The Magazine for Trade & Investment in Cuba

June/July 2017


Cuba’s special industrial zone


Kempinski’s grand opening


The Swiss firm doubles down


Tourism transforms Viñales




A special report on the

Texas metropolis and its

outreach to Cuba

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

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content 06/2017



In a sign of pragmatism, Trump’s

fiscal 2018 budget cuts funds for the

USAID democracy program for Cuba


Russia’s rekindled interest in Cuba

raises questions about the Kremlin's

geopolitical ambitions


Deals, events and transactions of note

for trade and investment in Cuba


With the advent of a private sector in

Cuba, internal tourism has soared in

the past decade


Researchers think corals from Cuba

might help reefs in the Florida Keys

survive climate change


It’s not just U.S. cruise lines eyeing

Cuba these days. U.S cruise suppliers

also want in, and an Italian logistics

company is opening that market


From self-employed in Cuba to franchisor

in the United States, Riudisver

Pérez has a brand to push


The recent SAHIC conference was a

who’s who of U.S. hoteliers looking for

opportunities in Cuba. Will business




Baby boosts, baseball for the blind,

and mechanical wizards



President Trump finally announces

his Cuban policy. Cuba Trade's take

on the winners and losers.


Trump's new Cuba policy is smaller

than advertised, argues Cuban political

analyst Arturo Lopez-Levy 34 TECH


One of the added expenses for U.S.

commercial airlines serving Cuba is

the necessity of bringing a mechanic



Different polls suggest that interest

in Cuba as a tourism destination is

waning. Far from it, says the Boston

Consulting Group

NinjaCuba is the latest app in the

country’s burgeoning private software



A visit to the valley of Viñales is a

great escape from the urban density of




The argument for Congress to open

agricultural trade with Cuba now




Tours and Travel


Cuba’s first major luxury hotel opens its doors. Is it

a sign of the times?


How the Texas capital of energy, transportation,

and medicine is positioning itself to be the gateway

for trade and investment with Cuba


Your Cuba Travel Specialist


How the Swiss multinational has thrived in Cuba

while protecting itself against the entry of U.S. products


Cuba’s play to develop the next great shipping hub

is an ambitious call to foreign investors. It has

momentum, but still needs more capital


Cuba Trade’s annual list of the leading legal and

consulting firms for doing business in Cuba


Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

Photo by Richard J. Carson




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editors note

Trump's Policy Blunder

The wrong response, based on bad information

I was in Havana on the Friday President Donald Trump

announced his policy changes for Cuba. I was there to talk to

Cuban citizens, and to gauge their reaction to the speech.

Their typical reaction: Disbelief. Their typical concern: The

reduced flow of U.S. travelers.

“Does he think he will change our government by limiting

the number of tourists?” asked one woman who worked in a

cigar shop. “The government won’t change. But we will have less

business. So why is he doing this? He’s crazy.”

And so the reaction went, from street vendors to waiters to

cab drivers, an across-the-board incomprehension.

“To me it’s unnecessary,” said one cab driver. “We don’t have

terrorists here. We don’t have nuclear weapons here. In fact, this

is probably the safest place anywhere for tourists from the United

States. Is it safer in Colombia? Or Brazil? Yes, this is the safest. So

why stop them from coming? For me it just means less money.”

On the one hand, we can be thankful Trump’s bark was

worse than his bite. While telling a cheering audience in Miami

that he was canceling all of Obama’s policies, he is in fact pulling

back in just a few areas (see story page 20).

But even with these policy changes, he is missing the mark.

If his intention is to promote the private sector in Cuba, and

choke the flow of cash to the government, his declaration of no

business with any company linked to the Cuban military makes

sense. But his decision to make it very hard for individual U.S.

travelers to go to Cuba—leaving such travel instead to tour

groups—makes no sense.

Most tour groups book with large hotels, typically owned by

the government, and military-controlled companies in particular.

Individual travelers, on the other hand, are more likely to book

with individual B&B’s, typically owned by private individuals.

The genesis of this restriction is bad information. During

his signing ceremony, Trump was surrounded by lawmakers with

little firsthand knowledge of Cuba. None of the elected officials

had ever visited the island. As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

told me, the hardliners in his delegation to Cuba softened their

stance once they saw what was really happening: The emergence

of a private sector fueled by U.S. visitors.

The best reaction to Trump’s policies came late Friday, when

I was listening to a Cuban band playing traditional music in The

Tavern in Old Havana. At one point the band leader asked a

couple of girls in the audience where they were from.

“California,” they said.

“Oh,” he said. “We love your President Obama. He has done

so much for us Cubans.” Then he stopped and looked around.

“No, wait a minute. He’s not your president anymore! Ay no!” He

then laughed and started the band up again.

J.P. Faber. Editor-in-Chief


Richard Roffman

Art Director

Jon Braeley

Senior Writer

Doreen Hemlock

Copy Editor

Larry Luxner

Vice President Sales

Sherry Adams

Moore & Company, P.A.




Todd W. Hoffman

Director of Operations

Monica Del Carpio-Raucci

Production Manager

Toni Kirkland

Managing Editor

Julienne Gage

Associate Editor

Nick Swyter


Suzette Laboy

Arturo Lopez-Levy

Victoria Mckenzie

Emilio Morales

Ana Radelat

Ariana H. Reguant

Mimi Whitefield


Richard J. Carson

David Ramos Casin

Matias J. Ocner

Mario Luis Reyes

Thos Robinson

Manager, New Business


Magguie Marina

Aviation Consultant

Lauren Stover

Maritime • Art • Aviation Law

Cuba Trade Magazine (ISSN 2573-332X) is published each month by Third Circle

Publishing, LLC, at 2 S. Biscayne Blvd., Suite 2450, Miami, FL USA 33131.

Telephone: (786) 206.8254. Copyright 2017 by Third Circle Publishing LLC. All

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Deals, events

and transactions

of note for trade

and investment

in Cuba

President Donald Trump signs a Cuba policy directive in Miami

A Cuba crackdown

Following a speech that blasted the Castro

regime, President Donald Trump signed a

policy directive to tighten restrictions on

traveling to Cuba and bar U.S. business

transactions with companies linked to

the military. The policy keeps most of the

Obama administration’s Cuba opening

intact. Commercial flights and cruise

ships can still serve Cuba. Remittance polices

are unchanged. And Trump did not

reinstate the “wet foot, dry foot” policy

that gave Cubans who arrived on U.S. soil

a pathway to permanent residency. More

than 20 bilateral agreements that deal

with topics such as scientific collaboration,

oil spill cleanups, and human trafficking

are still in place.

Cuba responds to crackdown

Granma, the official newspaper of the

Cuban Communist Party, responded to

Trump’s Miami speech by characterizing

it as “hostile rhetoric” and a return to “the

coercive methods of the past.” The newspaper

suggested Trump was influenced by

a handful of Cuban-American hardliners

instead of the majority of Americans who

support normalization. Despite the tough

talk, the newspaper said the Cuban government

is willing to maintain a “respectful

dialogue” with the U.S.

Trading jabs

In a move that infuriated Havana weeks

before his policy announcement, Trump


issued a statement on May 20 to mark the

115th anniversary of the Cuban Republic.

Part of the statement said, “cruel

despotism cannot extinguish the flame

of freedom in the hearts of Cubans, and

that unjust persecution cannot tamper

Cubans’ dreams for their children to live

free from oppression.” Havana responded

by reading a statement on Cuban state

TV calling Trump “ill-advised,” and

described his message as “controversial”

and “ridiculous.”

Senate makes a push to loosen embargo

The Senate will consider two bipartisan

bills aimed at loosening the trade embargo.

On May 25, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reintroduced

a bill with 55 co-sponsors to end travel

restrictions on Cuba. One day later, Sens.

Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Amy Klobuchar

(D-Minn.), Flake and Leahy reintroduced

a bill with 13 co-sponsors to eliminate

export restrictions on Cuba. The

2015 versions of the bills never reached

the Senate floor for a vote. It’s doubtful

the Senate’s Republican leaders will allow

the latest versions to come to a vote.

An answer to the stolen property problem?

As part of proposed legislation, Rep. Rick

Crawford (R-Ark.) is considering a 2 percent

seller’s fee on agriculture exports to

Cuba, which will be used to compensate

people with certified claims of property

seized by the Cuban government. Crawford

reintroduced a bill to eliminate restrictions

on financing agriculture exports

to Cuba earlier this year, but it does not

include the proposed 2 percent fee. Rep.

Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American,

said he backs the proposal.

Communist Party roadmap approved

Cuba’s parliament unanimously approved

documents that reaffirm the one-party

political system and state domination of

the socialist economy. The documents

also contain the first government recognition

of private businesses. Even though

Cuba has allowed a “self-employed”

sector to exist for years, the documents

reinforce the legality of small- and

medium-sized businesses. While the

documents were drafted before Trump’s

election, they send a message that the

country won’t make concessions to the

White House.

A comrade comes to the rescue

A tanker carrying 250,000 barrels

of Russian oil arrived in Matanzas

in May. The move was vital to offset

slashed oil deliveries from Venezuela,

which have forced Cuba to ration

electricity and fuel. Russian state-owned

oil company Rosneft announced May

3 that it will deliver 250,000 tons of oil

and diesel to Cuba as part of a contract

with state entity Cubametals. Little is

known about the terms of the contract,

but some experts estimate it to be worth

$100 million.

authorities even though the deadline for

a response has passed, putting its legal

status in limbo.

Airbnb’s giant impact

Cuban Airbnb hosts have been paid more

than $40 million since the home-sharing

platform launched its services on

the island in April 2015, according to a

new report. The company also said it has

about 22,000 listings and that Cuban

hosts have received about 560,000 guest


first term, according to a report by the

anti-embargo Engage Cuba lobby. The

report says the travel, tourism, farming,

manufacturing, and shipping industries

would be hit the hardest, and that U.S.

cruise operators and airlines stand to lose

around $712 million in annual revenues.


From Russia, with love

Russia will help Cuba restore the

gold-plated dome of Havana’s El Capitolio,

according to Russian news agency

Sputnik. A Russian state-owned company

announced it is accepting proposals

for the project, which will be funded by

Russia’s federal budget. State-owned

Russian Railways also said it may sign

a $2 billion contract to upgrade Cuba’s

railroad system by the end of this year.

The company said it is currently negotiating

the terms of financing.

Venezuela’s crisis is hurting Cuba

A UN report says Cuban exports of refined

oil products fell a whopping 97 percent

from 2013 to 2016. The drop happened

largely because Venezuela slashed its crude

oil deliveries to the island. The same report

says Cuban service exports plummeted in

2015, helping to push the Cuban economy

into a recession in 2016.

Cuba’s first private business group

A group of Havana entrepreneurs has

started Cuba’s first small business association

to provide help, advice, training,

and representation to members of Cuba’s

burgeoning private sector. The group

applied for government recognition in

February. It has not yet heard back from


Joining the fight for Havana flights

United Airlines announced it is applying

for six additional Houston-Havana

daily flights, up from one weekly service

now. FedEx is also seeking authorization

for Monday-Friday all-cargo service

between Miami and Havana. The

moves come shortly after three airlines

announced their plans to drop Cuba.

American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest

have also applied for additional routes to


Manufacturers send a message

National Association of Manufacturers

President Jay Timmons said Cuba

could become a valuable export market

if trade restrictions are lifted. He made

the comments shortly after a NAM

delegation visited the island to meet with

government officials. He added that the

Cuban government should make it easier

for U.S. companies to trade directly with

the country’s private sector.

The cost of cutting ties to Cuba

Completely rolling back the Obama

administration’s Cuba opening would

cost the U.S. economy $6.6 billion and

affect 12,295 U.S. jobs through Trump’s

Cuban tech experts in the spotlight

A trio of Cuban entrepreneurs spoke to

a crowd at Tech Crunch Disrupt in New

York about how they are building businesses

on the island. They said Cuba has

excellent talent, but limited wifi connectivity

continues to be an issue. The entrepreneurs

encouraged U.S. internet companies

to work closely with Cuban tech startups.

A bookings boost

Online travel services company Expedia

has begun offering online bookings for

hotels in Cuba. The company says it’ll

book American guests who can certify

that their trip falls under one of the 12

categories of authorized travel to Cuba.

Even more cruises

Carnival Corp.’s Holland America Line

and Victory Cruise Line received approval

to begin sailing to Cuba. Holland

America’s MS Veendam has several

seven-day and 12-day itineraries that

include stops in Havana and Cienfuegos.

Victory Cruise Line President and CEO

Bruce Nierenberg said he expects the

company to call at Cienfuegos, Trinidad,

Santiago de Cuba, and María La Gorda.

Samsung sets up shop

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics has

opened a brand shop in Havana, selling

TVs, refrigerators, washing machines,

and smartphones. Samsung products

have typically been sold in Cuba through

local retailers. Samsung claims it’s the

first global IT company to open a brand

store in Cuba.H


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Cuba’s Internal Tourism Boom

With the advent of a private sector

in Cuba, internal tourism has soared

in the past decade

By Emilio Morales

Figure 1. National tourism hosted in hotels, 2010-2016

Figure 1. Domestic tourists hosted in hotels, 2010-2016

“One of the greatest impediments to doing business in Cuba

has been the lack of thorough, objective and un-politicized

market intelligence. The THCG Business Report changes

that and provides investors and exporters with the

crucial first blush of data and insight that they need.”

John Price

Managing Director at America’s Market Intelligence

Much of the recent focus in tourism in

Cuba has been about the increasing number

of U.S. visitors. Less noticed has been

the meteoric growth of national tourism

within Cuba over the last decade.

In 2016, more than 991,122 Cubans

stayed in hotels on the island, a record for

the country’s tourism industry. Less than

a decade ago, in 2008, that number was a

mere 61,508.

This new growth in the number of

internal tourists—now second only to

Canadian tourists, at 1.2 million last

year—is remarkable for several reasons.

First, the increase has taken place despite

hefty hotel price hikes brought about by

the avalanche of North American tourists.

Second, the hotels where Cuban tourists

are staying are destined for international

tourists, so they are paying the same prices

as visitors from abroad, and competing for

available rooms.

Much of the costs for these hotel

visits are paid by Cuban-Americans visiting

relatives. It is currently estimated that

about 45 percent of Cuban-Americans

who travel to the island stay in a hotel

with their relatives on the island for two

or three days.

Perhaps more importantly, the growth

of Cuba’s private sector employment has

also increased the purchasing power of

hundreds of thousands of Cubans, reflecting

just how much the new Cuban middle

class has grown in recent years. H

Source: Havana Consulting Group based on statistic published by the Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas e

Figure 2. Domestic Información tourists who (ONEI). stayed in hotel chains, 2016

Figure 2. Number of national tourists who stayed in hotel chains, 2016

Source: Havana Consulting Source: Havana Group Consulting based statistic Group based published on statistic by the published Oficina Nacional by the de Estadísticas e

Source: Havana Consulting Oficina Group Nacional based de Información on Estadísticas statistic published (ONEI). e Información by the Oficina (ONEI). Nacional de Estadísticas e

Información (ONEI).

Figure 3. Average nightly room rate in Cuba hotel chains, 2016

Figure 3. Average annual price per room per night in Cuba hotels chains. 2016

Figure 3. Average annual price per room per night in Cuba hotels chains. 2016

“The Havana Consulting Group Business Report is the most in-depth business

and legal analysis for planning market entry into Cuba I have ever seen. The research

is detailed, analytical and directional, with interesting background and

future projections data.”

Tim Grainey, Founder

Strategic Research Initiative LLC, Queen Creek, AZ

“…THCG BUSINESS REPORT, is a full information report on

Cuba. Frank, clear, and independent analysis and opinions

based on the most recent information available. Anyone investing

in Cuba must read it. Knowledge is the key. ”

Hugo Cuevas-Mohr

President and CEO of Mohr World Consulting


Remittances, Tourism, Real estate, Energy, Telecommunications, Retail market, Transportation, Automotive, Manufacturing, Cell phone market, Agriculture,

Sugar industry, Infrastructure, Cruises market, Brands, Legal, Chicken meat market, Private sector, Biotechnology, Nickel, Payment networks,

Care & hygiene products industry, Shoes production, Tobacco, Accommodation, Housing, Logistic, Income population in USD and other topics.

To place your order please contact Monica Raucci at 786-206-8254. Ext 410 or email

Economist Emilio Morales is CEO of the Miami-based

Havana Consulting Group


Source: Havana Consulting Group

Source: Havana Consulting Group

Copyright © 2016 - 2017 All Rights Reserved. THCG & Tech LLC.

Annual subscription $5,000 USD. 6 issues per year.

Buy a 2 year subscription to receive a 50% discount.

Includes 84 Market Research.


Photo by Jon Braeley


Like many advanced nations, Cuba is suffering a decline

in birthrates due to women waiting until later in life. According

to the CIA’s World Factbook, Cuba ranks 183

out of 226 nations in terms of births per 1,000 inhabitants—putting

it on par with countries like Switzerland,

Russia, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands. Concerned

with projections that 30 percent of the Cuban

population will be 60 and over by 2030—up from 19.6

percent in 2016—Cuba's Ministry of Labor and Social

Security now grants maternity leave six weeks before

and 12 weeks after birth. Parents or grandparents who

are state workers and who become the primary caregiver

can receive 60 percent of their salary for the first year

of the baby’s life. And, for couples in their late 30s who

are having difficulty conceiving, the state now operates

four regional fertility clinics where in vitro fertilization

is offered free of charge.

Strategic Planning / Public Affairs Consulting


Baseball has long been a national passion for Cuba, but that passion

has been off limits for the visually impaired. Now a program that

was originally developed in Italy in the 1990s has spread across the

island, according to a report by Reuters. The system works by using

a baseball that has bells inside, so fielders can hear the ball when

it lands. First base has a beeper, while teammates clap paddles at


“When it comes to the ratio of modified to stock cars, and

the sheer resourcefulness and ingenuity of car owners and

their mechanics, the number one place in the world for

modified cars is Cuba.” So begins the narration for the

half-hour documentary The Cars of Cuba, filmed by Australia's

popular “Mighty Car Mods” program and available

on YouTube. “Cuba’s car culture is a fascinating blend of

crazy 1950s American excess and 1970s Soviet utilitarianism,

colored by the locals' ‘can-do’ attitude to keep their

aging cars on the road,” says the program. Calling them the

“most resourceful modifiers of cars on the planet,” the documentary

shows how Cuban mechanics refit their old cars

with Kia and Hyundai diesel engines, Toyota truck engines,

tractor engines, or even converted stationary pump

engines, as they proudly pass their heirlooms down to the

next generation.


the other bases to orient runners. Players wear colorful blindfolds

when playing; sighted people can join in if they also wear one. For

obvious reasons, there is no pitcher. Batters toss the ball in the air

and hit it, and fly balls are not permitted. Cuban coaches and players

are now hoping that blind baseball will be included in the 2020

Paralympics—so they can bring the medals home.

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The Winners

and Losers of

Trump's Cuba


By Nick Swyter

Following a June 16 speech in Miami

that blasted Cuba for its human

rights violations, President Donald

Trump signed a policy directive to tighten

restrictions on traveling to the island and

conducting business transactions with

companies tied to the military.

The White House says the policy will

empower the private sector while restricting

the flow of money to the Castro


However, while the speech itself was

a fierce denunciation of Cuba’s government,

the new policy leaves much of the

Obama administration’s Cuba opening

intact. Embassies in both Havana and

Washington will remain open. Commercial

flights and cruises are still in place.

Trump did not reinstate the “wet foot, dry

foot” policy that gave Cubans who arrived

on U.S. soil a pathway to permanent

residency. Cuba is still off of the State

Department's sponsors of terrorism list.

