ascent to power 'hasn't changed things at all either way' with respect to U.S. trade, says Kirby Jones, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association. ``It's totally seamless.' Last year, U.S. exports to Cuba dipped to $340.4 million from $350.2 million in 2005. By most accounts, exports of agricultural goods to Cuba will remain a fraction of what they could be as long as U.S. restrictions remain and Cuba has friends such as China that can help fill in its most severe food gaps. 'As long as Venezuela and China prop up Cuba economically, the island will make few reforms to reach out to the U.S., because it doesn't have to,' said John S. Kavulich II, senior policy advisor to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. ``Cuba wants more than anything else to be relevant in U.S. political discourse. Everything about the relationship between the two countries is political.' LEGAL REFORMS The narrow trade now permitted stems from the U.S. Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which -- despite the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba -- allows sales of food and agricultural products to the island. A separate measure permits medical shipments. But in February 2005 the Bush administration tightened its interpretation of the law, requiring that Cuba pay cash for purchases before they can leave U.S. ports -- an expensive hurdle. In addition, Cuba can't wire funds directly to U.S. banks; instead, it must get a letter of credit from -- or wire funds to -- a bank in a third country, typically France or elsewhere in Europe. 'Cuba would buy more if it didn't have to pay through a costly and time-consuming process,' said Phil Peters, a vice president at the Lexington Institute, a policy research group in Arlington, Va. ``It's kind of a crazy system. The trade is perfectly legal, but we treat the payments as if it's money laundering.' Another hurdle: U.S. businessmen must obtain a license to travel to Cuba to negotiate sales. The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control sometimes denies licenses without explanation, says Jones. ``No reasons are given, and it is common for letters and telephone calls to go unanswered -- sometimes for months.' Such barriers are drawing heightened scrutiny in Washington. The International Trade Commission, at the behest of the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating the effects of U.S. trade and travel restrictions on U.S. exports of fish, forest and agriculture products to Cuba. The ITC will issue a report June 29. The study comes as several bills are afoot in Congress to lift or ease the embargo, although the specter of President Bush's expected veto has stymied past legislative efforts. 'The current policies hinder further economic growth via trade with Cuba,' Roger Johnson, North Dakota's agriculture commissioner, who has led five trade missions to Cuba since 2002, told an ITC hearing on May 1. U.S. sales of soybean products to Cuba rose to $91 million during fiscal 2006, from $40 million in fiscal 2002. But the American Soybean Association says the United States is at risk of losing business. 'While countries like Venezuela, Brazil and Canada can trade freely with Cuba, the U.S. industry must work through third-party banks, apply for travel licenses and obtain cash in advance -- all of which are impediments to economic growth in Cuba and for the U.S. soybean producers,' Richard Ostlie, president of the soybean trade group, said in a letter to the ITC. RICE POTENTIAL U.S. rice exports to Cuba rose to 157,744 metric tons during 2006, up 2.5 percent from 153,855 metric tons a year earlier. But American rice producers say that's a fraction of the business they could do with Cuba if the restrictions were lifted. Cuba, with 11.4 million people, is a natural market, a stone's throw away from the United States. The USA Rice Federation, a trade group based in Arlington, Va., said that proximity allows cheaper transportation and the nimbleness of shipping smaller quantities, cutting storage costs. And many Cubans prefer the quality of U.S. rice. Still, Cuba buys rice from countries like Vietnam, in part because current restrictions make the United States an 'unreliable' supplier, said David Coia, a spokesman for the rice group, ``and we can't offer credit like China or Vietnam or almost any other country.' FOOD CONTRACTS Kavulich said Cuba uses food contracts to pressure U.S. firms to support an easing of trade sanctions. 'It started in '03. Cubans started tying political activism with the amount of money companies may see from Cuba,' he said. 'Cuba's purchases from the U.S. are driven at least as much by politics as economics,' said William A. Messina, Jr. an agricultural economist at the University of Florida. Currently Cuba seems to be making an effort to reach out to U.S. exporters: Alimport, its food import agency, will host a big trade expo with U.S. exporters in Havana May 28-31. It will be the first big event targeting U.S. firms since the United States tightened restrictions two years ago. Some experts speculate Cuba may feel a bit encouraged by the Democratic Congress in the United States. Neither Alimport's president Pedro Alvarez Borrego nor the Cuban Interests Section in Washington returned phone calls seeking comment. But in an invitation letter to the American agricultural community, Alvarez Borrego said the agency expects to nail down '$100 million to $150 million' in contracts, including freight, to help meet demand for the second half of 2007. And the letter said: ``The U.S. providers represented in person at the event with competitive bids will stand the highest chance to be awarded supply contracts.' .
April 2007