And, more than 20 bilateral agreements

signed in the last two years, including

ones on drug trafficking and oil spill

cleanups, were left untouched.


President Trump

Trump is following through on a promise

he made to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.

Even though the president said he

was “fine” with the Obama administration’s

Cuba opening early in his campaign,

he told a Miami crowd in September

Pen mightier than sword? President Donald Trump signs a policy directive on Cuba in Miami.

2016 he would reverse the policies unless

the Castro government gave political and

religious freedoms to its citizens.

Friday’s announcement is by no means

the full reversal Trump promoted, but it

has the stamp of approval from South

Florida anti-Castro lawmakers Sen. Marco

Rubio and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart.

Trump’s allies appear to know the

timing is not right for a complete reversal

of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. Raúl

Castro is expected to leave the presidency

in February, and even though he will likely

continue to be the most influential figure

in government, next year may be the first

time since 1959 that a veteran of the Revolution

will not officially lead the country.

Trump’s speech also slammed Cuba

for its human rights abuses. Trump now

has the chance to use his tough talk on

Castro to deflect accusations of being soft

on authoritarians such as Russian President

Vladimir Putin, Filipino President

Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish President

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Sen. Rubio and Rep. Díaz-Balart

Rubio and Díaz-Balart were among the

most vocal opponents of the Obama

administration’s Cuba opening, and they

had significant roles in crafting Trump’s

policy. In doing so, they earned roles in the

spotlight and appealed to their loyal base

of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.

The two lawmakers also got an edge

by keeping policy deliberations private.

Advocacy organizations, lawmakers and

business leaders supporting the Obama

administration’s Cuba policy were playing

catch-up by the time news reports of a

Miami announcement were made public.


Hardliners are unlikely to admit it, but

the Trump administration’s policy largely

resembles the Obama approach that emphasized

support for the private sector and

keeping diplomatic channels open.

The Cuba Study Group think tank put

it best: “In statements defending the new

policy, they adopted pro-normalization positions

they once scorned: the importance

of continued diplomatic engagement and

of supporting Cuba’s private sector.”

Photo by Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Travel agencies and cruise lines

The administration wants to make sure

U.S. citizens don’t go to Cuba as tourists

by tightening enforcement on the 12

authorized categories of travel to Cuba.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control says

individual “people-to-people” trips, which

give travelers the ability to set their own

itineraries, will end. The administration

will instead push group “people-to-people”

trips, which typically have a schedule of

activities and a company guide.

Though it might dampen travel demand,

this move plays well for tour companies

and cruise lines, which specialize in

giving travelers arranged activities.

“If you are a cruise line, I think you

are up and running, because cruise lines

definitely fall under the rubric of group

travel,” said Richard Feinberg, author of

Open for Business: Building the New Cuban

Economy. "But we do have to wait to see

what the curtailed regulations look like."

Cigar and rum enthusiasts

For now, there are no changes to rules

allowing U.S. travelers to bring back

Cuban cigars and rum. That move seems

odd, considering those products are largely

controlled by state-run enterprises.



GAESA, Cuba’s massive military-run

business conglomerate, is now in the spotlight

for all the wrong reasons. The Trump

administration’s ban on U.S. business

transactions with military-run organizations

will undoubtedly reduce the flow of

money to GAESA companies.

Perhaps more importantly, an administration

review of GAESA will reveal

more information about the conglomerate,

whose holdings include hotels, retail

chains, banks and remittance services,

construction companies, import and export

companies, tourist bus fleets, marinas,

and more. An extensive report on GAE-

SA could inform the Cuban public of the

military’s participation in their economy.

Cuban entrepreneurs

Even though the Trump administration

insists its policy helps Cuba’s private

sector, the dampened travel demand likely

to result will hurt entrepreneurs. Private

restaurants, accommodations, taxi drivers,

and souvenir shops are already competitive

against their larger state-run counterparts.

A steady stream of individual visitors

helps entrepreneurs more than a U.S. ban

on using the government competition.

“There’s going to be less money to

the state, but there’s also going to be less

money to the private sector,” said Ted

Henken, a Baruch College professor and

author of Entrepreneurial Cuba.

Additionally, by pushing U.S. travelers

Obama Policies

Comparing Trump’s Policy Changes in 14 Categories

Renew diplomatic relations

Reopen US Embassy

Rescinded “wet foot dry foot”

Opened U.S. travel to Cuba

Allowed more leeway for U.S.

companies to invest and operate

Restored regular commercial flights

Authorized cruise ship visits

Remittances from Cuban-Americans

Resumed direct mail service

Allowed some imports to U.S. from

private sector companies

Allowed U.S. citizens to bring back

Cuban rum and cigars

Removed Cuba from list of state

sponsors of terrorism

Bilateral agreements for scientific

research, protection of coastal waters,

and police cooperation

Expanded cultural, athletic, and

educational exchanges

to go on group tours, the administration

may inadvertently funnel visitors to staterun

businesses specializing in handing

tour groups. “When you go on a tour,

those big groups are almost always linked

in business with the Cuban government,”

Henken added.

U.S. travelers

U.S. citizens seeking to visit Cuba under

the “people-to-people” and “education”

categories will need to work harder to

convince authorities they are not tourists.

That convincing may involve keeping

records of itineraries or going on group

travel packages. For many potential travelers,

those tasks will make a trip to Cuba

less attractive.


It’s not clear what impact Trump’s

announcement will have on Starwood,

a Marriott subsidiary that has managed

the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana

since 2016. The lone U.S. hotel in Cuba is

Trump Policies

Will continue

Will stay open

Will not reinstate

Stops individual people-to-people travel

Bars most business with companies

controlled by the Cuban military

Will continue

Will continue

Will continue

Will continue

Not addressed, but wants

to support the private sector

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

Not addressed

owned by Gaviota, a tourism group that

belongs to the military’s GAESA conglomerate.

Starwood also has two other

hotels in Cuba in the pipeline.

“It would be exceedingly disappointing

to see the progress that has been made

in the last two years halted and reversed,”

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson wrote in

an email. White House officials say the

Treasury and Commerce departments will

create regulations to determine Starwood’s

future, but their intent “is not to disrupt

existing transactions that have occurred.”

The Congressional Push

Several weeks before Trump’s announcement,

a bipartisan group of 55 senators

introduced a bill to end the ban on travel

to Cuba. Another bipartisan group of 13

senators introduced a bill to lift export

restrictions. The new policy slows any

momentum those bills had. The best shot

at loosening the embargo may now rest

with bills to lift restrictions on financing

agriculture exports to the island. H





Trump's New

Cuba Policy is

Smaller Than


By Arturo Lopez Levy


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and infrastructure development projects in Latin America?

“Those days are over. Now we hold the

cards,” U.S. President Donald Trump

proclaimed to the approval of a crowd of

hardline Cuban exiles Friday in Miami as

he signed a new directive aimed at rolling

back Obama-era Cuba policies. And yet,

there appears to be little bite in his bark.

There are really just three changes:

1) There will be more travel restrictions

for U.S. Citizens without family in

Cuba hoping to visit the island outside

of a group people-to-people trip. 2)

Trump returned to a short version of the

Helms-Burton law’s prerequisites for normalization

between Cuba and the United

States. 3) U.S. citizens and companies are

now barred from engaging in financial

transactions with Cuban companies run

by the country’s military.

But the Trump administration has

had to swallow a lot of other Obama-era

achievements because reversing those

advances could harm U.S. national

interests and create tension with its allies,

all of which reject American isolation of

Cuba. The U.S. Embassy in Havana and

the Cuban Embassy in Washington will

remain open. Cuba will not go back on

the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsors

of Terrorism list. A memorandum of

understanding to deepen law enforcement

cooperation and information sharing is

still intact. There will be no rollback of

the precarious wet-foot, dry-foot immigration

policy that gave all Cubans who

reached U.S. soil a pathway to permanent


Trump’s new directive pauses, but

does not end business and travel exchange

opportunities with Cuba. His laundry

list of pre-normalization prerequisites for


the current and future Cuban leaders –

including calling multiparty elections and

releasing political prisoners- is the same

tattered one used by administrations over

the past five decades. It has never proven

successful, and Cuba continues to refuse

it. Perhaps Cuba could release those prisoners

as a show of goodwill. But with the

U.S. embargo in place, calling for multiparty

elections under international scrutiny

in the next six months is putting the

cart before the horse. It would amount to

political suicide for the Cuban Communist

Party. Besides, modern global history

has shown that while multiparty elections

are the end goal of democratic transition,

there are lots of earlier economic and

political advances required to open and

stabilize a nation.

And then there’s the irony of the

travel ban for Americans wishing to

visit to Cuba on their own. Conservative

Cuban-American congressmen like Sen.

Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mario

Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who pushed Trump

to crack down on Obama’s policies, understood

that limiting Cuban-American

travel and remittances to the island could

only bring them trouble. As such, that

ban only pertains to Americans outside of

those politicians’ own jurisdictions.

But not all is lost for those Americans

who weren’t blessed with being

born in Cuba – or to Cuban families.

Cuba, travel agencies, and airlines can

still promote forms of travel that comply

with new regulations. It might take

some creative planning on the part of the

travel industry and interested American

citizens, but the massive influx of American

travelers (540 000 in 2016) to Cuba

suggests the interest is certainly there.

Finally, prohibiting business transactions

with companies owned by Cuba’s

military is more of a gesture to Trump’s

Miami cronies than a game changer for

Cuba’s political structure. The Cuban

armed forces will be a key player in the

transition of power when current President

Raul Castro steps down in 2018,

so attempting to punish them will only

provide a political opportunity for Cuba

to denounce U.S. interference in Cuban

affairs and unify the Castro bases with

the armed forces.

Limiting U.S. travel and business

to Cuba is merely the first in a series of

efforts Cuban-American hardliners will

take to continue squeezing Cuba. With

so much renewed American interest in

Cuban business and travel, as well as a

greater awareness of the ways U.S. policy

inconsistently applies isolationist strategies

in the name of international human

rights and democracy, it’s hard to imagine

they’ll have much success in reversing all

of Obama’s achievements. As new electoral

cycles approach, pro-Cuba engagement

lobbyists in the business, humanitarian,

and diplomacy sectors will need

to work together to encourage a logical,

moral strategy that truly supports greater

prosperity and national security on both

sides of the Straits of Florida.

Dr. Arturo Lopez Levy is an author and

lecturer of Latin American politics at the

University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. He

worked as a political analyst for the Cuban

government from 1992 to 1994.

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) counsel. Over 25 years’ experience

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In a sign of pragmatism, Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget cuts

funds for the USAID democracy program for Cuba

Missing from the Trump administration’s

proposed State Department budget for

fiscal 2018 is funding for the U.S. Agency

for International Development’s controversial

Cuba democracy programs. Cuban

officials have long accused such programs of

attempting to destabilize their government.

Under the Obama administration,

these programs received $20 million in fiscal

2016, with the same amount budgeted

in fiscal 2017, though the State Department

and USAID are still determining

the final allocation of those funds.

The Cuba cuts are part of a proposed

State Department and USAID budget

presented in May that whittles down

overall spending by about 30 percent to

$37.6 billion. In a letter to Congress justi-

By Mimi Whitefield

fying the proposed cuts, Secretary of State

Rex Tillerson said that “U.S. diplomacy

engagement and aid programs must be

more efficient and more effective, and that

advancing our national security, our economic

interests, and our values will remain

our primary mission.”

Asked about the cut in Cuba funds,

a USAID spokesperson said they resulted

from a need to prioritize efforts to “allow

us to advance our most important policy

goals of protecting America and creating

American jobs.”

Despite the proposed cuts in 2018

USAID funding for Cuba (as well as

Ecuador and Venezuela), the programs can

still be restored as the budget makes its way

through Congress. South Florida Republican

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has already

vowed to work toward that. “The White

House is obligated to provide Congress its

budget request but Congress ultimately has

the power of the purse,” she said.

Calling the lack of funding for

democracy building programs in the three

countries “greatly troubling,” Ros-Lehtinen

pledged to work with fellow lawmakers

“in a bipartisan manner to ensure that we

rectify this problem.”

Funding for “dissident assistance”

programs appears to be intact, however.

A USAID spokesperson said these

humanitarian assistance programs were

fully funded with prior-year allocations.

USAID recently advertised $6 million in

three-year grants to groups that “provide

Continued on page 42

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From Russia.

With Love?

Russia’s rekindled interest in

Cuba raises questions about the

Kremlin's geopolitical ambitions

Your Personal Concierge

Service in Cuba

By Nick Swyter

Photo by Matias J. Ocner

Golden Dome: A Russian state enterprise is accepting bids to restore the dome on Havana's Capitolio

Russia threw a lifeline to Cuba on May

10 by sending an oil tanker with nearly

250,000 barrels of refined products to

the island. The move was vital to offset

slashed oil deliveries from Venezuela,

which have forced Cuba to ration electricity

and fuel.

The May delivery is expected to be

the first of many from Russia. Rosneft,

a Russian state-owned oil company, announced

May 3 that it will deliver 250,000

tons of oil and diesel to Cuba as part of a

contract with state enterprise Cubametals.

Little is known about the terms of the

contract, but some experts estimate it to

be worth $100 million.

The heavily sanctioned Russian

economy, which contracted by 0.6 percent

in 2016, is in no shape to offer Cuba

energy deals that are as favorable as the

oil deliveries from Venezuela. Russia also

appears to be skeptical of Cuba’s ability to

fund continued oil deliveries. “If financial

resources are found, the companies will

deliver. It’s not charity,” Russian Energy

Minister Alexander Novak told the staterun

TASS news agency.

The shipments are, however, just one

of several indicators that Russia is keen on

expanding ties with its Cold War ally.

State-owned Russian Railroads announced

it may sign a $2 billion contract

to upgrade more than 1,000 kilometers of

Cuban rail tracks by the end of the year.

A Russian state-owned enterprise is also

accepting bids to restore the gold dome of

Havana’s El Capitolio—a project that will

take at most $354,000 out of Russia’s federal

budget. But perhaps most importantly,

Russia agreed in 2014 to waive a whopping

90 percent of Cuba’s outstanding $32

billion in Soviet-era debt.

Russia’s renewed interest in Cuba has

raised questions, but few answers, about

what exactly the Kremlin hopes to gain

from engaging the cash-strapped island.

“I think Russia’s overtures, and more

importantly the press coverage, is timed to

coincide with the White House’s anticipated

reversal of the Obama administration’s

rapprochement efforts,” said Brian

Fonseca, director of Florida International

University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for

Public Policy. “Russia’s contemporary engagement

in Latin America appears to be

very opportunistic and it is likely attempting

to capitalize on any adverse sentiment

towards the U.S. in the aftermath of policy

changes toward Cuba.”

On the security front, Russia signed

a deal in December to modernize Cuba’s

defense industry through 2020. Russian

Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov

also spoke to the national parliament last

year about plans to reopen a military base

in Cuba that Moscow closed in 2002.

While Russia’s exact motivations for

expanding ties with the Cuban military

are unclear, it has led to concerns in


In April, two dozen retired U.S.

military officials sent a letter to the

White House urging it to continue the

Obama administration’s Cuba opening

for national security reasons. “The Cold

War might not be back,” part of the letter

said, “but Cuba has returned as a national

security battleground as Russia and China

increasingly engage with Havana and seek

influence on an island less than 100 miles

from the U.S. mainland.” H

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Cracking the

Coral Code

Researchers think coral from Cuba might help

reefs in the Florida Keys survive climate change


Key West



By Nick Swyter




Photo by Nick Swyter

Undersea Solution: Marine biologist Andrew Baker inspects coral at the University of Miami

Marine biologists from Miami will travel

to Cuba this summer to learn whether

corals from the island can help the Florida

Keys adapt to warmer waters brought by

climate change.

As part of an investigation of corals

around the Caribbean, Andrew Baker

of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel

School of Marine and Atmospheric

Science will join a research expedition to

collect and research samples in western

Cuba’s Guanahacabibes region. Their

research is important because some Cuban

waters are about 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees

Fahrenheit) warmer than the Keys.

“Corals in Florida are going to need

to be able to adapt or acclimatize by about

this amount over the course of this century,”

Baker said. “So corals from Cuba may

be able to help Florida’s corals achieve


Cuba’s corals have the added advantage

of genetic similarity to those in the

Keys. Baker wants to use DNA samples

from the Guanahacabibes corals to

investigate genetic links and see if they

are sending their larvae downstream to

the Keys. Showing a connection between

the two systems would reduce the risk of

introducing other non-native organisms

into the Keys’ coastal ecosystem. “The goal

is to accelerate the pace at which Cuba’s

corals might help Florida’s reefs respond

to climate change. To do this, it’s best to

use our next door neighbors, not different

coral species from faraway locations like

the Red Sea or Australia,” Baker said.

Once scientists learn how resistant

Cuban corals are to the effects of climate

change, it might then be possible to investigate

the risks and benefits of cross-breed-

Researchers at the University of Miami

prepare coral for testing

Photo by Nick Swyter

ing Cuban and Floridian corals, and assess

whether introducing these corals to the

Keys might help its reefs survive. “There is

a need to accelerate the natural connectivity

between these ecosystems, because they

are fast running out of time as the oceans

continue to warm,” Baker said.

Adding to the sense of urgency,

last year Baker’s UM colleagues found

that ocean acidification will likely accelerate

the predicted deterioration of the

Keys’ reefs. That’s bad news for the local

economy, because UM estimates the

region’s reefs generate $7.6 billion annually

from the tourism and seafood industries.

Depleted coral also makes Florida more

vulnerable to hurricanes, since reefs protect

some coastlines from storm surges.

While normalized U.S.-Cuba

relations have helped advance scientific

exchanges, Baker admits his Cuban

expedition has not been easy to arrange.

Original plans were set for last December,

but were pushed back to summer. “It takes

time to build relationships that will last,

and governments don’t always work as fast

as individuals do,” he said.

There is a need [for] connectivity between these

ecosystems, because they are running out of time

Andrew Baker, UM's Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Beyond earning U.S. and Cuban

government approval, conducting research

on the island is itself challenging.

Fernando Bretos, a Cuban-American

marine biologist who will join Baker on

the expedition, has conducted research

in Cuba since 1999. He says he still faces

challenges in communications, funding,

transportation, and the scarcity of

high-quality research vessels. “That’s the

hardest part,” said Bretos. “There just aren’t

that many boats you can use.”

The upside of doing research on the

island is collaboration with the Cuban scientific

community, which Bretos says is resourceful,

diligent, and can follow through

on projects American scientists help devise.

“We can go in and plan projects, and the

Cubans can do a lot of that science at a

very high-quality level,” Bretos said.

Both scientists are optimistic about

the future of these scientific exchanges,

with Cuba. Baker says American scientists

benefit from the experience of

their Cuban counterparts and the ability

to study Cuba’s relatively healthy reefs.

Cuban scientists, in exchange, learn how

to use new tools such as modeling and

genomics to better understand how their

reefs are connected.

To really advance bilateral marine

biology research, says Baker, some Cuban

marine biology students should earn their

PhDs at UM. That would allow Cubans

to learn new methods and technologies.

“That way they can take the lead

in applying them to understanding and

protecting their reefs, and be vested in

the management of these valuable marine

resources,” he says. H





Having Trouble Finding

a Hotel In Havana?

Bring your own


One of the added expenses for U.S. commercial

airlines serving Cuba is the necessity of bringing

a mechanic onboard

By Nick Swyter

Photo by Jon Braeley

Why Not See It Like a Native?

Our apartments are in the Old Plaza (La Plaza

Vieja) in the heart of Old Havana. Here, visitors can

discover and get to know Cuba by walking the

streets of its centuries-old capital—and feeling at

home being taken care of by a friendly Cuban host.

Among the many hurdles U.S. commercial

airlines must navigate to serve Cuba,

their planes must fly with maintenance

technicians certified by the Federal Aviation

Administration (FAA) on board.

The airlines can’t use Cuban technicians,

because Cuba doesn’t have any with the

proper certifications.

“Currently, Cuba does not have any

FAA-certified maintenance technicians,”

wrote Southwest Airlines spokesperson

Casey Dunn. “It is common practice for

U.S.-based airlines to have an FAA-certified

aircraft maintenance technician on

board most flights to Cuba. This gives the

airline the ability to quickly address any

mechanical issues should they occur while

in Cuba.”

The island’s lack of FAA-certified

mechanics appears to be unique for the

Americas. Dunn says among all the

destinations where Southwest flies in the

Caribbean and South America, Cuba is

the only country without them.

Airlines were reassured they could

fly with technicians on board without


Safe Landings: An American Airlines flight touches down at the Holguín airport in eastern Cuba

violating the U.S. embargo, thanks to an

October 2016 Obama administration decision.

At the time, the Treasury Department’s

Office of Foreign Assets Control

wrote it would allow “persons subject to

U.S. jurisdiction to provide civil aviation

safety-related services to Cuba and Cuban

nationals aimed at promoting safety in

civil aviation and the safe operation of

commercial aircraft.”

Currently, Cuba does not

have any FAA-certified

maintenance technicians

Casey Dunn, Southwest Airlines

U.S. commercial airlines will likely be

keeping technicians on their flights for a

while; the FAA doesn’t appear to be interested

in certifying a repair station in Cuba.

The only other way around that is for both

countries to sign a bilateral aviation safety

accord, said Christian Klein, an attorney

with law firm Obadal Filler MacLeod &

Klein, and executive vice-president of the

Aeronautical Repair Station Association.

Even though onboard technicians

make flights safer, the practice has a few

downsides. Technicians take seats away

from potential customers, they get paid

even when not working—and some tasks

require transporting two maintenance

workers. “The aviation maintenance industry

is hurting for workers, so it presents its

own challenges,” Klein said.

Despite Cuba’s strategic location in the

Caribbean, there also doesn’t appear to be

any push from the U.S. maintenance, repair

and operations (MRO) industry to provide

services there for now. One reason? Most

U.S. MRO service providers don’t work on

Russian planes, notes Jim Sokol, president

of MRO service provider HAECO Americas—and

Cuba’s state-owned Cubana de

Aviación operates an all-Russian fleet.

“As things start to open up,” Sokol

said, “we want to be a part of solutions.”

For now, that means keeping U.S. airlines

safe and sound. H

• Accommodations for two, four or six people.

• Reasonable rates. Breakfast included.

Contact Maylu Hernandez at for availability and rates.



(number of visitors in thousands)

And the Survey Says…

US Citizens

Cuban Americans






Different polls—and different

headlines—suggest that

interest in Cuba as a tourism

destination is waning.

Far from it, says the Boston

Consulting Group



2,839 2,853



By J.P. Faber







1,243 1,285 1,281












161 391 1,300






2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

Source: Boston Consulting Group

What, exactly, do Americans think

about traveling to Cuba? That question is

suddenly in the forefront, with the Trump

administration's changes to U.S. policies

making it harder to travel to the island by

U.S. citizens.

The answer, it turns out, depends on

which poll numbers you trust—and how

those number are spun by the media.

When U.S. commercial airlines began

reducing their scheduled flights to Cuba

in March and April, the press had a field

day with reports of a travel ‘bust.’ One

survey by Allianz Global Assistance in

May reported that 60 percent of Americans

“would not like to travel to Cuba,”

two points more than the previous year.

Demand for visiting Cuba had obviously

been greatly exaggerated, many news

outlets reported.

Not quite, says the Boston Consulting

Group. According to a survey also

released in May by the prestigious research

organization, reports of the demise of

U.S. demand for travel to Cuba have been


greatly exaggerated.

“As we looked into the data the

idea of a ‘bust’ did not make sense,” said

Marguerite Fitzgerald, author of the BCG

study entitled Taking the Long View on

Cuba’s Tourism Opportunity. “Our research

confirms that there is strong and growing

interest among U.S. travelers. We project

compound annual growth rates of 20 percent

to 50 percent in the number of U.S.

visitors to Cuba through 2020.”

Eight years from now, according to

the study, the number of U.S. tourists to

the island could crest 2 million, representing

“a huge growth opportunity” for U.S.

hospitality firms.

A big reason for the perception that

interest in visiting Cuba has declined was

the roller coaster ride of U.S. commercial

flights to the island—an initial burst of

routes followed by a cut back. Rather than

a response to waning interest, that was

simply a matter of oversupply, Fitzgerald

told Cuba Trade. U.S. airlines initially

scheduled approximately 2 million annual

seats for roundtrip flights to Cuba. Since

then they have adjusted the supply to meet

the demand, at approximately one million

annual seats.

The other problem with the polls is

how they are conducted, and how they are

spun by the press. The BCG study, for example,

took the pulse of 500 U.S. ‘regular

vacationers,’ defined as people who take

vacations at least once every two years.

The Allianz Global study took the pulse of

1,514 people from the general population.

As far as spin goes, Fitzgerald says the

BCG study was “surprised that it was that

many” when 30 percent of travelers said

they were “definitely or probably” considering

a Cuba trip in the next five years.

Meanwhile, Daniel Durazo, director

of communications at Allianz Global

Assistance USA, said in a press release

that, “Our survey found that merely two

percent of Americans think they will go to

Cuba in the next six months.”

Merely? That would be 6.4 million

American tourists.H


A Network of Cuban


NinjaCuba is the latest app in the

country’s burgeoning private software


Story and photo by Victoria Mckenzie

Departures from Miami, Tampa and Key West.

Operated by

Programming on the Fly: Victor Moratón and Fabian Ruíz Estevéz in the La Timba neighborhood, Havana

It’s a hot afternoon as we climb the

steps of a walkup in Havana's La Timba

neighborhood, where Victor Moratón

runs NinjaCuba from the living room of

an apartment he shares with his mother

and grandmother.

The two women ply us with smiles,

cool drinks and strong coffee as Cuba

Trade sits down to listen to a NinjaCuba

strategy meeting. A minute later, partner

Fabián Ruíz Estevez appears in the doorway,

laptop in hand.

“We are just trying, in our modest

way, to use our knowledge to benefit society,”

says Moratón, a young software developer

and 2015 graduate of the Antonio

Echeverría Higher Politechnic Institute of

Havana (CUJAE).

The NinjaCuba platform is Cuba’s

first app to connect Cuban professionals

with job opportunities and scholarships.

It's aimed especially at skilled entrepreneurs

leaving school who have been

groomed for high-tech positions that don’t

always exist in the state sector. Usually, its

founders explain, computer science and

engineering graduates end up working in

other fields to support themselves.

“On the one hand, there are not

enough employment opportunities that

match the qualifications of our university

graduates, and on the other hand the salaries

they earn are very low,” says Moratón.

“So, professionals prefer to do contract

work as freelancers, or work in other professions

even if it isn’t what they studied,

where they can earn more money.”

NinjaCuba was a winner of 10x10K,

a competition by the Cuba Emprende

Foundation and #Cubanow that brought

a group of 10 startups to the U.S. for twoweek

accelerator programs in March.

“Our visit to Stanford University and

to the technology companies allowed us

to see two things," Moratón said. "First,

that we’ve already been using many of the

same methods of work and organization

used in Silicon Valley. And second, that

the quality of Cuban professionals is on

par with any professional around the

world—and we know it, because there are

many Cubans working at companies like

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Uber.”

Ruíz Estevez, a 2010 graduate of

Havana's Instituto Superior de Diseño

(Advanced Institute for Design), says his

job was to make the site clean, functional,

and user-friendly, so that the platform

meets global industry standards but

remains pragmatic for Cuba’s internet


“We take into account the particularities

of our country—a slow connection,

low connectivity, inconvenient internet

access sites—in order to offer a service

that is truly useful for the Cuban public,”

he says. For now, the pair still must go to a

public wifi hotspot to connect to the internet

at $1.50 CUC per hour.

Limitations notwithstanding, the demand

for their service is apparent. Nearly

400 Cuban freelancers have already

joined NinjaCuba and created professional

profiles, while 66 employers have

begun posting jobs. The service is free

for jobseekers and currently provides free

information about employment opportunities,

scholarships, and courses. To make

it sustainable, Moratón and Ruiz Estevez

plan to offer paid services to companies

and employers. H

Phone: 305-615-4151



Feeding the

Cruise Lines

With U.S. cruise lines expanding their itineraries

to Cuba, the need for re-supply presents

opportunities for land-based companies

By Doreen Hemlock

Photo by Matias J. Ocner

Putting Stock in the Future: John Paul Brigneti in the Miami warehouse of Savino del Bene

It’s not just U.S. cruise lines eyeing Cuba

these days. U.S cruise suppliers also want

in, and an Italian logistics company is

opening that market, thanks to a new U.S.

license—a cruise industry first.

In late February, Savino del Bene, a century-old

company from Florence that has

become a global competitor with roughly

$1 billion in annual revenues, completed its

first trial run to deliver U.S. food products

directly to a cruise ship in Cuba. The food

traveled by container from Florida’s Port

Everglades to Cuba’s Mariel seaport and

was then transported to the ship in Havana—all

within days, an executive said.

“We’re expecting, hopefully, at least

six containers a week” of fruit, vegetables,

cheese, and other U.S. perishables sent from

the U.S. to supply an initial two cruises

in Cuba, said John Paul Brigneti, Savino

del Bene’s Miami-based vice-president

of global logistics for cruise and marine

solutions. Those cruise ships now purchase

their supplies from Mexico, Brazil and other

nations outside the United States.

Brigneti worked for more than two

years to make the trial run happen. A

veteran of the cruise industry, he joined

Savino del Bene in 2013 to develop its

cruise supply business and quickly saw

opportunity in Cuba, the Caribbean’s

largest island.

From Europe, Savino del Bene

already had been arranging deliveries of

food, medicine, and other goods to Cuba

for its customers since 2009—“a couple

thousand containers a year,” he estimated.

So, he sought to build on the company’s

existing relationships in Cuba to start new

U.S. operations.

The problem, of course, was Washington’s

half-century-old embargo on

trade with the island. While an exemption

allowed U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba,

no U.S. cruises to Cuba were authorized

back then.

In 2015, as U.S-Cuba relations

thawed, Brigneti visited Cuba to check

out the market. He saw plans posted to

develop the Havana waterfront for cruises,

and soon began talks with Cuba’s government

for a license to supply U.S. products

to cruises on the island.

That permission came within months,

and approval by the U.S. Commerce

Department’s Bureau of Industry and

Security followed in June 2016—a first

for a U.S. outfit to supply cruises in Cuba.

That license remains valid under Trump's

new Cuba policy.

Now, Brigneti is working out pricing

and other details to make sure the deliveries

make financial sense for cruises based in

Cuba. Ships that leave from U.S. ports generally

stock up in the U.S. and would provision

in Cuba only for emergency needs, he said.

If all goes as planned, an extra

half-dozen containers a week would be

a notable bump in U.S.-Cuba container

trade. Savino del Bene is working with

Florida-based shipping line Crowley

Maritime Corp., which now sends 40 to

45 containers most weeks from Port Everglades

to Mariel on the busiest scheduled

U.S.-Cuba route, confirmed Jay Brickman,

the Crowley vice-president handling Cuba.

Brigneti sees supplying cruises as

a foot in the Cuba door for Savino del

Bene’s Miami unit, which now employs 25

people and operates a 60,000-square-foot

warehouse that offers foreign trade zone

status. He hopes Savino del Bene’s other

U.S. units can build on his relations in

Cuba to start new ones later. H



A Cuban Franchise...

In the Other Direction

From self-employed in Cuba to

franchisor in the United States,

Riudi Pérez has a brand to push

By Emilio Morales

Photos by Matias J. Ocner

Making the Cut: Riudisver Pérez with the tools of his trade

The Franchise Model: Pérez styles hair at a Ruidi Peluqueros salon near Miami International Airport

Cuba’s private sector got one of its

biggest boosts in 2010, when the government’s

reform process expanded the categories

of licenses for private employment

and made them dramatically easier to

obtain. In one year, the number of licenses

authorizing cuentapropistas—the Cuban

term meaning ‘self-employed’—jumped

from 150,000 to 392,000. Today there are

well over a half million.

One area that boomed was beauty

salons, rising from 11,125 licenses for specialties

related to aesthetic salon services

in 2010 to 17,837 by the end of 2015. Not

only are more individuals pursuing the

trade privately; the legalization of the previously

prohibited practices of advertising

and hiring employees has spawned over

100 beauty salon brands since 2010, with

entrepreneurs creating new shops with

novel designs and increasingly specialized


One of these brands, Riudi Peluqueros,

has now made the jump from Cuba

to the United States, where it’s expanding

as a franchise—something it can’t

do at home under existing regulations

that make it hard to concentrate private

wealth. In addition to its Havana flagship

outlet, Riudi Peluqueros is now in Las

Vegas and Miami, with plans to expand



As a teenager, Riudisver Pérez knew the

art of cutting hair. In Guaos, a small town

just east of Cienfuegos, his uncle showed

him how to use a comb and scissors, practicing

on the heads of cousins and friends.

He got additional tips from a local barber,

his hairdresser aunt, and a hair stylist in

his village. “The first techniques I learned

by observing,” he said.

From there, Pérez—popularly known

as Riudi—began visiting Havana, where

he had a sister who was married to a

hairdresser. Eventually, he stayed on and

took training courses in the capital. There,

in 2006, he got a contract as a hairdresser

on an Italian cruise ship. “Working on the

cruise ship changed my life,” said Pérez.

“From then on, my destiny changed.”

He spent two years at sea, traveling

first to the Mediterranean and then along

South America’s east coast, seeing Brazil,

Uruguay and Argentina. “I was exposed

to different cultures, I learned about the

world, how a beauty salon works, the

meaning of competition,” said Pérez. “It

was like being reborn, as if I had been

blind and suddenly was able to see.”

He added: “It was a great school for

my future project. I learned something

more than good haircutting techniques:

how to operate a beauty salon, how to

handle sales, marketing, how to deal with

clients, how to manage a workforce. I also

learned how to create attractive glamour

and how to make money.”


When he returned to Havana in 2008,

Pérez opened his first salon, cutting hair

in a room of his sister’s apartment in Old

Havana, furnished with two used office

chairs and an old shampoo bowl. He

hired an assistant who helped him with

the business end of the salon. Today, that

assistant is his wife and partner.

At the time, almost everything was

clandestine. Although Pérez had a license

to offer his services, he couldn’t advertise—not

even hang a sign outside. It was

all word of mouth. Not until Raúl Castro’s

reforms of 2010 was Pérez able to expand

by hiring employees and making use of

advertising. The new laws also permitted

Cuban citizens to own private property.

By 2012, with his small shop running out

of room, Pérez bought a house with part

of his savings and created his first professional


Without knowing it, he had created

a company. The problem now was how to

manage it—how to deal with employees,

organize customer appointments, ensure

product supplies, and train the workforce

on new techniques matching the style of

Riudi Peluqueros, the brand name he gave

his business.

Pérez soon hired an accountant and

a manager to run the salon so it could

operate without his presence. This allowed

him to open a second location in Vedado,

one of Havana’s most prestigious areas.

Under Cuban law, an individual may run

only one company at a time, so the second

location was put in his wife’s name. Today

the Vedado location has eight hairdressers,

two masseuses, two assistants, and one

person in charge of maintenance.

With two salons in Havana, one

day Pérez asked his wife, ‘Why don’t we

open a salon in the United States?’ That

became his next objective, leading him to

enroll in a course offered by Cuba Emprende,

a nonprofit service administered

by the Catholic Church to teach Cuban

entrepreneurs how to open and run a



Despite his spectacular success in Cuba,

starting from scratch in a different country

was a new challenge that required a process

of assimilation. In 2014, Pérez began

working at a hair salon in the Miami

suburb of Coral Gables, and after learning

the ropes, he opened a shop just west of

Miami International Airport.

Within six months, Pérez doubled his

staff from four to eight hairdressers, adding

an accountant and manager. Learning

from his word-of-mouth success in Cuba,

Pérez used social media platforms like

Facebook to spread the word, and was

soon attracting customers from as far away

as Orlando and Las Vegas. That led Riudi

Peluqueros to open an outlet in Vegas

that’s already doubling in size.

With both the Miami and Vegas

locations doing so well, Pérez has

transformed his salons into an integrated

franchise system. An expanded online

platform has standardized offerings

and prices, and Pérez is now developing

a training and certifying course for

hairdressers, manicurists, masseuses, and

salon managers. The next steps are to

open three to five more salons in Miami

and then search for investors to expand

to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“The secret is passion, believing in

what you do, persevering, not giving in to

difficulties, offering good service, inviting

the client to become part of the family,”

Pérez said proudly. “These are the values ​

I have always believed in and bet on. The

result comes on its own.” H







The recent SAHIC conference was a who’s who of U.S. hoteliers

looking for opportunities in Cuba. Will business follow?

By Doreen Hemlock

Photos by Antonio Osa Ramirez/


Photos by Antonio Osa Ramirez/SAHIC Cuba

Leaders of the Pack: SAHIC

founder Arturo Garcia Rosa

(left) with David Scowsill (right),

president and CEO of the World

Travel & Tourism Council

Just two years ago, it would have been

unthinkable: a world-class hotel investment

conference in Havana attended by top U.S.

chains including Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham

and Hyatt; leading hospitality consultants

including EY and JLL; and major U.S.

law firms including Greenberg Traurig.

But with thawing U.S.-Cuba relations,

Four Points by Sheraton already

managing one hotel in Havana, and Cuba

more aggressively seeking foreign partners,

U.S. hospitality brass turned out in

hefty numbers mid-May at the first Cuba

edition of the respected Latin American

Hotels and Tourism Investment Conferences,

entitled SAHIC Cuba 2017.

Cuba’s government went all out to

impress the 200-plus attendees at the twoday

event, even featuring legendary singer

Omara Portuondo of Buena Vista Social

Club fame at a reception at the Hotel

Nacional. Officials offered detailed presentations

for investors, with specifics on

projects seeking overseas partners mainly

though management contracts or joint

Future Prospects: Cuban tourism officials on a conference panel at SAHIC Cuba 2017

And sooner rather than the later, the embargo will be lifted, unleashing

U.S. tourism to world heritage sites and pristine beaches

ventures. Many Cubans were frank about

problems, including the need to speed up

approvals, improve airport service, and add

cruise capacity.

SAHIC founder Arturo Garcia

Rosa said he organized the conference

convinced that Cuba will emerge as the

second largest travel destination in Latin

America after Mexico. He sees Cuba hosting

some 12 million international visitors

by the 2030s, both at hotels and on cruises,

up from four million last year. “And

sooner rather than the later, the embargo

will be lifted,” unleashing U.S. tourism to

world heritage sites and pristine beaches,

said Garcia Rosa.

Executives from various U.S. hotel

chains told Cuba Trade they were attending

the conference to learn more about

Arturo Garcia Rosa, SAHIC founder

Cuba opportunities, meet Cuban officials

and foreign hoteliers on the island, and as

Wyndham’s regional vice president Luis

Mirabelli put it, “understand all the complexities

here.” But with the U.S. embargo

still restricting U.S. tourism to Cuba, and

new U.S. rules prohibiting deals with

hotels owned by the military, “the opportunities

are much more limited” for U.S.

business short term, said David J. Tarr,

Hyatt’s senior vice president for real estate

and development.

Yet Wyndham’s Mirabelli, at least,

is preparing for a more open future now.