Cuba lifts ban on U.S. long-grain rice

April 27, 2007

Miami Herald- Will Weissert

HAVANA -- Cuba has lifted a ban on imports of U.S. long-grain rice that it put in place last year because of fears about genetic contamination. Raul Sanchez, director of the U.S. division of the island's food import company Alimport, said Friday the ban was lifted earlier this month and that in recent weeks Cuba has imported 30,000 tons of long-grain U.S. rice and expects to import 10,000 more soon. A U.S. announcement in August that American long-grain rice samples had tested positive for trace amounts of a genetically modified strain not approved for consumption prompted Japan to suspend its U.S. rice imports. Cuba imposed a ban of its own after conducting independent testing, Sanchez said. Sanchez, who spoke during a meeting with U.S. medical company representatives, did not provide details about the exact date and why Cuba had lifted the ban, suggesting only that U.S. long-grain rice no longer appeared to be a problem. Washington's 45-year-old embargo against communist Cuba chokes off most trade between the two countries but U.S. companies can sell medicine and medical supplies directly to the country under the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act. A law approved in 2000 authorized cash-only payments for U.S. food and agricultural products. Sanchez said that so far this year Cuba has spent $196.8 million on American food and agricultural products after spending $578.8 million in all of 2006. Cuba includes shipping and other logistical costs when divulging the total amount paid for U.S. goods. Addressing representatives from Mercury Medical, a Florida medical supply company visiting Cuba to display equipment, Sanchez said that since 2001, Cuba has spent $2.2 billion on American food and farm products, but nearly $340 million of that went to shipping alone. The New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, attempting to estimate the amount Cuba spent on U.S. imports without taking into account logistical costs, reported the island bought about $340 million in American food and agricultural products last year..

U.S. medical firm shows equipment in Cuba

April 27, 2007

Miami Herald- Anita Snow

HAVANA -- A U.S. medical supply company showed off an anesthesia machine and other equipment to Cuban officials on Thursday in hopes of whetting the island's appetite for American medical goods. "Cuba appreciates the high quality of American medical supplies," said Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the Cuban food import company Alimport. "But the [U.S.] embargo affects the ability to export these supplies to Cuba." Alvarez said at the exhibition by Mercury Medical of Clearwater that companies have lost billions of dollars in sales over the years. U.S. companies can sell medicine and medical supplies directly to the communist country under the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act. A law in 2000 authorized U.S. export of food and agricultural products to the island. But the rules and required paperwork make the transactions tedious. Alvarez did not offer figures on medical exports to Cuba, but officials have said the amount is small, mostly because of the high cost of U.S. medical goods. U.S. food and farm goods have fared better. Earlier this year, Alvarez said that Cuba had spent more than $100 million during the first quarter to import American foodstuffs. Mercury Medical brought an estimated $100,000 worth of its own and other U.S. manufacturers' goods to display at the gathering hosted by Alimport and Cuba's Health Ministry. Along with the $25,000 anesthesia machine, the goods included devices for monitoring blood pressure and respiratory equipment. The equipment will be donated to the Health Ministry for distribution to hospitals and clinics after the gathering, said event organizer Pamela Ann Martin of Molimar Export Consultants of Ambler, Pa. Martin said it took months to obtain U.S. government permission to ship the equipment to Cuba.

Idaho governor going to Cuba

April 9, 2007

Miami Herald- John Miller

BOISE, Idaho -- (AP) -- Like other states before it, Idaho is turning to Cuba in search of new markets for its products. With Cuba's communist dictator Fidel Castro ailing, Idaho Gov. C.L. 'Butch' Otter is among those optimistic that political change will help turn the island's 11 million residents into big consumers. In March, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was the latest U.S. official to visit Cuba, which bought $340 million (euro254.2 million) in U.S. farm products in 2006. Otter and his 35-member entourage are scheduled to travel to Cuba on Tuesday for a four-day trade mission, 'He's going down there to sell groceries,' said Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman. ``It's an opportunity to make some sales.' In a speech last month, Otter told reporters he had a 'respectful' relationship with Castro. The United States has a trade embargo with Cuba that exempts food, and does not allow residents to visit the island nation. It accuses Cuba of jailing political dissidents. 'The thing that irritates me the most about the State Department's policy toward Cuba is that it is not a policy toward Cuba,' Otter said at an Idaho Press Club-sponsored event. ``You're a free American, you should be able to travel anywhere you want, whenever you want.' This will not be Otter's first visit there: has already been to Cuba three times as a Republican U.S. House member on lobbyist-funded trips. In 2004, on a mission to Cuba with Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, of Idaho, Craig and Otter signed a potential $10 million (euro7.5 million) nonbinding deal with Cuba for Idaho agricultural products. Still, the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor has on record just $22,616 (euro16,912) in sales to Cuba in the last decade -- a shipment of frozen potatoes. Otter maintains Cuba is trying to expand its oil and natural gas, and is experimenting with turning some of its sugar into ethanol. When the natural resources take off, Otter says, so will demand..
March 2007