“We’re looking into working through third

parties—clients or partners elsewhere who

are not banned from business in Cuba—

and that could be a way to enter,” said the

Argentina-based executive.




Wyndham also hopes to sit down

with Cuban state officials to begin talks

on concrete projects, an option still permitted

under U.S. law prior to making

any deals, said Mirabelli.

Cuba already works with foreign

partners in tourism through more than

two dozen joint ventures and more than

80 management contracts. Among the

busiest foreign hotel partners: Spain’s

Melia and Iberostar chains, both active

on the island since the 1990s, and Canada’s

Sunwing, a vertically-integrated

travel company that launched its Blue

Diamond hotel division in 2011.

Executives from these three chains

spoke on conference panels, advising

counterparts to accept Cuba on its own

terms, adapt, and stay on top of local

operations. “As Cubans say, tocar las cosas

con la mano—touch things with your

hand,” said Iberostar’s Cuba country

manager Mateo Caldentey Llull. While

a hotel’s general manager can be an

expatriate, it’s best to keep a Cuban as

deputy manager and work hand-in-hand:

“The GM knows where we want to go,

but the deputy knows how to get there.

Without that teamwork, you can’t succeed,”

said Melia’s Cuba deputy director

Francisco Camps Orfila.

Havana preservationist: Eusebio Leal Spengler

Cuban officials announced new

hospitality options open to foreign

partners, including marina management,

group management of multiple smaller

properties, and infrastructure investment

in projects such as water treatment

plants. State companies are also keen on

proposed golf hotel/vacation home complexes,

some to cost billions of dollars.

But even as Cuba tourism booms,

some U.S. hospitality consultants worry

about too many one-time visitors,

complaints about service quality, and

even terms for doing business in the

communist nation. “The success Cuba

has had so far is indisputable,” said Clay

B. Dickinson, JLL Hotels & Hospitality

Group’s managing director for Latin

America and the Caribbean. “But it’s

still not a place where it’s really clear

what the rules are.”

For Mark Lunt, a principal in EY’s

real estate/hospitality group, woes about

airport and transport services weigh

heavily. “In other countries, there’s more

transparency about how to get a deal

done,” Lunt told Cuba Trade.

The conference also offered an inspiring

example in Eusebio Leal Spengler,

the long-time preservationist who

led the restoration of Havana’s colonial

district and helped make Habana Vieja a

major tourism lure.

The 74-year-old recalled how people

had dismissed him as crazy for aiming to

return Old Havana to glory as a lived-in

city with schools, theaters and homes,

with tourism as its economic base. “The

important thing is to persevere,” Leal

told visiting Americans and others in his

beloved capital city. “Nothing is impossible

here." H

Cuba "Aid" continued from page 22

humanitarian assistance to political

prisoners and their families, and politically

marginalized individuals and groups in

Cuba,” as well as a $754,000 program to

bring young Cubans to the United States

for internships.

Assistance to Cuba is governed by

the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the 1992

Cuban Democracy Act, which among

many other things authorize donations of

food to non-governmental organizations

or individuals as well as other assistance to

promote nonviolent, democratic change in

Cuba. Such USAID programs have long

been a sore spot between Washington and


Among the more controversial US-

AID programs for Cuba in recent years

were a program to create a Twitter-like

network in Cuba called ZunZuneo, a failed

effort to co-opt the Cuban hip-hop scene

in hopes of sparking a youth movement

to oppose the government; and an event

billed as an HIV prevention workshop

that sent young Latin Americans posing as

tourists to Cuba who were hired to scout

for “potential social-change actors.”

The Associated Press first disclosed

these secretive projects in 2014. The goal

of ZunZuneo—Cuban slang for the

sound a hummingbird makes—was first

to create a program for Cubans to speak

freely among themselves and then funnel

political content that could create political

unrest, according to AP. At its height, Zun-

Zuneo, which ended in 2012, had 40,000

Cuban subscribers who had no idea the

network was funded by the United States.

USAID disputed ZunZuneo’s political

nature, insisting its goal was to connect

Cubans so eventually they could engage

on topics of their choice. It said only tech

news, sports scores, and trivia were sent

out on ZunZuneo, but a report by the Office

of Inspector General found some early

messages contained political satire.

ZunZuneo took off just as USAID

subcontractor Alan Gross was arrested in

Havana in December 2009 for distributing

military-grade satellite equipment in

Cuba to link with the internet. Sentenced

to 15 years by a Cuban court that ruled

that Gross intended to undermine the

government, he was released after serving

five years, part of the rapprochement

between the United States and Cuba that

began on Dec. 17, 2014. H




Cuba’s first major luxury hotel opens

its doors. Is it a sign of the times?

By Doreen Hemlock

Roof with a View: Guests attend a

pre-opening reception atop the hotel.

Photos by Antonio Osa Ramirez/SAHIC Cuba

Veteran hotelier Xavier Destribats strolls down the corridor

of the new Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La

Habana, straightening the furniture as he goes. He was

given six months to open Cuba’s first major luxury hotel – far less

than the usual 12- to 18-month time frame.

But you’d hardly know Destribats has been under pressure.

The French Basque exudes calm in his white linen guayabera,

amiably fielding calls and talking with his team. In January, he

left his job heading up 30 hotels in Europe for Kempinski—Europe’s

oldest luxury hotel group—to run the group’s sole Cuban

property and eventually, to develop the Kempinski brand across

the Americas. It’s a huge challenge.

Kempinski came to Cuba through a circuitous route: China.

Cuban state tourism entity Cubanacan had teamed with a

Chinese company in a Shanghai hotel, and the venture wanted

a new hotel manager. The partners called in Kempinski, and the

Shanghai hotel flourished.

Gaviota, a separate Cuban tourism company, heard about

that success, so it contacted Kempinski about managing a 246-

room hotel it planned for a landmark square block in Havana

Vieja that had been home to Cuba’s first European-style shopping

arcade since the early 1900s.

“Gaviota sought us out three years ago,” Destribats told

Cuba Trade. At first, Kempinski said no. Although the Geneva-based

group had pioneered luxury hotels in Russia, China,

and other emerging markets such as Mongolia, Djibouti and

Congo, it had no properties in the Americas and no plans to

launch in the region.

“But when we saw the location, the number of rooms and

the opportunities, we became excited,” said Destribats. The

five-story building was just the kind of site that Kempinski loves

to manage. And Cuba clearly was gaining in tourism—with

potential for a major luxury venue.

As a private company not listed on a stock market and

mainly owned by groups linked with Thailand’s royal family and

Bahrain’s government, Kempinski had no market hurdles to cross.

It soon signed a memorandum of understanding for the deluxe

project, which was off-limits to U.S. hotel companies under terms

of the embargo at that time, said Destribats.

“We like to go to places where others don’t go or can’t go,” he




We’re going to have a good team. The Cubans

are passionate. They smile.

Hotelier Xavier Destribats

Photos by Antonio Osa Ramirez/SAHIC Cuba

said. “It’s in our DNA.”

Yet negotiations proved lengthy. It took some 22 months

to finalize the management agreement signed in late December.

Kempinski insisted on many details to ensure luxury standards. It

recognized that neither customer service nor luxury were hallmarks

of the Cuban Revolution and that staff training would be vital.

Gaviota assigned a mostly young team to Kempinski to learn the

luxury ropes, and the chain is keeping a training manager in Havana

for a year to help staff master its standards, said Destribats.

“Any luxury brand would be pioneering in Cuba,” noted

Scott Berman, principal for the hospitality and leisure group at

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, based in Miami. “However, there is a

desperate need for quality accommodations on the island, where

demand exceeds supply.”

Beyond service, Kempinski had other details requiring attention,

too. While the hotel group arranged for most furniture to be

made in Cuba, it also needed lots of imports—from high-quality

bedding to expensive wines and spirits. Some of those imports

have yet to arrive on the island, said Destribats.

Then, there’s the issue of the internet. Kempinski spent

months working to secure internet in every room, and only received

set-ups through state telecom ETECSA mid spring.

What’s more, Gaviota has been working mainly with tour

operators, not directly with visitors. Tour operators typically

quote rates for packages, including rooms and other services. So,

there’s been a learning curve, for example, to make sure individuals

can be quoted room rates within hours, he said.

Washington’s embargo adds further complications. Kempinski

uses Oracle, Microsoft and other U.S. software for its

management systems globally, but because of the embargo, can’t

use those systems in Cuba. So the company is figuring out how

to use other software and meld it with Kempinski’s.

Like other international hotel chains in Cuba, Kempinski is

also trying to find ways to speed payments for American visitors

at a time when they can’t use most U.S. credit cards on the island.

Such details matter when guests value Kempinski’s high

standards and pay handsomely for them. In Havana, list prices

start at around $400 to $650 per night for a standard room, $700

to $1,500 for a suite, and $3,000 to $5,000 for the presidential

suite, says Alessandro Benedetti, a Kempinksi sales and marketing

manager in Spain who helped with the Cuba launch.

Destribats is working day and night to reach top standards

as soon as possible. He draws inspiration from the history of

the company, begun in Berlin in 1897 by Berthold Kempinski

as a wine store and high-end delicatessen, and known for such

innovations as wine by the glass. He’s seen the group develop to

now span 70 upscale hotels and residences in Europe, the Middle

East, Africa, and Asia.

After a soft opening in May, the Havana hotel formally

opened in early June, complete with restaurants, spa, rooftop pool

and other amenities. Destribats knows the challenge won’t be

what managers call “hardware.” To shine as a true luxury hotel,

the key issue will be human “software:” customer service and care.

“We’re going to have a good team. The Cubans are passionate.

They smile. They’re friendly. They don’t get angry,” Destribats

said with optimism. “I think that’s a good recipe for success.”

Though President Trump signed a policy directive in June

to ban U.S. business transactions with companies linked to the

Cuban military, such as Gaviota, it's not clear whether regulations

will specifically bar U.S. citizens from staying at the hotel. H

Day and Night, In and Out:

The Kempinski is Havana's

first 5-star hotel

Photos courtesy of Kempinski Hotels



Cuba was the top

destination for our rice.

Cuba Trade Magazine




How the Texas capital of energy, transportation,

and medicine is positioning itself as the gateway

for trade and investment with Cuba


Celebrating the Connection: Council member Karla Cisneros, Mayor SylvesterTurner, airport director Mario Diaz, and economic development director Andy Icken

By J.P. Faber

The entourage that left from Bush Intercontinental

Airport last September—an assemblage

of 28 prominent citizens from Houston City

Hall, the Port of Houston, the Houston Airport System,

the Texas Medical Center, and companies such

as Halliburton and Siemens—was not a trade mission

headed to any of Houston’s top trading partners,

countries like Mexico, China, Brazil or Germany.

Instead, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s first overseas

trade mission was bound for Cuba.

“It made a big statement that the mayor’s first trip

abroad was to Cuba,” says Felix Chevalier, a Houston

attorney in that delegation. “Any new market, regardless

of size, presents economic potential for U.S. businesses.

In the case of Cuba, they are looking for more

than $9 billion of foreign direct investments in




Houston: The Port City

Houston attorney Felix Chevalier: Cuba presents economic potential

industries like energy, healthcare, transportation,

hospitality, and telecom. These

are industries where Houston shines.”

Indeed, the potential for trade and

investment between Houston and Cuba

seems almost perfectly aligned. Two of

Cuba’s most pressing needs are Houston's

strong suits: A wealth of expertise and

equipment for energy development, and a

muscular seaport and transportation hub

for agriculture products.

“There are a number of synergies

between Cuba and Houston when it

comes to energy, medicine, education, the

arts—even in sports,” says Mayor Turner.

“When I was there I gave the mayor of

Havana my Astros baseball cap. We had

more conversation about that baseball cap

than anything else.”

That sort of personal diplomacy, a

hallmark of Mayor Turner’s sincere, eyeto-eye

political style, is just what Houston

wanted to bring to Havana, and the point

of the mission: to begin a relationship with

Cuba before the U.S. embargo against the

island ends.

“It takes a while to build relationship.

It’s a step by step process. People have

to get to know you,” says Mayor Turner.

“Houston is an international city and

you can’t be an international city without

playing on an international stage.

And you can’t do that effectively without

building meaningful relationships.” As for

the embargo, says the mayor: “Time will

bring about a change, and those who will

prosper will be those who are prepared for

that moment.”

For Houston, the relationship with

Cuba is what in sports vernacular is called

the long game. Maybe so, says Texas energy

consultant Lee Hunt. But with enormous

potential reserves under Cuba’s land and

coastal waters, he says, “there is a lot of

need in Cuba in their oil fields, for a lot of

energy services… What they understand is

loyalty. If you go help Cuba, even symbolically,

at a time when help is not easy to get,

the reward will be there when the opportunity



Beyond the particular opportunities for

individual firms and even whole industries

in Houston, Cuba fits into the city’s grand

strategy to position itself as the transportation

and shipping hub between Latin

The Port of Houston

Cargo handled annually:

163 million tons

Number of jobs generated:


U.S. rank for export cargo: No. 1

Annual tax revenue local & state:

$5 billion



At some point in time

you have to break the


Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

An Interview with Mayor Turner

Shortly after becoming mayor in January, 2016,

Sylvester Turner decided that Cuba would be his

first international trade mission. Since then he has

been an outspoken advocate of opening up relations

with the Caribbean nation. Here are excerpts

of Cuba Trade’s interview with the mayor.

Q: Why did you decide to lead a trade delegation

to Cuba, which is still under a U.S. embargo?

Once the relationship between Cuba and the

United States is normalized, when the embargo

is lifted, I think it’s beneficial for relationships to

already have been established. Once the embargo

is lifted Houston has to be well positioned to

engage in international trade with Cuba.

Q: What were your impressions of Cuba?

Very positive. In fact, they sang 'Happy Birthday'

to me three or four times, because my birthday

landed right in the middle of the trip. The people

are very warm, very friendly. Certainly it was as if

time stopped in 1960, so there is a great need for

investment in infrastructure… There is no question

that with investment in the infrastructure, it is

one of those places that could become an oasis, a

very beautiful place.

Q: What can Houston hope to get or learn from


Their education system is free. The health care

delivery system is impressive. We took with us

Dr. Bobby Robbins, [former head of the Texas

Medical Center] and we were talking about

establishing some kind of collaboration between

their health care delivery system and the Texas

Medical Center. So, there are some synergies that

can be established in medicine as well as from

an agricultural point of view, where there can be

some mutual benefits as well.

Q: What do you think of US foreign policy and

the embargo?

I think I would say to the current administration

and Congress what I say to the people of Houston—the

only question that I need to be asking

and answering is what is in the best interests

of the people of the city of Houston. And I think

the question is what is in the best interest of the

people of the United States. And if the answer is

that it’s in our best interest for us to get past the

embargo and open up those relations, then the

answer speaks for itself.

Q: What about those people who remain bitter

about what happened during the Cuba revolution,

people who lost relatives or property?

I am not naive. I understand the politics, I understand

the history, and I understand why the embargo

was put in place in 1960. I would have supported

it then. The question is, where are we now? And

what should be our position going forward?

Bear in mind the history that I come from as

an African American. The people in my background,

my ancestors, they were slaves. So do you

need to hate the people who enslaved the generation

before you? Do you blame their children and

their children’s children, for what their grandparents

or great grandparents did? Or do we recognize

the wrong that was done, but also recognize

that there are opportunities for the children, and

their children, to build an even greater society and

establish even more productive relationships? At

some point in time you have to break that curse.

America, the Caribbean, and the United

States. With Cuba’s Port of Mariel ready to

become a major deepwater transshipment

point for the region, an alliance with the

mighty Port of Houston only makes sense.

“Above all we view ourselves as a

trading city,” says Andy Icken, head of

economic development for the City of

Houston and a close aide to the mayor.

“We also have a natural affinity for anything

in the Caribbean, Central, or South

America. We like to think of ourselves as

the gateway to the Americas. If we start

with that as an overall theme, a place that

has been left behind from our gateway is

Cuba, for unique reasons.”

Cuba, he adds, “has significant needs

that are apparent now, and much of the

commodities and other things [needed]

are what Houston is known for, or else

come through our port.”

Today the Port of Houston is the second-busiest

U.S. port in terms of tonnage,

and the nation’s leading port in terms of

foreign-bound tonnage. Originally located

entirely within the city limits, the port’s

facilities have since spread for miles down

the channel that connects it to the Gulf of

Mexico. On its banks are more than 150

companies, with everything from oil refineries

to factories for energy equipment—

another advantage the Port of Houston

has over its competitors vis-à-vis Cuba.

“I think there are opportunities for

[shipping] agricultural produce—grain,

rice, beef, chicken—and of course petrochemicals,

oil, and gas,” says Port of Houston

Commissioner Dean Corgey, another

member of the mayor’s mission. “But there

is also what’s called project cargo, such as

oil and gas equipment, power plants, water

treatment facilities, sewage plants, things

of that nature. There is a lot of manufacturing

out there [along the channel] of

those type of things, and it seems to me

they are going to have to redo everything

down there [in Cuba].”

Corgey says Houston should also be

the leading candidate for U.S.-Cuba trade

tonnage because of its diversity. While

some ports are strong in particular categories—Miami

for container cargo, for example,

or New Orleans for petrochemicals

and bulk agriculture products—Houston,


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The Air Link

The Houston Airport System is a key part of the city’s

transportation network. It could also be a part of

Cuba’s system.

“The international component [of the Houston

Airport System, or HAS] is tremendously

important,” says Mario Diaz, director of aviation for

HAS. “Houston is one of only two cities in the U.S.

that has two international airports inside its city


Just as importantly, especially for Cuba, is

that while Houston is a connecting point to both

Europe and Asia, “we are the international portal

to all Latin America,” says Diaz. “Cuba is a major

developing opportunity in Latin America, so we

believe it is important to develop that relationship

with an air bridge.”

So far, that air link consists of one weekly

flight to Havana by United Airlines—a route that's

doing so well that United has now applied for

daily service between the two cities.

For Diaz, however, the mission to connect

Houston with Cuba has larger implications.

Besides operating its three airports in

Houston, the HAS corporate development system

has now helped construct and operate several

airports in Latin America, including those of San

José, Costa Rica and Barranquilla, Colombia. Diaz

says the most dramatic was the airport in Ecuador’s

capital Quito, which opened in 2013.


Aviation director Mario Diaz: We can help rebuild Cuba's airport system

“It is amazing the impact an airport can have,

not only for a city but a nation,” says Diaz. “Up

until that time [Quito] didn’t have access to Asia or

Europe. Now you can see an Emirates 777 bringing

flowers back to the Middle East.”

Houston would like to do the same for Cuba.

“We would love the opportunity to help the government

of Cuba to develop the José Marti International

Airport in Havana,” says Diaz, who has discussed

the offer with Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S., José

Ramón Cabañas. After energy independence and

internet access, Diaz considers such infrastructure

development to be Cuba’s top priority.

“If the country is going to develop its

manufacturing base, you need the infrastructure

to transfer the raw material, personnel, and products,”

Diaz says. He envisions a complete upgrading

and expansion of José Marti International, from

adding new lighting and navigational systems, to

replacing terminals and creating concentric rings

of cargo facilities and industrial parks. He even

foresees a light rail system linking Jose Marti to

central Havana.

“This is a very general plan that has worked

in many other places around the world,” says Diaz.

“It’s not just what they need. It’s what they want.”

partly as a result of its size, moves virtually

every type of cargo. And that same size

means it can support regular shipping


“If you are going to have good commercial

service you need regular service

you can depend on. It sounds simpler than

it is,” says Corgey. “You have to make sure

you can get down there to deliver that cargo,

guaranteed. That is something Houston

can do. And with that back and forth

on a regular basis, it produces jobs down

there as well as here… We can structure

deals that are mutually beneficial for both



Beyond providing the foundation for its

global trade relationships, the Port of

Houston was a historical game changer

for the city's character. In many ways it

defined Houston’s personality, and the

swagger of its leadership.

“You’ve got to go back to the history

of the city,” says Icken. “Houston, without

any port facilities of its own, depended

on Galveston until the hurricane of 1900.

The hurricane of 1900 devastated Galveston,

basically eliminating it. So the leaders

of Houston decided that it was time for

the city to have its own port.” While

Teddy Roosevelt was busy with the Panama

Canal, Houston cut its own 25-mile

long complex of channels to Galveston

Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It opened

in 1914, three months after the canal.

Both were officially opened by President

Woodrow Wilson.

The port not only allowed the city to

prosper. It gave it a global outlook.

“In some sense, internationalism

has always been a part of Houston,” says

Matthew Shailer, the city’s director of

trade and international relations. “We

developed from the very beginning with

an international port and goods being

shipped through Houston. It was agriculture

in the late 19th century—cotton,

sugar, rice—and later oil and oil equipment.

The international element has

always been there.”

What has arrived later on was a truly

From Houston to DC to Havana…



Cuban Relations Legal Services Government Affairs



Economic development head Andy Icken: We are a trading city

Senior BP counsel Yuliya Marcer: Legal systems need to converge

Partnership CEO Bob Harvey: Houston needs to be global

Texas Medical Center CEO William McKeon: Time to collabrate

cated manufacturing, aerospace firms, and

medical research, the jobs that needed

filling were for engineers, scientists, and

doctors. “These were filled by Asians and

Africans with much higher levels of education

than Anglos,” says Klineberg. Even

the great stream of Latin immigration,

much of it looking for blue-collar jobs

requiring little education, brought with it

an educated elite.

Bob Harvey, president and CEO of

the Greater Houston Partnership, sites a

Brookings Institution report that identifies

19 “knowledge capitals” around the world,

recognized for innovative products and

services, of which Houston is one. “You

are a seeing a migration of talent to these

knowledge centers,” he says. “Cities need

to lose their provincial nature to be more

global, to be more diverse, to have the

personal connections between their city

and cities around the world.”

It is that combination of intellectual

capital and international reach that

international metropolis and population.

“Houston was an international city early

on because of oil and the ship channel.

But it was Anglos here doing the commerce,”

says Richard Klineberg, a professor

at Houston’s Rice University and

founding director of the Kinder Institute

for Urban Research.

For 36 years, Klineberg has researched

Houston’s demographics. His

conclusion: “Houston is now the most

diverse city in America. All of America

will look like Houston looks today in 25


While this is partly the result of

geography, what really created Houston’s

international community was a shift in

the economy, says Klineberg. “No one

planned it, no one expected it,” but in the

wake of the 1982 collapse of the oil boom

“all the growth was propelled by an influx

[of immigrants] from around the world.”

With Houston augmenting energy

production and shipping with sophistimakes

Houston such a potent potential

trade and investment partner with Cuba.

Houston also shares deep historical bonds

with the island.

“The connection between the Gulf

of Mexico and Cuba since colonial times

are very important. Don’t forget that the

Spanish conquest of Mexico was launched

from Cuba, and that Texas used to be part

of Mexico,” says Dr. Luis Duno-Gottberg,

chair of the Department of Spanish,

Portuguese and Latin American Studies

at Rice University. “People think of us as

apart from the Caribbean but the connections

historically are tremendous. Before

Cuba existed as Cuba, and Mexico as

Mexico, this area was connected.”

Today that connection is being tangibly

tightened. Among the few air routes

to Cuba outside of Florida and New

York approved by the U.S. Department of

Transportation is a weekly United Airlines

flight between Houston and Havana. That

route has done so well that United has

Our diversity is our strength, and opening doors

to Cuba is another way to expand what is already

a richly diverse community

applied to expand to daily service.

“That route is performing exactly as

we expected,” says Darrin Hall, United’s

Houston-based director of corporate and

government affairs. “We are pleased with

both the United service out of Houston and

Newark, and in Houston so much as that

we are looking to expand United’s offering.”

Altogether, United offers 91 daily

non-stop flights to 52 destinations in Latin

America and the Caribbean. “Houston

will be an important gateway for service to

Havana, because it will directly connect 20

markets across the central U.S. with just

one stop,” says Hall.

William McKeon, CEO of Texas Medical Center


Like the over-sized ambitions of the Port

of Houston, the Texas Medical Center

began with a big vision—118 acres purchased

in 1945, initially for the construction

of a 1,000-bed Naval hospital. Today

it is home to 54 medical institutions

that include 21 hospitals, eight research

institutions, and four medical schools.

TMC receives more than 3,000 patients

a day and more than eight million a year,

including 18,000 international patients.

TMC staff, including then CEO Dr.

Robert Robbins, visited Cuba with Mayor

Turner, and since then the center's doctors

and researchers have been exploring ways

of collaborating with Cuba’s health system

and biopharmaceutical institutions.

“The medical center has been here

for 70 years and it is now the biggest

medical center in the world,” says William

McKeon, TMC’s new CEO and an

advocate of exploring relations with Cuba.

“We have a highly diverse, educated talent

base. Our diversity is our strength, and

opening doors to Cuba is another way to

expand what is already a richly diverse


The TMC expands by leasing acreage

to new institutions for $1 a year; these

new schools, hospitals, or research labs

become members of the center and

subsequently share in maintenance fees

for things like road maintenance, lighting

and security. “Whereas most cities would

have fragmented hospitals across a major

metropolis, here we have physicians in

oncology, neurology, orthopedics, and so




The Medical Link

Of all the facilities at the Texas Medical Center, few

show more potential of linking with Cuba than Baylor’s

School of Tropical Medicine

The first thing that Dr. Peter Hotez will tell you

about working with Cuba in the field of tropical

medicine is that is has already been done, and

rather famously. When U.S. forces occupied Cuba

after the 1898 Spanish-American War, Army physician

Walter Reed confirmed the work of Cuban Dr.

Carlos Finlay to solve the cause of yellow fever.

“Dr. Finlay had this fantastical idea that

yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes,” says

Dr. Hotez, dean of the Baylor College’s National

School of Tropical Medicine. Reed’s collaboration

with Finlay was so successful it led to the

resumption of work on the Panama Canal, were

previously 10 percent of the laborers died each

year from insect born diseases.

“More than 100 years later we could be

looking at a resumption of [U.S.-Cuban] relations

in tropical medicine,” says Dr. Hotez. “The National

School of Tropical Medicine is unique, the only

one of its kind in North America. One of the few

other places with centers of excellence for this is

in Cuba.”

These include the Kouri Institute of Tropical

Medicine, and the Finlay Vaccine and Serum

Institute, both in Havana.

As Dr. Hotez sees it, the United States and

Cuba share three areas of potential collaboration:


Dr. Peter Hotez: Looking for a resumption of relations in medical research

in clinical tropical medicine; in epidemiological

investigation and surveillance, and in vaccine

development for neglected diseases.

“We currently work with centers all over

Latin America,” says Dr. Hotez, including extensive

programs in Mexico and Honduras. “We would

welcome [Cuba] as a potential partner.”

Adds Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, assistant dean

for the school, “Some of these [collaborations]

are for clinical research looking at the wellbeing

of populations, others for building capacity to

produce vaccines for tropical diseases. They learn

from us and we learn from them.”

While the school has had contact with

Cuban scientists, and at least one faculty member

has gone to Cuba, “clearly, lifting some of the

restrictions would make it easier,” says Bottazzi.

As it is, by an odd sort of collaboration the school

has developed a better understanding of leishmaniasis,

a disease leading to non-healing skin

ulcers: Four Cubans who migrated to Houston

via the jungles of Central America were treated

at Baylor.

“The message is that we could yet explore

advances in tropical medicine together,” says

Dr. Hotez. “Our vaccines could have commercial

interest as well.”

on, all of them on the same campus, like a

university,” says McKeon. “The collision of

their minds is what makes this an extraordinary


With Cuba’s prowess in advanced

drug development, and U.S. regulations

now permitting Cuba to test and market

its drugs in the U.S., McKeon envisions

building a “bio bridge” between the two

countries, similar to what TMC has done

with Australia, where top innovative companies

are invited to set up shop in the

campus incubator.

“I think that is a great model for

Cuba,” says McKeon. “It allows physicians

[and researchers] with innovations

to bring those innovations to market and

get them supported. We provide all the

services and don’t take any cut of their

equity. We like it because it just adds to

the diversity of the campus.”

Another potential area of collaboration

lies with the Cuban health-care

delivery system, says Arun Rajani, head

of Baylor College of Medicine’s global

initiatives program. Baylor has developed

modular health care facilities—fully outfitted

high-tech shipping containers—that

can be deployed anywhere.

“Cuba has a well-developed physician

work force,” says Rajani. “We at Baylor

are experts in guiding and training, but we

cannot provide human resources overseas.

Cuba exports its doctors, so it might be a

good opportunity for us to provide the facilities

while local Cuban doctors provide

the services.”

All across the TMC campus, various

institutions could interact with Cuba’s

biomedical industry, from Baylor’s School

of Tropical Medicine (see sidebar) to MD

Anderson, the largest U.S.cancer research

institute (Cuba has highly developed

cancer drugs).


Even considering the value of Houston’s

port and medical facilities, few areas offer

the kind of explosive growth possibilities as

does collaboration in the energy sector. No

one knows just how much oil lies beneath

Cuba and its coastal waters, but billions of

barrels are potentially at stake—as well as

hundreds of millions of dollars in support




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Houston by Numbers

“The oil reserves in Cuba are unproven.

They have had mixed results [testing].

But the technology upgrade that is needed

is phenomenal,” says Jonathan Newton, a

partner in the Houston office of Baker &

McKenzie who traveled with the mayor

to Cuba. “I think oil and gas companies

are interested in production—the clichéd

people who take it out of the ground. And

there is a lot of money in that. But there

is also lots and lots of money in the whole

stream of it, the oil field equipment and

service providers, and all those folks see

that opportunity.”

While Newton thinks that it’s still a

long way off, “In a best-case scenario you

can see a pipeline going in between Cuba

and the U.S. It’s only 90 miles after all.”

Yuliya Marcer, the Houston-based

senior counsel for global projects at petroleum

giant BP, notes that 4,800 energy-related

companies have a presence in the city,

including nine of the top 25 publically

traded energy companies—such as Chevron,

ExxonMobil, and Shell. In addition,

eight out of ten global oil companies have

offices in Houston.

“Houston has been for decades—and

even more so now—the energy capital

of the United States,” she says. “For BP,

Houston is now our largest presence in

the work, more than the UK. We have the

most employees here.”

Among other things, the presence of

these firms has spawned a vast network

of international lawyers in Houston,

specialists who understand sanctions,

trade restrictions, export control issues,

anti-money laundering regulations, and

the like. “Houston has a very deep bench

of those kinds of lawyers, particularly in

energy,” says Marcer, who currently chairs

the international section of the Texas Bar.

Marcer says she is “cautiously optimistic”

about doing business with Cuba.

“Even with sanctions aside, however, we

Lee Hunt, Houston energy consultant

are still looking at two very different legal

systems. So, we still must figure out how

to work together to allow businesses to

develop and achieve their goals. There are

still a lot of questions to be answered.”

Regardless of the details, says consultant

Lee Hunt, the affinities are compelling.

“Everything you need to efficiently

run an oil field is manufactured and inventoried

in Houston,” says Hunt, whose

firm Hunt Petty LP advise major oil

firms. “It’s not just the expertise. As a hub

for the transport of oilfield products, we

are unparalleled.” That includes the ability

to respond rapidly to oil spills and other

crises in the gulf, “because everything is

staged and mobilized here for international



Residents of City of Houston: 2.3 million

Residents of Houston MSA:

6.7 million

Rank in population as a U.S. city: 4 th largest

Number of Houstonians foreign born: 25%

Race/Ethnicity of Houston MSA

Anglo 37.3%

Hispanic 36.5%

Black 16.9%

Asian 7.5%

Global Presence

Number of foreign consulates: 90+

Number of foreign banks: 19

Number of foreign chambers: 35

Firms with foreign ownership: 1,000


Current Houston MSA GDP:

$500 billion

Number of Fortune 500 HQs: 24

Number of Engineers & Architects: 87,500

Number of manufacturing jobs: 220,000

The Houston Airport System

Number of Airports: 3

Passengers (2015):

55 million

Number of jobs generated:

Contribution to local economy:


$27 billion

The Texas Medical Center

Size of all campuses:

1,345 acres

Number of medical institutions: 54

Annual patient visits:

8 million

Annual international patients: 18,000


The Greater Houston Partnership

The Kinder Institute for Urban Research

The Port of Houston

The Houston Airport System

The Texas Medical Center


The Energy Link

It may take a lifting of the embargo to fully engage

Cuba’s energy sector, but cracks in the regulations

offer opportunities even now

“Houston is the oilfield technology capital of

the world,” says Texas energy consultant Lee Hunt.

“Everything you need to efficiently run an oil field

is manufactured and inventoried in Houston.”

Normally that would mean lots of contracts

with Cuba, where substantial oil reserves are

buried underground and offshore. But keeping U.S.

energy companies out of that market is a hallmark

of Washington's embargo. Cuba has been consistently

hobbled by a lack of access to state-of-theart

equipment, even when dealing with willing

foreign companies.

“I’ve talked to a lot [of foreign companies],”

says Hunt. “They can buy embargo compliant

equipment out of China, or other places, but the

quality is not there. American [energy] companies

have been so aggressive in buying up technology

companies that everything they [foreign firms]

want to buy has an American component.”

And until recently, any firm using oil-drilling

gear with more than 10 percent of American components

could be fined for violating U.S. sanctions.

That has now changed, as have other regulations

under the Obama administration, providing

what Hunt sees as opportunities for Houston oil

companies. First and foremost are service and

equipment sales for pollution control.

According to Section 746.2 of the U.S.


Energy consultant Lee Hunt: The time to negotiate with Cuba is now

Commerce Department's Export Administration

Regulations, exceptions to the embargo include

“items necessary for the environmental protection

of U.S. and international air quality, waters and


That, says Hunt, opens the door. “Frankly, at

least 50 percent of everything on a drilling project

is for prevention of pollution and contamination.”

So far, Houston’s oil companies aren’t jumping

at the bait. “They are compliance oriented,

they know what the law was, but they aren’t

keeping up with the little commercial openings,”

says Hunt. Even when they are, they are hesitant

to act prior to seeing what the Trump administration

policy will be for Cuba.

That shouldn't stop Houston’s energy companies

from negotiating with Cuba in anticipation of

the embargo's end, however, legal under U.S. law

as long as no concrete action is taken. “You can

even sign contracts with the Cuban government

or Cuban agencies, they just cannot be executed

as long as the embargo is in place,” says Hunt.

That sort of future focus is the best posture

for Houston’s energy sector, says Hunt. “For the

Houston guys I talk to, the metaphor that works

is ‘a long putt with a slow ball,’” he says. “Nobody

is in it for the money at this point. It’s all about

occupying the space.”

Moving beyond oil to natural gas,

Houston is equipped there as well. Houston-based

MODEC International, Inc.,

for example, builds and operates floating

production vessels and floating power

vessels that employ natural gas.

“What MODEC is working on, and

what we have spent a couple of million

dollars on in research, is a floating barge

powered on natural gas,” says Sam Webb,

a project development manager for the

company. “I think what Cuba needs is a

natural gas power plant, instead of relying

on diesel and heavy oil. We have the capability

of bringing a floating power plant

that can also desalinate water.”

Webb has visited Cuba twice, once

with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott before the

mayor’s visit, and earlier this year with

a mission organized by attorney Felix


Chevalier, who many consider Houston's

unofficial ‘soul of Cuba,’ is the son of

Cuba parents who left the island before

his birth. Among the many Cuba-related

projects he's working on is a Houston

leadership academy for young Cuban

entrepreneurs, and trade missions to take

clients beyond Havana to visit regional

port cities, mining operations, industrial

complexes, and agriculture centers. But it

is in energy where Chevalier sees the most

immediate impact, especially regarding

influencing U.S. policy toward the island.

“Generally speaking, I’ve found business

in Houston to be open to the idea of

a trade relationship with Cuba,” he says

“However, uncertainty surrounding the

administration’s plans for Cuba have put a

bit of a damper on the progress made over

the last couple of years.” Consequently,

Chevalier plans to launch an association

that advocates for trade with Cuba on

behalf of the energy industry. “Similar

to what we see in agriculture, I think a

sector-by-sector approach to highlighting

the financial impact of trade with Cuba

may be the most effective way to move the

chains on Cuba policy,” he says.

Until that time, however, it may take

the collective effort of leaders like Mayor

Turner to move the process of engagement


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If the leaders of Houston have anything

to say about U.S. relations with Cuba,

those connections will only grow stronger.

That was a big aim for Mayor Turner’s

trip to Cuba. As Icken puts it, “The mayor

made a clear point that this is not just

a one-time opportunity.” He also did it

with a style that has been the hallmark of

his political career, his enormous sincerity

and the authenticity of his own journey.

“He is very present in all his meetings.

He is there with you. He really wants to

understand where you are coming from,”

says Shailer, something that comes from

the Mayor’s own personal struggle as the

youngest of seven children in a family that

was “far from affluent.” By sheer determination

and effort he became valedictorian

of his high school’s first integrated class

and ultimately graduated Harvard Law




“Cuba could appreciate that,” says

Shailer. “It is a very hardworking country

that believes what you put into people is

what you can get out of them, one reason

they have such a strong education system.”

Indeed, Mayor Turner is a man who

knows how to interact with people, and

how to personalize any encounter.

“He made some friends in Cuba,

that is for sure. And that's what this was

about,” says Dr. Laura Murillo, president

and CEO of the Houston Hispanic

Chamber of Commerce and another

memer of the mayor’s delegation.

"Relationships are built over time,

and on a person-to-person basis," says

the Partnership's CEO Harvey, whose

organization co-sponsored the trip. Like

other Houston leaders, Havey sees only an

upside for a Houston-Cuba connection.

"I think of Cuba just as a great opportunity.

We think that the relationship

between the U.S. and Cuba will improve,

and we see a natural kinship there with

Houston," he says. That kinship includes

Houston's strong Latin heritage, its

healthcare system, its emphasis on education,

and above all, its energy expertise.

Indeed, personal diplomacy aside, the

mayor was also in Cuba to ask a specific

favor for that sector.

“One of the reasons we went to Cuba

was because of the World Petroleum

Conference in 2020, which we wanted for

Houston," says Mayor Turner. Cuba, it

turns out, is one of the countries that had a

vote at the conference executive committee

meeting in Bahrain in December.

Houston beat Vancouver for the

event, which is expected to draw 10,000

visitors and have an economic impact of

$60 million to $80 million. Says the mayor:

“I thank Cuba for their vote.” H

ROYAL SHIPPING LINES is a licensed NVOCC and FMC company which is based out of Miami, FL

and Houston, TX–two top port cities that are at the emerging cornerstone of the trade industry and

a strategic vantage point for our customers.

Founded in 2005 Royal Shipping Lines has become a top freight forwarding company that specializes

in a full suite of export services from U.S. customs clearance to a variety of logistics services

including ocean, air and land transportation.

With unique partnerships in Central America, South America and the Caribbean we are dedicated to

providing the upmost professional service while having a friendly, detail oriented team that works

hand in hand with each customer to accommodate their shipping needs.

As the winner of the ‘2016 U.S. Department of Commerce (Minority Business Development Agency)

Minority Export Firm of the Year’ we believe we are one of the export leaders in Latin American,

Caribbean and Middle Eastern markets. On a monthly basis we export over 400 TEUs of special

project cargo with a focus on automobiles and heavy equipment.