U.S. remains top food source for Cuba

March 25, 2007

Miami Herald- Will Weissert

HAVANA -- Since 2003, one country has been the main supplier of food to Fidel Castro's Cuba: the United States. Surprised? You have good company. Many Americans think their government's 45-year-old embargo blocks all trade with the communist government, but the United States is the top supplier of food and agricultural products to Cuba. In fact, many Cubans depend on rations grown in Arkansas and North Dakota for their rice and beans. Since December 1999, governors, senators and congressmen from at least 28 U.S. states have visited Cuba, most to talk trade. They keep coming: Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was flying in Sunday with a farm delegation. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter of Idaho plans a visit next month. Washington's sanctions choke off most trade with Cuba, but a law passed by Congress in 2000 authorized cash-only purchases of U.S. food and agricultural products and was cheered by major U.S. farm firms like Archer Daniels Midland Co. interested in the untapped Cuban market. Cuba refused to import one grain of rice for more than a year because of a dispute over financing, but finally agreed to take advantage of the law after Hurricane Michelle in November 2001 cut into its food stocks. Since then, Cuba has paid more than $1.5 billion for American food and agricultural products, said John Kavulich, senior policy adviser at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council of New York. The $340 million in exports in 2006 represented a drop of about 3 percent from 2005, which was down from nearly $392 million in 2004. Kavulich said the decline was caused mostly by generous subsidies and credits from Venezuela and China. But the U.S. remains on top. Its main exports to Cuba include chicken, wheat, corn, rice and soybeans - much of it doled out to Cubans on the government ration. The United States also sends Cuba brand-name cola, mayonnaise, hot sauce and candy bars, as well as dairy cows. Kirby Jones, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, said Cuba's food import company Alimport has an entire department dedicated to American purchases. Jones was in Cuba this month with Arkansas chicken exporters, Nebraska bean growers and officials from the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas. "Hundreds and hundreds of American executives have come own here," he said. "(Cuban officials) know how to talk to us." An assistant to Pedro Alvarez, Alimport's chairman, said the company could not comment without authorization from Cuban press officials. But Cuban parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon has said Havana does not expect the U.S. embargo to be eased under President Bush. The current administration tightened restrictions in 2004, further limiting U.S. travel and imposing stricter rules for Cuban payments on U.S. goods. Don Mason of the Iowa Corn Growers Association agreed, saying he was "less than optimistic" Washington will make it easier to trade with Cuba any time soon. He said the association ships on the order of 450,000 metric tons of corn to the island each year. Any significant change in U.S. policy would be difficult under the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which prohibits normalization of relations with Cuba as long as 80-year-old Fidel Castro or his brother Raul are in charge. Fidel temporarily ceded power to Raul after emergency intestinal surgery in July. Despite repeated moves in Congress to ease or eliminate the sanctions, the embargo still has supporters from both parties in both houses. U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, introduced a bill in February seeking to promote American agricultural sales to the island by letting Cuba directly wire payments to U.S. banks rather than route them through third countries. But a similar measure introduced in 2005 was not approved. Some believe American interest in Cuba's new oil exploration efforts could change the political tide. The island plans deep-water drilling, searching for deposits of crude oil less than 100 miles from Florida's coast. Energy companies from China, India, Spain and elsewhere are interested in investing, but American firms are shut out. U.S. senators Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, and Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, introduced a measure this month that would open Cuban waters to U.S. oil and natural gas companies. "If that passes, the embargo goes out the window," Jones said. "We're not talking about mayonnaise now. We're talking about million and millions of dollars.".
HAVANA --(AP) -- Trade between Cuba and China ballooned to $1.8 billion last year, double that of 2005, Beijing's ambassador to the island said. China's exports of buses, locomotives and farm equipment and supplies to Cuba in 2006 helped account for the sharp increase over the previous year, Zhao Rongxian said in a story posted Tuesday on the website of the Cuban government's business weekly, Opciones. He did not provide specific numbers for Chinese-Cuban trade in 2005. An official Cuban report last year said trade between the two countries was about $775,000 during the 12-month period ending in October 2005. It was unclear whether the $1.8 billion figure corresponded to the same 12 months in 2006. 'We are both socialist countries, we have a lot in common and magnificent relations of cooperation in all areas,' the ambassador said. Cuba sent nickel, sugar and medicine as well as biotechnological products to China. Chinese tourists also visited Cuba in record numbers and now average more than 10,000 a year, the ambassador said. For decades, China did not trade with Cuba because of the island's economic dependence on Moscow, then a rival of Beijing. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Venezuela -- with its generous oil exports at favorable prices -- has emerged as the island's top commercial partner, while trade from China has steadily increased. Cuba's official trade figures are difficult to verify because the government includes social services not counted in U.N.-standard measures of economic output. Government officials reported last month that trade with Venezuela topped $2.6 billion in 2006..
February 2007