1829 McCarty Street, Houston, TX 77029

Office: +1 (713)-485-5534

WhatsApp: +1 (832) 283-2794 • Fax: +1 (713)-673-0600


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Office: +1 (305)-884-8127

WhatsApp: +1(305)-979-3596 • Fax: +1 (786)-347-1931



The premier gateway to Latin America

opens even wider for Cuba.

market report





How the Swiss multinational has

thrived in Cuba while protecting

itself against the entry of U.S.


IAH now offers nonstop service to HAV.

By Emilio Morales

Cuba may lie only 90 miles from the U.S. shoreline, but until recently it seemed a world away for most travelers. Bringing this

world a bit closer, Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is now offering weekly nonstop service to Havana.

IAH already serves 53 destinations nonstop across Latin America and the Caribbean, making it the premier gateway to Latin America.

With this new flight, IAH ranks as just one of 10 U.S. airports with scheduled service to Cuba and one of two airports west of the

Mississippi River with service there. The gate is wide open to a new world of opportunity for exploring this intriguing island nation.

For more information, contact the Houston Airport System at or +1-281-233-3000.

Nestlé SA, the world's largest food company,

intends to expand production by investing

$60 million in Cuba’s Mariel Special Development

Zone (ZED Mariel). The investment

constitutes a strategic move by Nestlé to position

itself in the Cuban market before the arrival of its

U.S. competitors.




Brand Command: Nestlé products in Cuba include Ciego

Montero sodas and water, and its famous ice cream

Taking advantage of Washington’s embargo,

which for more than half a century has

prohibited U.S. companies from investing

in the island, Nestlé’s planned facility will

produce coffee, biscuits, and cooking

products. The firm has also extended its

current contract by 20 years to expand

the company’s existing factories in

Cuba to produce ice cream, water, and

carbonated soft drinks.

The Swiss multinational, active

on the island since the mid-1990s,

now joins other large non-U.S.

investors such as Unilever ($35 million)

and Brascuba ($100 million)

that are betting on the ZED Mariel

(see story on page 74).

In the beginning: mineral water,

soft drinks, and ice cream

Nestlé entered Cuba’s food and beverage

market in 1999, when its Nestlé Waters

unit bought out San Pellegrino’s share of

Los Portales—a joint venture between

the Italian sparkling water producer

and Coralsa, a unit of Cuba’s Ministry

of Food Industry (MINAL).

Since then, Nestlé has managed the

company’s brand strategy, production

and marketing.

Los Portales bottles carbonated

soft drinks under the Ciego

Montero brand (since 1994) as well

as mineral water under the Ciego

Montero and Los Portales brands

(since 2002). Ciego Montero, the

company’s top brand, controls 92

percent of Cuba’s total mineral

water sales, while sales of Ciego

Montero’s 11 flavors of soft drinks

exceed those of imported Coca-Cola

and Pepsi.

In 2015, Los Portales exceeded

100 million CUC in revenues—

roughly US $100 million. Production

reached 200 million cans and

58 million plastic bottles that year,

though that was still not enough to

satisfy demand.

Nestlé also makes ice cream for the

local market, under the Coralac SA joint

venture formed in 1997 between Nestlé and Coralsa. Initially, the

venture imported ice cream from Mexico, then built its own plant

in 2003. But it wasn’t easy breaking in, since Cubans were long

accustomed to their beloved local brand, Coppelia. The domestic

dollarized economy was another challenge; back then, the average

Cuban citizen’s purchasing power in dollars was very low. As a

result, the market favored low prices over quality.

At first, Nestlé produced only three flavors: chocolate,

strawberry, and a “seasonal” flavor that rotated between almond,

orange-pineapple, and vanilla. Nestlé refrigerators filled with

ice-cream products helped promote the brand’s image in Cuban

supermarkets; likewise, Coralac had its own network of refrigerated

trucks to distribute products in retail chains and tourist

outlets. Today, Nestlé is Cuba’s ice cream leader, yet—as is the

case with mineral water and soft drinks—domestic production is

not sufficient to cover demand.

Coffee, cookies, and cooking products

Nestlé’s new project targets coffee, cookies, and cooking products—all

in high demand in Cuba. Local producers now face

shortages of raw materials and the financing needed to boost

production, often resulting in prolonged absences of products

in Cuban retail chains. By moving production to ZED Mariel,

Nestlé takes advantage of incentives such as a 10-year tax

exemption on profits and zero tax on sales during the first year of

operation, rising to only 1 percent after that.

Various locally produced coffee brands are now sold in Cuba,

though production is unstable. The most popular brands are

Café Cubitas, Serrano, Indiana, Turquino and Cristal Mountain.

Cohiba Atmósfera and Montecristo, produced on a smaller scale,

are mainly aimed at foreign tourists who enjoy cigars. Imported

brands include Nestlé’s instant coffee, sold under the Dolca and

Classic varieties. Also present in the market are Gallego (Spanish),

Bahia (Brazilian) and Mokarabia (Italian), though Cuban

consumers—used to the flavor of strong local coffee—don’t

particularly like these brands.

Black market sales of coffee arriving to Cuba—either sent by

emigrants to their relatives or brought back by Cubans visiting

overseas—help make up for the shortage of local coffee. The most

popular brands in the informal market are La Llave, Pilón and

Bustelo, ‘Cuban’ coffee produced in the U.S.

Coffee production in Cuba itself has plummeted in recent

years, and by 2014 accounted for just over a third of total

consumption. In fact, from 2010 to 2014, the island spent an

average $31.2 million a year on coffee imports, which averaged

11,434 tons annually. During this period, annual domestic coffee

production averaged only 5,901 tons a year—less than a tenth of

the 60,000 tons of coffee Cuba produced in the 1960-61 season,

when it ranked among the world’s top coffee exporters. So, for

Nestlé, there is an opportunity to replace all that imported coffee.

Much of the raw material Nestlé is expected to use in its

Photo by Larry Luxner


future Mariel plant will come from the Cuba Mountain Coffee

Company Ltd. (CMC). The British firm has contracted with the

Cuban government and coffee processor Asdrúbal López to market

and sell premium coffee produced in Guantánamo province.

Nespresso, a Nestle subsidiary, has signed a memo of understanding

with CMC to acquire coffee produced by the venture.

Nestlé’s facilities at ZED Mariel will also make cookies—a

consumer staple plagued by almost zero national production,

little variation, and unstable supply. Cuba now imports cookies

from a dozen countries including Brazil, Guatemala, Spain, Colombia,

Vietnam, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, El Salvador, and the

Dominican Republic.

Besides coffee and cookies, Nestlé will also manufacture a

variety of cooking products such as instant soups, condiments,

and broths—widely used by cooks and food-service operators—

as well as lasagnas, pastas, sauces, and other refrigerated and

frozen products. At present, these products are imported, with

Nestlé’s Maggi brand—especially the chicken and meat broths—

quite popular among Cuban homemakers. Nestlé is also a key

supplier of these products to the Cuban tourist sector, mainly

restaurants in the island’s hotels.

What’s driving Nestlé’s new investment?

Cuba’s consumer market has exploded over the last eight years,

thanks to liberalized U.S. trade policies and domestic reforms

that have expanded Cuba’s self-employment sector. Four factors

in particular are driving Cuban demand for food products: a

jump in tourism; the growth of private food preparation businesses;

the increase of cash remittances; and the burgeoning

purchasing power of the Cuban people.

Each of these has seen meteoric rises, beginning with the

ballooning of tourist arrivals from 1.5 million in 2010 to four

million in 2016. In tandem with that expansion, the number of

privately run restaurants, or paladares, jumped from only 113 in

2010 to 1,565 last year.

People are also eating more thanks to remittances (up from

$1.9 billion in 2010 to $3.4 billion in 2016) and the growing

private sector, where workers earn 10 times what a state employee

makes. Both have given Cuban citizens an estimated $4.8 billion

worth of purchasing power in foreign currency, up from $2.6

billion in 2010.

All this has boosted consumption of cooking products in

retail networks, since thousands of food preparation businesses

need these products to make their dishes, which are gobbled up

by Cuban customers as well as tourists.

Nestlé knows this, and undoubtedly also benefits from its

20-plus years of experience in the Cuban market. Even so, it is

wary of large U.S. companies now exploring the Cuban food

market. Virtually overnight, the United States has become the

second largest source of tourists to Cuba, after Canada; in a few

years, it could be the leader. This is a golden opportunity for U.S.

food giants to market their products on the island. But for the

time being, it will be European companies—especially Nestlé—

that flourish in this market. H


Imported vs. Locally Produced Coffee in Cuba, 2010-2014

Coffee 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Average

Imported (tons) 17,884 9,334 8,250 10,078 11,624 11,434

Value ($USD thousands) 38,043 26,814 28,485 30,261 32,567 31,234

National Production (tons) 4,400 6,000 7,100 N/D 6,105 5,901

Source: Oficina Nacional de Estadística e Información (ONEI) and other sources.

Variables that have most impacted on the growth of

food demand in Cuba, 2010-2016

Remittances and Purchasing Power (Millions)

Tourism (Thousands)

• Purchasing Power (Millions)

• Remittances (Millions)

Private Sector Food Processing

Licenses (units)

• Tourism (Thousands)

• Private Sector Food Processing Licenses (M)

Source: Compiled by the THCG Business Intelligence Unit from own data, data published by the



Office of





the THCG





and by







data, data




by the National Office of Statistics and and Information other sources. (ONEI) and by the National Taxation

Administration (ONAT)

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Cuba’s play to develop the next great shipping hub is an

ambitious call to foreign investors. It has momentum,

but still needs more capital.

By Nick Swyter

Photos by Jon Braeley

Ready to Ship: Containers recently

unloaded at the Port of Mariel


Forty-five kilometers east of Havana lies Mariel—a place

that gained world fame in 1980 after Fidel Castro allowed

about 125,000 Cubans to leave the island through the city’s

port if U.S. vessels picked them up. Nearly four decades later,

Cuba seeks to use Mariel for more lucrative purposes by courting

overseas investors to use its deep-water port and fledgling special

economic development zone, regularly referred to as ZED Mariel.

A push for more foreign investment couldn’t come at a

more opportune time for cash-strapped Cuba. The island’s GDP

shrank by 0.9 percent in 2016, and there are few signs it will

recover this year. Venezuela, Cuba’s largest trading partner, is in

economic freefall and has slashed its precious oil deliveries to the

island. Revenue from Cuban medical professionals serving abroad

is stagnant because of economic difficulties in Venezuela and

Brazil. President Donald Trump’s new policy to limit U.S. interaction

with military-controlled firms also complicates matters.

As a play to kickstart its economy, Cuba is betting on Mariel

becoming the next industrial and transshipping hub of the

Americas. About $1 billion was committed to modernizing the

port and building a container terminal that opened in 2014. Brazilian

development bank BNDES provided a development loan

of about $700 million—a move that drew ire at home against

former President Dilma Rousseff.

“It makes sense from a logistical and an economic standpoint,”

said Paolo Spadoni, an associate professor at Georgia’s

Augusta University who specializes in Latin American politics

and economies. “The benefits are there, and they are competitive.”

The fruits of that investment are already visible. Most of

Cuba’s shipping container traffic has moved to Mariel, freeing up

much-needed space in Havana harbor for cruise ships. Thanks to

dredging, parts of the bay are 17 meters deep, making it suitable

to welcome the massive ships passing through the recently expanded

Panama Canal. The container terminal also has four giant

Chinese-built gantry cranes for moving containers from ship to

shore. And once containers reach the shore, a new railway can

transport them from Mariel to Havana.

Right next door is ZED Mariel, a 180-square-mile development

zone that also opened in 2014 and aims to attract foreign

investors by offering them tax incentives and other benefits if

they set up shop there. One of the zone’s primary missions is to

use foreign direct investment to domestically produce goods that


Cuba has imported for decades.

Now that many of Mariel’s major construction projects are

complete, the area must convince foreigners it’s worthwhile to

put money into a country facing tight U.S. sanctions. Hordes of

trade delegations visiting Mariel over the last few years demonstrate

undoubtable interest in the area. But Mariel’s port and

development zone officials are well aware that interest does not

always translate to investment.

“We’ve had a lot of visitors,” said Armando Mina, a commercial

specialist at the container terminal. “I don’t know what

they have been able to do with the information we provide them

here, but they’ve been here and they keep on coming.”


Geographically, Mariel is well positioned to become a transshipping

hub for the Americas. It has easy access to U.S. and Mexican

ports in the Gulf. Ships that use the Panama Canal to get to and

from the U.S. East Coast are also likely to pass near Mariel.

In addition, Mariel is physically and technologically capable

of becoming a transshipping hub. While many ports in the region

are deep enough to receive post-Panamax ships, Mariel is one

of the few that can handle those vessels fully loaded. The port’s

modern cranes make it possible to unload those ships without

making them turn around.

“There would be no restrictions on those ships going into the

Port of Mariel.” said Brendan Barry, a partner in the South Florida-based

law firm Shutts & Bowen and a board member of the

Port Everglades Association. He added that one of Mariel’s perks

is that it can handle ships with larger loads than Port Everglades.

Mariel’s modern container terminal is also guided with

valuable foreign expertise. Singapore-based PSA International,

the world’s largest port operator, has been managing the terminal

since 2011.

Those infrastructure and administrative improvements have

led to a bump in container traffic over the last three years. But

the port is still operating at less than 40 percent of its capacity of

about 824,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year. In

2014, the port handled about 160,000 TEUs, more than doubling

to 330,319 TEUs in 2015, before dipping slightly to 325,319

TEUs in 2016. By comparison, last year the Port of Miami han-

Chinese Cranes Add Lift:

Armando Mina, a commercial

specialist at the container





Richmeat Food & beverages Mexico Foreign capital No

Devox Caribe Paint Mexico Foreign capital No

BDC LOG Logistics Belgium Foreign capital Yes

BDC TEC Technology products Belgium Foreign capital Yes

COI Construction Brazil Foreign capital No

FIDAS Logistics Brazil Foreign capital No

Profood Food & beverages Spain Foreign capital No

TOT COLOR Paint Spain Foreign capital No

Bouygues Construction Construction France Foreign capital Yes

Womy Equipment rental Netherlands Foreign capital Yes

Thai Binh Hygiene products Vietnam Foreign capital No

Arco 33 Medical equipment South Korea Foreign capital No

Engimov Construction Portugal Foreign capital No

Autocentro ZED Logistics Panama Foreign capital No

BrasCuba Cigarettes Brazil Joint venture No

Teconsa Construction Spain Joint venture No

Logística Hotelera del Caribe Logistics Spain Joint venture No

Financiera Iberoamericana Logistics Spain Joint venture Yes

Unilever-Suchel Hygiene products Netherlands Joint venture Yes

CMA CGM Construction France Management contract Yes

Mariel Containter Terminal Shipping Cuba Cuban capital Yes

Banco Financiero Internacional Finance Cuba Cuban capital Yes

Servicios Logísticos Mariel Logistics Cuba Cuban capital Yes

Centro de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología Biotechnology Cuba Cuban capital No

Deciding To Build: Wendy Miranda Borotto, director of coordination and formalities at ZED Mariel, and Andy van der Heijden, president of Womy

dled over one million TEUs.

Traffic at Mariel may be up this year, however, thanks to an

October 2016 decision by the Obama administration to end the

ban on cargo ships entering U.S. ports if they called on a Cuban

port 180 days before docking.

Even though Mariel operates well under capacity and uncertainties

about the embargo remain, the port has a long-term

plan to extend its wharf by 300 meters, and eventually by another

1,400 meters—ultimately giving Mariel a capacity of 3 million

TEUs per year. This dramatic expansion shows the port’s desire

to establish itself as a regional transshipment hub—a transition

that will be more difficult if the embargo isn’t lifted.

“Even if they do not achieve the goal of three million

[TEUs], it might still make a difference because it will position

Cuba within the transshipment industry,” Spadoni said. “That’s

really the biggest prize in the short to medium term.”

Besides the embargo, several challenges stand in the way

of Mariel’s lofty aspirations. Foreign companies must hire and

pay workers through a government staffing agency, making

labor costs higher than other countries in the region, despite the

relatively low wages Cuban workers receive. The global shipping

business also faces a gloomy outlook. Ever since the 2008 financial

crisis, the industry has struggled to deal with overcapacity

and falling freight rates. “There is a powerful worldwide crisis,”

said Mina. “The boats will keep on getting bigger, but the amount

of containers arriving keeps decreasing.”

Mariel also faces the uphill battle of easing wariness from

the business community about working with Cuba and its government.

“In order for the Port of Mariel to be the transshipping

port on the east side of the Panama Canal, I think there has to be


more time, more comfort, and more confidence by the business

community,” Barry said. “And I think that has to come from acts

and behaviors from the Cuban government.”

Adds Spadoni: “It will take some time for anybody to say

whether that port is indeed a game-changer or not for the Cuban



A quick drive through ZED Mariel, the development zone

surrounding the Port of Mariel, makes it clear that the global

business community is only just starting to notice its potential.

Construction crews are busy working on facilities for businesses

that have already claimed their stake here, but the zone is far

from sprawling. It has a few offices and temporary buildings, but

most of the seaside land is untouched. “Right now we are in the

launch phase,” said Wendy Miranda Borotto, director of coordination

and formalities at ZED Mariel.

Cuba has taken unprecedented steps to attract foreign

investors to the nearly four-year-old ZED. These include 50-year

contracts that can be renewed, 100 percent foreign ownership,

and no tax on profits for the first 10 years of operation (and only

12 percent after that). Various Cuban support services are also

onsite to help investors develop their projects. More importantly,

ZED Mariel has streamlined the bureaucratic procedures that

have stalled investment in Cuba for decades.

Andy van der Heijden, president of Dutch equipment and

transportation company Womy, says those incentives influenced

his company’s decision to build a $22 million facility in Mariel.

Although Womy has been in Cuba since 1991, van der Heijden

Wrapping It Up: Contractors

work on a Womy equipment

rental facility

Backhoe to the Future: Contractors building the infrastructure at the ZED Mariel

Multimodal: Container leaving by road from the Port

Heavy Lifting: Four Chinese-built gantry cranes move containers from ship to shore; a new railway can transport them from Mariel to Havana

says “with the new development in Mariel, we got the possibilities

to rent [more] equipment.”

Yet while many of ZED Mariel’s incentives seem attractive,

it hasn’t created the boom in investment Cuba desperately needs.

So far, the zone has approved 24 projects from 11 countries,

including four from Cuban state-owned enterprises. Only nine of

those projects are now in operation.

“On the ground you still have very little,” Spadoni said. “It

raises questions of how long it will take to develop some sort of

potential out of the special development zone and the overall

Port of Mariel.”

The approved projects demonstrate Cuba’s tepid interest in

engaging in new forms of business with a wider array of partners.

The zone hasn’t yet approved any projects from Venezuela, China,

Canada, or even Russia—Cuba’s traditional trading partners.

Instead, ZED Mariel has approved projects from Spain, Vietnam,

Brazil, France, Panama, South Korea, Mexico, Belgium, Portugal,

and the Netherlands.

ZED Mariel has also given many projects full foreign ownership,

a move largely unheard of in Cuba; 14 of the approved

projects are 100 percent foreign-owned, five are joint ventures,

four have 100 percent Cuban capital, and one has a management

contract with a foreign firm.

We have no preference between joint ventures

and businesses with 100 percent foreign capital

Wendy Miranda Borotto

“We have no preference between joint ventures and businesses

with 100 percent foreign capital,” Miranda said, adding

that the only sector where ZED Mariel is more interested in

establishing joint ventures than 100 percent foreign ownership is

biotechnology, because of “Cuba’s potential in that sector.”