Pasaportes de esclavos

February 11, 2007

El Nuevo Herald- Raul Rivero

Madrid -- Con el pretexto de liberar a Cuba de la influencia y el dominio de Estados Unidos y hacer de aquella isla un territorio libre, Fidel Castro y la canalla de rumberos armados que le sigue le han dado la vuelta a la bola del mundo con el país al hombro para encontrar empresarios que alquilen la soberanía, inversores que disimulen las derrotas y amigos que los apuntalen en el poder. Así es que enseguida que se contaminaron con la rabia liberadora, mandaron a buscar a Anastas Mikoyan y comenzaron las maniobras de atraque de la nación cubana en el puerto de Leningrado y, durante más de tres décadas, en una extravagante y pública perversión geográfica, Cuba quedaba más cerca de Vladivostok y de Ulan Bator que de Jamaica, San Juan o Panamá. En el último medio siglo ése ha sido el abrazo más largo. Los expertos harán algún día una evaluación científica de la herencia real de aquel período, pero en los planos aéreos de la gente, en la superficie palpable y áspera de la sociedad, el rastro tiene que ver con unos cementerios frondosos de artefactos mecánicos, millares de pasquines de Vladimiro Lenin mareados por el sol y por la lluvia y una generación de yuris y ludmilas inocentes que ya arreglaron cuentas con su padres. En ese tiempo se entregaron también unas tarjetas de identidad hechas en China. Rojas, desde luego, con la efigie de Mao Tse-tung joven y hermoso, que se usaban a discreción cuando se interrumpían las comunicaciones en los altos niveles y se mandaba a recoger todo con un gesto teatral y unas declaraciones duras y se ordenaba poner la punta de Maisí enrumbada hacia el Mar del Norte. Cuando vino el derrumbe total del escenario y los cubanos en las calles pasaron de la pobreza a la miseria, se llevaron las fronteras al Caribe y llamaron a ciertos capitales españoles. Se hizo una revisión urgente de la historia y se desenterraron las raíces, los abuelos, las palabras y se vivió de nuevo la ilusión de ser otra vez la última perla de la corona en las Américas. Se investigó a degüello entonces el episodio del cacique Hatuey y los historiadores oficiales convinieron que el indio estaba enfermo de los nervios y se decantó por el fuego para dejar en la tierra una serie de conflictos personales. Y después, ya se sabe, directo a Venezuela, a toda vela por la ruta del Orinoco, a los brazos firmes del nuevo salvador y éste si entra se pasea y ordena. Lo mismo regala un avión que da un parte médico. O canta y declama y vende un poco de petróleo y hace de mecenas y lleva poetas y músicos y bailarinas para Caracas. Aquí, con la nación ahora un poco más allá del Pico del Aguila, en plena cordillera de los Andes, los administraidores de la tierra móvil se sienten seguros y confiados porque este amo pastorea muy de cerca y además es rico. ¿Qué pasará después? ¿Qué viene si el populismo se disuelve en agua y Venezuela encuentra la coherencia y el cauce democrático? ¿A dónde va el equipo de mudanzas entonces? Parece que ya tiene dos boletos previstos. Uno, otra vez a China y otro para Vietnam. Con todo rumbo al Asia, que por allá dicen ahora que anda el provenir. Sólo que los cubanos no quieren más documentos provisionales de esclavitud, ni quieren a la vieja tropa itinerante. No quieren más entorno geográfico que el suyo, con libertad y posibilidades de elegir a quienes devolverán todos los valores. Esto no es una metáfora, no es siquiera un sueño, es una necesidad. Es un proceso natural por el que se trabaja dentro y fuera de Cuba. Porque al destino hay que ayudarlo, como dijo el poeta..
January 2007

Fund banks on Cuba

January 5, 2007

Miami Herald- Martha Branningan

Miami investment advisor Thomas J. Herzfeld created his closed-end fund for the day -- near or distant -- when political change opens Cuba to investment. But it's doing just fine in the meantime. Shares of the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, which trades on the Nasdaq index under the ticker CUBA, rose 124 percent in the past year, according to the Closed-End Fund Association. That makes the fund the No. 2 performer among 673 peers. Only the Greater China Fund fared better, with a 167 percent return, according to the trade group. The small fund, which has assets of about $14 million, scouts for companies with ties to Florida and the Caribbean that will do well without a change in Cuba but will likely get a boost once the embargo ends. 'We have no interest in violating the embargo,' says Herzfeld, chairman of the fund, which he launched in 1994. ``We needed to develop a strategy in the period in between when we raised the money and when the embargo is lifted.' The fund will enter its second phase when the embargo ends, which Herzfeld thinks may be soon. 'I don't think Castro will live very long, and I don't think the embargo will survive him,' says Herzfeld, an expert on closed-end funds whose main business, Herzfeld Investment Advisors, manages $100 million in assets in closed-end funds for institutional investors. Those portfolios rose 19.6 percent last year. Herzfeld says he's in talks with South Florida investors, mostly Cuban Americans, about joint ventures the fund could pursue when the island opens up. The big rise in the share price last year -- amid widespread speculation Fidel Castro won't live long -- reflects investors' enthusiasm in grabbing a piece of the action if Cuba opens up. A closed-end fund invests in a basket of securities -- just like the more common open-end mutual funds -- but has a fixed number of shares. As a result -- based on demand -- a closed-end fund can trade above or below its net asset value, or NAV, the net value of the investments in the fund divided by the shares. MORE FOR THE MONEY For much of 2006, shares of the fund were trading at a discount to NAV -- meaning investors buying shares were getting a basket of stocks worth more than they were paying. But since last fall -- with rising speculation that Castro is close to death -- the fund has been trading at a premium to its NAV. So while its share price soared 124 percent last year, its return on NAV was a more modest 15.3 percent. On Jan. 3, the fund closed at 92 percent above its NAV, according to CEFA, the second highest premium of any closed-end fund it tracks. Meanwhile, the fund's chairman, Herzfeld, has reduced his stake in the fund several times in recent months, paring his holdings to 13,424 shares as of Dec. 28 from 63,375 in May. Herzfeld says his sales were driven by estate and financial planning. 'I was the first shareholder when I was in my 40s, and now I'm 62,' he said. Some closed fund experts say the big premium makes the fund expensive -- and potentially risky. 'I would much rather invest directly in the companies that I believe would benefit from the eventual removal of Fidel Castro,' says Jon White, the chief investment officer at Beacon Hill Financial, an Orlando-based money management firm. ``This would include resort companies, hotels, cruise ships and other service industries with an emphasis on those based in the Miami area.' NICHE APPEAL Still, investors are willing to pay up for the fund's peculiar niche. 'The high premium would be a concern, but the price is because there is no good alternative for one-touch investing in Cuba,' says Herb Blank, a closed-fund expert who is director of institutional services for Amba Research in New York, which provides investment research to institutions. The fund's investments are mostly well-known names to Floridians. Last year, its biggest holding was Florida East Coast Industries, whose shares rose about 41 percent. Herzfeld says the Jacksonville-based company, which operates Florida East Coast Railway and has real estate holdings, is poised to gain when Cuba opens because of all the goods to be transported. The rail gauge in the United States and Cuba match, he adds, ``so it's very easy to operate a rail barge.' Shares of Consolidated Water, a Cayman Islands-based operator of seawater desalinization plants that the fund has invested in, climbed 26 percent last year. Other big holdings in the fund are Miami-based cruise operators Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises, which he thinks will hit the jackpot when they can sail to Cuba. However, the cruise operators' stocks got hammered by high fuel prices and weak prices for Caribbean cruises in 2006. If Cuba opens up, Herzfeld has plans to launch another fund, called the Cuba Fund, which would focus on direct investments in Cuba. He's regularly been updating a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission since 1994 to be ready to move when the time comes. He declined to discuss the future fund, saying there is no prospectus out, but notes: ``That will be a much larger fund.'.