Miranda said ZED Mariel isn’t picky about foreign ownership

because it isn’t relevant to the zone’s goals. These include

domestically producing goods that Cuba imports, creating jobs,

boosting overall exports, and using clean, modern technologies.

The zone aims to accomplish these goals by approving projects

that fall under three “pillar industries”—advanced manufacturing;

biotech and pharmaceuticals; and logistical services.

One of ZED Mariel’s major obstacles is Cuba’s reputation

for dragging its feet on the approval of foreign investment projects.

Even though ZED Mariel is young, it hasn’t escaped this

image. Van der Heijden says Womy’s application process took six

to seven months, but admitted the process may have had delays

because his company was one of the zone’s first applicants. “You

need to be patient—decisions take longer than in Europe or in

the United States,” he said.

Spadoni agrees. “It all depends on how fast they want to

move and their political will to accept different kinds of investment,”

he said.

The zone is aware of Cuba’s reputation for delays, and it has

taken steps to streamline the approval process. Miranda’s job includes

managing the zone’s “one-stop shop”—a single office that

handles all the paperwork and approval processes for a potential

investor. This office saves potential investors from communicating

project plans to countless layers of Cuban bureaucracy.

Miranda insists projects can be approved in 35 to 65 days,

which is lightning-speed in Cuban business time. However, she

said, the most tedious aspect of the approval process isn’t Cuba’s

review of the project, but rather the time it takes a company to

prepare the various application documents. “That’s the time they

always add, which works against the approval time,” Miranda said.

It’s still not clear when, or how frequently, new projects will

start sprouting at ZED Mariel, and Cuban officials are tightlipped

on specifics. Miranda declined, for example, to reveal any

details regarding Nestlé's recent announcement that it was close

to reaching a deal to build a $50-60 million factory in the zone.

“We manage that information confidentially,” she said.


No matter how modern and efficient Mariel’s port and development

zone becomes, the facility still faces the daunting task of

convincing businesses to invest in the blacklisted neighbor of the

world’s largest economy.

A Cuban trade delegation of Mariel representatives was

forced to handle that conundrum when they toured U.S. ports in

January. Shortly before delivering a presentation at Fort Lauderdale’s

Port Everglades, Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted a threat

to cut state funds to ports that do business with Cuba. Scott’s

move effectively demolished the relevance of a pitch presentation

that was already problematic, thanks to the trade embargo.

Mariel’s port and development zone officials aren’t shy about

criticizing the embargo, but they don’t seem hopeful it will end

anytime soon. “While the blockade exists, there will always be a

fear of investing and entering Cuba,” said Mina.

For other officials, the embargo appears secondary to putting

Mariel on the map for the rest of the world. “We are underneath

an economic blockade by the United States. It still exists, and we

created this zone under this scenario,” Miranda said. H





Cuba Trade’s Annual List of the Leading Legal and

Consulting Firms For Doing Business in Cuba

By Doreen Hemlock

They come in all sizes, from the full-service international

firm to the sole practitioner who contracts others

for projects as needed. Some work on a broad range of

industries, others specialize in one or two. Some operate with

offices around the world, and others keep a presence in a single

city or state.

Say “hola” to the Cuba Advisors, law firms, and business consulting

firms in the United States that assist companies in doing

Cuba business. Cuba Trade magazine reached out to dozens of

firms known in U.S.-Cuba business circles and sent out requests

via social media for input to compile this inaugural list.

For any company interested in doing business overseas,

it’s wise to check with experts. Laws differ, as do regulations,

licensing, and business culture. With Cuba, complications are

even greater. Because of the 55-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba, a

plethora of rules, regulations, and even licenses govern what U.S.

business is allowed with Cuba; many activities remain off-limits.

What’s more, Cuba’s ongoing transition from a centrally planned

to a mixed, state-led economy presents its own special challenges,

as Cuban laws and rules evolve, according to advisors.

Knowing the rules is not enough. Relationships are key, says

Houston attorney Felix Chevalier whose services were recently

requested by a large U.S. energy firm. The company had applied

for a license to do business in Cuba but got stuck in the process.

An agency had asked for information on a form, but the company

didn’t have it. “The only way to get the answers is having relationships

in the Cuban government,” said Chevalier, who reached out

to Cuban officials he knew.

The advisors have seen many U.S. companies falter in

attempting business with Cuba. Among the most common

mistakes: Focusing on what their U.S. business needs and wants,

and not checking how Cuba operates and what Cuba needs and

wants. Some also underestimate the competition already present

in Cuba from Canadian, European, Asian, and other non-U.S.


Some U.S. multinationals also get snagged when subsidiaries

or other affiliates outside the United States do direct

business with Cuba. “Companies must consider all U.S. jurisdictional

‘hooks’ that could implicate U.S. law, including where

foreign persons re-export U.S. origin goods or even where U.S.

dollar transactions are involved,” said advisors at New Yorkbased

law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

Many advisors see strong opportunities for U.S. business

in Cuba in those areas where U.S. law already allows, including

U.S. food sales to the island, air and sea transport, and U.S.

hotel management in Cuba. But the time is now to prepare for

activities that could be allowed later, some advisors add.

“Take advantage of the recent regulatory authorization to

engage in business discussions and contract negotiations with

Cuban counterparties on a contingent basis,” said Toby Moffett,

co-leader of the Washington-based Cuba practice at law firm

Mayer Brown. Once U.S. government approvals are needed later,

such talks “may prove a very useful tool to better understanding

the Cuban business environment and regulatory framework,

as well as to building relationships and making strategic decisions

in advance of U.S. policy changes toward Cuba.”




Akerman LLP

Headquarters: Miami, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Advises

clients with business interests in Cuba across

various sectors, primarily in aviation, agriculture,

hospitality, telecommunications, finance

and real estate.

Basics of firm: More than 650 lawyers and

government-affairs professionals in a network

of 24 offices across the United States.

Key people in Cuba practice: Augusto E.

Maxwell, chair of the firm’s Cuba practice; Pedro

A. Freyre, chair of the firm’s international


Location for key people: Miami

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: U.S. companies sometimes assume that

Cuba is like other Caribbean or Latin American

countries and do not take the time to understand

Cuba’s unique system of government

and centrally-planned economy.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: We have

been in the Cuba space for over 15 years. …

We have broad and pioneering experience

which includes agriculture, telecommunications,

airlines, cruise lines, real estate, and hospitality


Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Headquarters: N/A; largest office is in Washington


Specialty area for Cuba practice: Advocacy,

aviation, biotechnology, energy, health care, infrastructure,

international sanctions program,

international trade policy, internet technology,

manufacturing, public private partnerships,

real estate and hospitality, telecommunications,

and transportation.

Basics of firm: More than 900 lawyers in 20

offices in North America, Europe, Asia and

the Middle East.

Key people in Cuba practice: Scott D. Parven,

partner, public law and policy practice; Wynn

H. Segall, partner, international trade practice;

Anya Landau French, senior policy advisor,

public law and policy practice

Location for key people: Washington DC

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: To assume that Cuba needs or wants

assistance. Cuba is seeking trade and investment

partners, and companies in the U.S. are

well-positioned to respond to that interest.

But we always advise our clients to approach

Cuban counterparts with an open mind, and

advise that they offer partnership, rather than


Why clients come for Cuba advice: To help

them assess the landscape and opportunities in

Cuba, to make connections and build relationships

on the island, to help win U.S. approval

Augusto E. Maxwell

Akerman LLP

Pedro A. Freyre

Akerman LLP

Scott D. Parven

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

for their projects and to assist them with routine

and complex transactions.

Albright Stonebridge Group

Headquarters: Washington DC

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Works with

clients to navigate business in Cuba, from

sanctions and policy monitoring, to market

assessment, strategy and implementation. Advises

and assists clients across sectors, including

financial services and technology.

Basics of firm: Consulting group of leaders

from business, public and social sectors featuring

more than 20 former ministers and ambassadors.

Its network spans 180-plus experts

in more than 50 countries. Has served clients

in more than 110 countries.

Key people in Cuba practice: Carlos Gutierrez,

chair of the group and former U.S. Secretary

of Commerce; Mark Feierstein, senior

advisor; John Hughes, vice president; Karen

Poreh, director

Location for key people: Washington DC

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: The

challenges are two-fold. The U.S. trade embargo

continues to limit what U.S. companies

can do, and Cuba’s decision-making process is

bureaucratic and slow. Decisions are not made

lightly or in haste. Successful engagement

in Cuba requires great patience and an acknowledgement

that despite an official policy

welcoming commercial deals with American

companies, reservations about the U.S. remain.

Ambar Diaz, P.A

Headquarters: Miami, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Travel industry,

humanitarian projects, artistic productions,

Cuban law in general, and U.S. export

and OFAC regulations.

Basics of firm: Boutique firm. Diaz, with law

degrees from Cuba and the U.S, has been

working on Cuban issues for 14 years.

Key people in Cuba practice: Ambar Diaz

Location for key people: Miami

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: Cuba's

human resources.

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Doing

business in Cuba is like doing business in another

planet. Be ready to learn new rules.

Americas Market Intelligence

Headquarters: Coral Gables, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Market intelligence

in Cuba.

Basics of firm: Provides market intelligence

services across Latin American and Caribbean

markets. Has offices and affiliates in Miami,

Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Santiago, and San

Francisco as well as stringers across 20 countries.

Key people in Cuba practice: John Price,

managing director

Location for key people: Miami area

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Tourism and anything tourism related, such

as car rentals, hotels and high-end restaurants.

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: Rush in without coldly and objectively

studying the viability of their plans.

Ankura Consulting Group

Headquarters: Washington DC

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Geopolitical

risk, research and analysis, market entry

strategies, infrastructure, cybersecurity and

technology, financing, energy and environment,

tourism development.

Basics of firm: More than 300 consultants in

11 offices in the United States, focusing on

five primary service groups: investigations &

accounting advisory, litigation and disputes,

regulatory and contractual compliance, as well

as risk, resilience and geopolitical, plus turnaround

& restructuring.

Key people in Cuba practice: Jorge L. San

Miguel, head of the Latin American practice;

Michelle DiGruttolo, head of the geopolitical


Location for key people: Puerto Rico and

Washington DC

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Medical tourism is one of the best hidden investment

opportunities in Cuba. The potential

for development of a trade corridor between

Cuba and Puerto Rico would facilitate the establishment

and rapid embrace of such mutually

beneficial medical clinics.

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: The

biggest hurdles include sanctions (which normalization

could remedy), financing (based on

legal and judicial structures), and upgrading

essential public infrastructure, particularly

21st century technology infrastructure.

Antilles Strategy Group Inc.

Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Focus areas

include agriculture, biotechnology, medical

research, pharmaceutical manufacturing, nano-technology,

hospitality, tourism, and cultural


Basics of firm: Formerly called Taino-Caribbean

services, the group has been working

with Cuba for more than two decades and

completed more than 200 missions to the

island. Offers services in strategic planning,

public affairs, and legal-regulatory issues.

Wynn H. Segall,

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Anya Landau French

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Carlos Gutierrez,

Albright Stonebridge Group

Also facilitates travel, meetings, and relations

in Cuba, the Caribbean, and South America.

Has offices in Chicago, Washington DC, Miami

Beach and in Santo Domingo, Dominican


Key people in Cuba practice: Charles A. Serrano,

managing director and director of Cuba

trade & missions; John Edward Glennon, director

of financing & development; David S.

Rodriguez, director of licensing, regulations &


Location for key people: Chicago and Miami


Biggest challenge for Cuba business: The

socio-economic and political idiosyncrasies

unique to Cuba, due to its historical experience

and context in the last 60 years and since

1989, are fundamental for U.S. business people

to know. Businesses must be aware of these

aspects of Cuba as legitimate, and empathize

them when exploring Cuba. Not considering

these areas in a Cuba strategy results in impatience,

lack of understanding of the “Cuban

reality,” and failure to secure decision-making


Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: U.S. business entities cannot expect to

obtain positive and productive results if they

incorporate customary U.S. business practice,

process, negotiation styles and focused profit

intentions in Cuba. There is a “Cuban reality”

that is necessary to be adopted, assimilated,

and integrated into a strategy to do business

in Cuba.

BG Consultants Inc. (BGC)

Headquarters: Miami, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Analyzes

and evaluates the impact and risks of trading

or investing. Areas of expertise include manufacturing,

shipping, financial management,

strategic planning and operations.

Basics of firm: Providing strategic services

related to Cuba since 1991, consultants are

advisors, coaches, and specialists on Cuba’s industry,

commerce, and emerging markets.

Key people in Cuba practice: Teo Babun,

CEO and managing director; Sumaya Davila,

research associate; Sergio Casines, marine and

maritime advisor, vice president of ATL Miami

Inc.; Enrique Lopez, telecom and technology

advisor, president of Gables Business

Solutions Advisors.

Location for key people: U.S.

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: Sectors

such as infrastructure, housing, agriculture,

tourism, consumer products, healthcare,

and pharmaceuticals.

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Uncertainties

and risks inherent in an evolving economy.

Those may require responses to complex

regulatory barriers, corruption control, risk




management, due diligence, and obtaining

concessions from a Cuban partner.

Caribbean Portal XXI

Headquarters: Miami, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Consulting

across a wide range of topics from the

perspective of Cuban requirements. Work

includes preparing industry-specific market

surveys and analysis; staying up-to-date with

the latest Cuban regulations relevant to foreign

entities; registering and licensing companies;

preparing and submitting documents for

compliance with accounting, banking and tax

requirements; securing approval for business

travel, import, export, and immigration issues;

strategic planning and business development;

customary business practices in Cuba.

Basics of firm: Led by three lawyers in Miami

and two lawyers in Havana, with access to top

Cuban law firms that engage with foreign investment,

trade, and commerce. Also, features

representatives from various industries including

senior business executives, financial consultants,

economists, accountants, engineers,

and contractors. Has reach into all provinces

in Cuba.

Key people in Cuba practice: Manuel Supervielle

and Antonio Zamora

Location for key people: Miami

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: The

Cuban people. Tapping the vast potential latent

in the Cuba population, especially the

younger generation, represents a gold mine

of talent not found on a per-capita basis anywhere

else in the Western Hemisphere and

perhaps, anywhere else on earth.

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Development

of a Cuban business culture is moving

forward at a very slow pace. At times, it

may feel like there is no progress at all. Thus,

the key component for foreign investors and

business people interested in Cuba is patience.

… Foreigners may view the process as overly

restrictive, cumbersome and antiquated, but

there is no other way to engage in Cuba.

Carlton Fields

Headquarters: Tampa, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Corporate

and healthcare

Basics of firm: 335 lawyers and consultants in

10 U.S. offices, including five in Florida and

one each in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta,

Hartford, and Washington DC.

Key people in Cuba practice: Robert Macaulay

and Irma Reboso Solares

Location for key people: Miami

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Medical tourism

John Price

Americas Market Intelligence

Michelle DiGruttolo

Ankura Consulting Group

Robert Macaulay

Carlton Fields

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Absence

of a reliable legal system for enforcing

contracts and property rights.

Chevalier Law Firm PLLC, The

Headquarters: Houston, Texas

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Advises

companies in various industries seeking to enter

the Cuban market on the legal framework

in the U.S. and the business, legal, and political

landscape in Cuba. Also, provides clients cultural

insight and on the ground guidance on

conducting business in Cuba.

Basics of firm: Offices in Houston and Washington

DC. Works with others on projects, as


Key people in Cuba practice: Felix Chevalier,

Tamika Spaulding

Location for key people: Houston, Washington


Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: U.S.

firms have an opportunity to grow their businesses

and enter a nearby market that has been

virtually untapped by U.S. companies for more

than 50 years.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: For relationships

and on the ground experience.

Guidance on whether Cuba is seeking the

products or services that a U.S. company provides

or how to seek U.S. government permission

are important preliminary steps for doing

business in Cuba.

Coto & Associates

Headquarters: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Foreign

investment, trademarks, Cuban assets control

regulations, construction.

Basics of firm: Seven lawyers, one office in

Puerto Rico.

Key people in Cuba practice: Ramon “Chito”

Coto-Ojeda, managing partner

Location for key people: San Juan, Puerto


Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Normalizing

relations with trading partners, travel

restrictions, and regaining access to money


Why clients come for Cuba advice: Protect

and defend trademarks, learn about Cuban

law and opportunities, develop their Cuban

contingency plans.

Cuba Strategies Inc.

Headquarters: Larchmont, New York

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Renewable

energy, infrastructure.

Basics of firm: Five consultants and two at-

torneys in three offices.

Key people in Cuba practice: Guennady Rodriguez,

Juan G. Espinosa, Jose de Lasa

Location for key people: New York, New Jersey,


Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Large-scale renewable energy projects.

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: Underestimate how much Cubans value

their independence, something that will be

reflected in any business consideration.

Foley & Lardner LLP

Headquarters: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Construction

and infrastructure work, compliance, U.S.

trade and export controls, intellectual property,

immigration, corporate and aviation law.

Basics of firm: 840 attorneys in 19 offices


Key people in Cuba practice: Ralf Rodriguez,

Laura Ganoza, Roy Barquet, Lauren Valiente,

Kimberly Ashby, Christopher Swift, Gregory

Husisian, Carlos Abarca, David Bannard

Location for key people: Boston, Miami, Orlando,

Tampa, and Washington DC

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: Under

the current legal framework, construction

and infrastructure work presents a huge opportunity

– basically for humanitarian projects

that improve the lives and welfare of the Cuban

people. Likewise, the telecommunications

and technology sectors appear to present large


Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Trust

and establishing norms of contact acceptable

to both Cuban and U.S. entities for managing

risk and resolving business disputes. Identifying

and understanding the limits on Cuban

business opportunities that can arise from domestic

Cuban laws and reconciling any conflicts

with U.S. law.


GrayRobinson P.A.

Headquarters: Orlando, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Trade with

and travel to Cuba, as well as changing U.S.

laws and regulations. Helps clients obtain specific

licenses for restricted activities, and advises

in structuring business transactions permissible

under U.S. law, among other activities.

Basics of firm: Full-service corporate law firm

with 300 attorneys and consultants in 13 offices

across Florida.

Key people in Cuba practice: Peter Quinter

and Milton Vescovacci

Location for key people: Miami

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: International

logistics and hospitality.

Felix Chevalier

The Chevalier Law Firm

Laura Ganoza

Foley & Lardner LLP

Peter Quinter

GrayRobinson P.A.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: To obtain

a legal opinion about whether the proposed

business activity is allowed under U.S. law and

then, to obtain any U.S. government approval,

if necessary.

Greenberg Traurig

Headquarters: Miami

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Assists clients

in obtaining U.S. regulatory clearance to

do business in Cuba, including implementation

of related compliance programs. Advises

clients on Cuba’s foreign investment process.

Has advised clients doing business across

many industries, including hospitality, logistics,

aviation, real estate, software, arts and entertainment,

energy, and infrastructure. Team

includes Osvaldo Miranda, a Cuban lawyer

who served as a judge in Cuba and now, focuses

his practice on advising foreign investors

seeking to do business in Cuba.

Basics of firm: An international, multi-practice

law firm with approximately 2,000 lawyers

serving clients from 38 offices in the United

States, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the

Middle East. Founded in Miami, the firm is

recognized for its Latin American practice.

Key people in Cuba practice: Yosbel Ibarra,

co-chair Latin American and Iberian practice;

Kara Bombach, shareholder, export controls

and economic sanctions practice; Carl Fornaris,

co-chair, financial regulatory and compliance


Location for key people: Miami and Washington


Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: In

the short term, tourism and hospitality, including

commerce necessary to support those industries

such as banking, telecommunications,

and food imports. Longer-term, there could

be opportunities in industries such as agriculture

(including food processing), pharmaceuticals

(both research and production), software

development (happening on a basic level), and

if the Port of Mariel is further developed, light

manufacturing/assembly for export.

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: Frequently, U.S. companies focus on

what they need to address regarding U.S. regulations

and licensing requirements, almost

to the exclusion of Cuban laws, policies, and

practices. But a parallel track is required for

exploring and managing the necessary approvals

on the Cuban side. It can take a year to get

an authorization from the U.S. government,

but may take as long or longer to achieve an

agreement with Cuban authorities. If not

managed concurrently, a U.S. license may

expire or need to be renewed. Consider both

sides of the equation, and be prepared to be

patient with both.




Havana Consulting Group

Headquarters: Miami, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Market

intelligence in retail, tourism, automotive, remittances,

financial, agriculture, tobacco, sugar

industry, energy, real estate, private sector,

industry, air transportation, transportation,

telecommunications, investment, biotechnology,

health sector, infrastructure, mining, oil,

tech, and more.

Basics of firm: A team of 14 international

consultants with decades of experience studying

Cuba and in all, has written more than

100 books and 500 articles on Cuba’s economy.

The group does fieldwork in Cuba and

designs technology tools for data monitoring

and data-base management. Consultants include

programmers, market researchers, geographers,

statisticians and pollsters.

Key people in Cuba practice: Emilio Morales,

president and CEO

Location for key people: U.S., Canada,

Spain, and Cuba

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: To understand

the mechanics of doing business in

Cuba, to have patience and a feel for a good

market niche, to prepare the intelligence to

minimize risks and better negotiate with Cuban


Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: They don’t do market studies, or prepare

properly to negotiate with the government,

they underestimate competitors from

other countries … and think that they can do

business in three months.

Haynes and Boone LLP

Headquarters: Dallas, Texas

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Aviation,

joint ventures, financial services, mergers and

acquisitions, and international arbitration.

Basics of firm: Full service law firm with

more than 575 lawyers in 15 offices in the

United States, Mexico and China.

Key people in Cuba practice: Alberto de

la Peña, George Y. Gonzalez, Edward M.

Labow, Larry Pascal, and Rick Martinez.

Location for key people: Dallas, Houston,

Washington D.C., and New York.

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: The

strengthening of U.S.-Cuba ties offers significant

business potential.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: Many

of our lawyers have served in positions of responsibility

for Latin America policy in the

U.S. government as well as public and private

organizations and companies that foster regional


Emilio Morales,

Havana Consulting Group

Judy Kruger

Kruger International LLC

David E. Lewis

Manchester Trade Limited Inc.

Kruger International LLC

Headquarters: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Market research

and entry for all industries, Cuban business

partner matches and executive in-country


Basics of firm: 10 consultants in the U.S. and

Cuba, retained for projects as needed.

Key people in Cuba practice: Judy Kruger,


Location for key people: Michigan, Miami,

and Havana

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Those patient with the slower Cuban process

for market entry will be the first wave of U.S.

or foreign companies to get in, hopefully faster

than their competition.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: To navigate

and strategize regulatory and timeline challenges.

Manchester Trade Limited Inc.

Headquarters: Washington DC

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Business

facilitation, trade/investment advisory services

and policy advice covering pharmaceuticals,

manufacturing, construction, energy, agriculture/food,

as well as beverages/alcohol. Cuba

expertise since 1984. Focuses largely on business

delegations to Cuba and support/facilitation

for businesses entering the Cuba market.

Works with delegations from Puerto Rico and

other Caribbean/Latin American markets, as

well as U.S. clients.

Basics of firm: Trade advisory firm for more

than 30 years, focused on Latin America and

Caribbean business development. More than

100 associates worldwide in the Americas,

Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Key people in Cuba practice: David E. Lewis,

vice president

Location for key people: Washington DC

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Travel and entertainment, including tourism.

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Rule

of law and transparent regulations for foreign


Mayer Brown LLP

Headquarters: N/A.

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Sanctions

and export controls across all sectors. Transactional

advice related to market entry of companies

in the hospitality sector, as well as in

retail, professional services and agro-food.

Basics of firm: More than 1,500 lawyers in 24

offices in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the

Middle East.

Key people in Cuba practice: Toby Moffett

in Washington DC; Alejandro Lopez Ortiz in

Paris, France

Location for key people: Washington DC,

Chicago, and Paris

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: The

key is to identify those sectors in which U.S.

policy overlaps with the interest of the Cuban


Why clients come for Cuba advice: Initially,

to be sure they were behaving according to

current U.S. rules and regulations. Now, because

Mayer Brown has a Cuban lawyer who

spends a great deal of time on the ground in

Havana and who is licensed to practice law in

the US.

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

Headquarters: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Specialty area for Cuba practice: A variety

of areas, particularly related to nonprofit organizations

seeking to support the Cuban


Basics of firm: General business practice

with approximately 140 lawyers in four offices

in Pennsylvania and one each in Ohio,

Maryland, and Washington DC.

Key people in Cuba practice: Louis A. Dejoie,

Meaghan Hill

Location for key people: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,

and Washington DC

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: The

unknown. Despite significant progress towards

diplomatic normalization and market

openings under the Obama administration,

no one can predict how and whether these

trends will continue. … A lot needs to be

done before Cuba is truly open for business

to U.S. companies. Nevertheless, given the

enormous opportunities, U.S. businesses

should do all they can to be ready. When it

happens, it will happen quickly.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: Our

clients are very interested in potential opportunities

that the Cuban market can offer

to them. While we most often see inquiries

from nonprofit organizations which want to

engage with the Cuban people, we are also

fielding inquiries from agricultural, heavy

equipment, and internet businesses.

Moore & Company

Headquarters: Coral Gables, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Marine and

aviation. The firm has facilitated more than

150 yacht trips to Cuba. It has worked with

diving expeditions, documentary films, marine

scientists, and others.

Basics of firm: Law firm specialized in marine,

aviation, and art law. The sole office has

a staff of 14, but teams with others as needed.

Alejandro Lopez Ortiz

Mayer Brown LLP

Toby Moffett

Mayer Brown LLP

Louis A. Dejoie

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

It also acts as consultants on Cuba to lawyers


Key people in Cuba practice: Michael T.

Moore, Clay Naughton, Laura Wisman

Location for key people: Coral Gables

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: As

specialists in marine law, the immediate business

opportunity for our clients is legal yacht

expeditions to Cuba. We will have facilitated

more than 200 of these trips to Cuba by 2018.

Our clients are now turning their attention

to how they can more broadly support Cuba

and its ongoing environmental, ecological, and

educational needs and changes, related to protecting

and preserving the waters around the


Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Continuing

the progress to a less bureaucratic, adhoc

system, to a more open and streamlined

method of dealing with the applications of

those who come to Cuba with projects.

Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP

Headquarters: N/A

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Business,

financial and corporate matters, particularly

related to emerging opportunities and navigating

U.S. legal and regulatory complexities.

Focus areas include market entry strategy and

planning; transactions and licensing for the

telecommunications, travel and transportation

sectors; investigations and external enforcement

actions involving alleged violations of

the U.S. embargo and U.S. Foreign Corrupt

Practices Act; trademark protection in Cuba;

filing claims with the U.S. Foreign Claims

Settlement Commission; and monitoring U.S.

regulatory and legislative developments related

to the U.S. embargo.

Basics of firm: International law firm with

nearly 1,900 lawyers in 30 offices in North

America, Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and Europe.

Key people in Cuba practice: Carl A. Valenstein

and Mark E. Zelek, co-chairs of the

Cuba initiative

Location for key people: Boston, Massachusetts

and Miami, Florida

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: The

potential liberalization of the Cuban economy

following the retirement of Raul Castro in

2018. There is hope that the country may at

least follow the Vietnamese model of opening

the economy to foreign investment, even if it

decides to maintain a one-party communist

political system.

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: President

Trump’s new directive on Cuba policy

was to be a rollback of Obama’s liberalization.

However, the actual actions taken - restricting

self-directed people-to-people travel and transactions

involving the Cuban military – were




modest, not to mention subject to OFAC's implementation.

That said, if the Cuban government

is slow to address human rights and U.S.

claims to confiscated property, the Trump administration

may take further action, and this

creates uncertainty in the market.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

Headquarters: N/A

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Travel/transportation,


Basics of firm: International law firm with

about 700 lawyers and 21 offices around the

world. Has a particular focus on the technology,

energy and natural resources, financial services,

real estate and construction, as well as the travel

and hospitality sectors.

Key people in Cuba practice: Christopher

Wall, Stephen Becker, Nancy Fischer

Location for key people: Washington DC

Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Companies

need to think of all the angles when examining

a potential opportunity in Cuba. The U.S.

maintains a complex regulatory regime over

business activities involving Cuba, including

distinct rules enforced separately by the U.S.

Departments of Treasury and Commerce.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: For handling

export controls and sanctions matters, to

help analyze potential business opportunities,

to help prepare and procure licenses when required,

and for the aviation practice to advise

on compliance with Cuba sanctions, as well as

other matters.

Reneo Consulting LLC

Headquarters: Washington DC

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Trade and

investment, strategic consulting, regulatory

compliance, agriculture, energy and hotels

Basics of firm: 27 attorneys/consultants; one

office in Washington DC.

Key people in Cuba practice: Scott D. Gilbert,

founder and managing director; Craig J. Litherland,

Emily P. Grim, Michael P. Hatley

Location for key people: Washington DC

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Though it may seem counterintuitive, one of

the biggest opportunities relates to regulatory

and other obstacles to doing business in Cuba.

The obstacles, as frustrating as they are, act as

a barrier to entry for competitors – often providing

more far-sighted companies willing to

master the intricacies…the opportunity [for] a

foothold in the Cuban market uncontested.

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: They fail to take into account the additional

stakeholders involved in any business

venture in Cuba – which include U.S. regulators

and Cuban government officials – and to

Michael T. Moore

Moore & Company

Mark E. Zelek

Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP

Christopher Wall

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

adjust their project strategically, so that it sits

nearer to the intersection of those often-competing


Richard Graves & Associates;

Headquarters: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Marinas and


Basics of firm: Marina business development

consultant, works with associates as needed.

Key people in Cuba practice: Richard Graves

Location for key people: Fort Lauderdale,


Biggest opportunity for Cuba business:

Tourism and related fields, such as hotels and


Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: Not taking the time to become familiar

with the business culture of Cuba and the people.

In my experience, to do business in Latin

America, you must build a relationship. You

are not going to do business by giving out your

business card and brochure.

Robert L. Muse, Law office of

Headquarters: Washington DC

Specialty area for Cuba practice: U.S. Treasury’s

OFAC and U.S. Commerce’s BIS

regulations, license applications, compliance

advice, and business planning relating to authorized

activities in and with Cuba.

Basics of firm: Solo practice working on

Cuba projects since 1989 and exclusively on

Cuba since 1991. Has worked with universities,

philanthropies, policy institutes, environmental

groups and major travel and carrier

service providers, among others. Has written

and spoken on Cuba and legal issues for decades,

especially on the broad power of the

U.S. executive to “essentially end the embargo

on Cuba.”

Key people in Cuba practice: Robert L. Muse

Location for key people: Washington DC

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: The

agricultural sector. A high priority of the government

of Cuba is import substitution. They

want to end the oddity of a fertile country importing

more than 70 percent of its food. …

So, the reconstitution and modernization of

Cuba’s agricultural sector is the biggest business

opportunity available to U.S. businesses.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: The most

frequent inquiries I get are from U.S. companies

seeking to do business in Cuba. The second

most frequent inquiries are from companies

in European countries that either are, or

wish to be, involved in business in Cuba but

seek advice on how to avoid violations of U.S.

embargo laws and U.S. export restrictions.

Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A.

Headquarters: Miami, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: U.S. export

controls and import requirements administered

by Customs and Border Protection

(Department of Homeland Security),

Bureau of Industry and Security (Commerce),

Office of Foreign Assets Controls

(Treasury), and the Department of State.

Basics of firm: Since 1977, provides international

trade-related legal and consulting

services. Nearly 1,000 employees focused

on international trade, customs and export,

including about 70 attorneys. Offices

worldwide in North and South America,

Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Key people in Cuba practice: Lenny Feldman

and Steven Brotherton

Location for key people: Miami and San


Biggest challenge for Cuba business: For

U.S. companies to understand how to properly

engage with, and import from, Cuban

cuentapropistas (entrepreneurs) in order to

conduct lawful transactions.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: One

of the biggest reasons is to understand how

U.S. laws and regulations affect U.S. companies

whose foreign subsidiaries or affiliates

are conducting business directly with


Shutts & Bowen LLP

Headquarters: Miami, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: All areas

of the law

Basics of firm: Full-service law firm with

more than 260 lawyers and seven offices

across Florida. Established in 1910.

Key people in Cuba practice: Aliette Del-

Pozo Rodz, chair of Cuba task force

Location for key people: Miami, Florida

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: Companies often times consider

what is and/or what may work best for them

without realizing that they need to visit

Cuba, understand its market and learn what

may work for Cuba, and what are its current


Why clients come for Cuba advice: For business

licenses, know-how of Cuba and requirements

to ensure compliance with U.S. laws.

Transnational Strategy Group

Headquarters: Washington DC

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Consulting

for tourism-related activities, investment, and


Scott D. Gilbert,

Reneo Consulting LLC

Aliette DelPozo Rodz

Shutts & Bowen LLP

Vicki J. Huddleston

Transnational Strategy Group

Basics of firm: A commercial, economic/political

and policy consulting providing services to

private and government clients. Approximately

30 consultants, including former ambassadors,

top officials, and senior executives, in offices


Key people in Cuba practice: Vicki J. Huddleston,

former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section

in Havana and former State Department

coordinator of Cuba affairs, who has worked

on Cuba for more than 25 years.

Location for key people: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Biggest opportunity for Cuba business: Tourism

and services related to tourism, including

transport, tours, communications, lodging, and


Biggest challenge for Cuba business: Topdown

decision making, communications and

transport infrastructure, and government regulations.

World Wide Title

Headquarters: Coral Gables, Florida

Specialty area for Cuba practice: Title to

property, mostly to land.

Basics of firm: Set up decades back by a Cuba-born

lawyer/consultant to support U.S. title

insurance underwriters, the firm initially

helped clients venturing into Mexico and other

nations in such fields as resorts and light manufacturing.

For more than seven years, it has

focused on Cuba.

Key people in Cuba practice: Jose Manuel Palli,

lawyer and consultant.

Location for key people: Coral Gables

Biggest mistake U.S. companies make in

Cuba: U.S. companies (and U.S. lawyers) tend

to see Cuba from an “America-centric” point of

view, which is understandable culturally. But on

Cuba, that “mistake” is magnified by the fact

that most Americans – business people and

lawyers alike – have been exposed to a heavy

dose of biased and misleading propaganda for

almost six decades. This is slowly changing

for the better, due to the growing number of

Americans visiting the island for the first time

in half a century who are thus able to make

their own assessment of what Cuba is - warts

(and there are many) and all.

Why clients come for Cuba advice: Some

people want to see how they can plan ahead to

get back the property their families owned before

the Revolution came to power in 1959. But

they are victims of the same “America-centric”

bias, especially in their belief that the question

of “who owns what in Cuba” in the future will

be played out in U.S. courts under the U.S. legal

system. In our view, this is nothing more

than a delusion, which is why World Wide

Title doesn’t have clients with those types of

concerns. H










two-hour drive west from Havana, the breathtakingVallede

Viñales National Park has a superlative reputation

among Cubans and visitors alike. Here, you find Cuba’s

best rock-climbing, most impressive caves—and, according to

many, the best tobacco in the world.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the

Viñales valley is especially popular among European tourists and

outdoor adventurers, as well as those wanting to escape urban

crowds of Havana for a few days—or even just one.

The valley’s karst landscape is characterized by sprawling tobacco

fields and domed limestone mogotes, the rocky protrusions

that jump up almost vertically from the alluvial plains. While

the valley’s landscape remains untouched, the town has changed

spectacularly since economic reforms allowed individual entrepreneurs

to enter the services industry.

“In Viñales, the state’s footprint is so light,” says Philip

Peters, vice-president of the Lexington Institute, a conservative

think tank. “There are 193 beds in the three small state hotels,

and more than 1,100 private bed–and-breakfasts. If it weren’t

for the private sector, it would be impossible for this amount of

tourism to be going there.” How Trump's restriction of people-topeople

travel by U.S. citizens will affect this remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, private restaurants have also “exploded,” says

Peters, who counted 28 on the town’s main drag earlier this year.

“That was unbelievable to me, and it continues to expand. A

huge number of building permits are active in Viñales, and that’s

because of tourism.”

Though the private service industry is well developed, the experience

still feels small-scale and personal. A tourist can simply

show up with little or no planning at all, and count on local family

hosts to help arrange any number of tours, from inexpensive

hikes around the lush valley to horseback riding, cave exploration,

and beach excursions.

Story and photos by Victoria Mckenzie


Along for the Ride: A small group of tourists on horseback leaving the Valle del Silencio restaurant

Tobacco Time: The leaves are first stored and dried...

and then rolled into a completed cigar

Walking Tour: Our guide heads toward a tobacco drying house

Yusleidy “Yuya” Valdes Machin, a former social worker who

opened a private B&B in the center of town two years ago, says

the changes in Viñales have helped her community. “There are

many more work options now,” she told Cuba Trade. She and her

mother, a former seamstress who lives in the house next door,

combined their homes into one guest house; her mother serves as

chef. She offers a private room with air conditioning and a good

shower for 25 CUC; an enormous home-cooked breakfast costs

an extra 4 CUC. Within minutes of our arrival, Yuya arranged

both a guided walking tour of the valley and transportation back

to Havana.


Exploring Viñales can be as adventurous or easygoing as you like.

On the more relaxed end, a guided walking tour through the Valle

del Silencio (also known as the “Coffee, Cave, and Rum” tour)

costs between 15 and 20 CUC, and will take you on a leisurely

four-hour trip through sprawling tobacco fields and green-canopied

mogotes. The sun is strong here, but several shady stops

along the way offer chances to have a drink, talk to farmers, and

sample their cigars, coffee and rum.

Just beyond the entrance, José Aliesky, a young tobacco

farmer, shows Cuba Trade around his family’s fields and drying

house, giving us a private lesson on cultivation—from first planting

to final cigar.

Once the leaves are harvested, Aliesky strings them up to dry

for four months in one of the distinctive “tobacco houses” that

dot the western landscape; later, he rehydrates them in a cocktail

of honey and aguardiente, and packages them in wide palm leaves

to cure for another three months.

“When the leaves are moist and flavorful, they are ready to

smoke,” explains Aliesky, demonstrating how he peels away the

central vein—which is high in nicotine—from the pliable leaf.

“My cigars don’t cause addiction,” he says with an air of gravity.

Unlike the government-produced cigars, his family does not add

any chemicals to the leaves.

Once Aliesky has rolled the cigar, he offers it for us to

smoke, adding a dollop of honey on the tip as per local custom.

The thin, flavorful honey comes with its own legend: according to

locals, it is produced by a tiny species of black bee that burrows

underground, its combs hidden deep between tree roots. Only

one family knows how to extract the honey without destroying

the comb, says the guide.

While the private service industry is thriving in Viñales,

tobacco is still a government monopoly. Independent growers

must sell 90 percent of their crops to the government, keeping 10

percent for their own use. According to Aliesky, farmers are still

prohibited from branding homemade products, though visitors

have ample opportunity to buy hand-rolled cigars directly from

the growers. Aliesky sells his family’s cigars for 2 CUC a piece.


The Viñales valley heats up quickly in the morning, and it’s best

to start out early (and bring a good sunhat) in order to make the

most of each stop along the tour. Walking through the fields, our

guide points out crops of beans and yucca, and open pasture for

grazing. Here, there’s almost no sign of the three-year drought

that has plagued Cuba; horses and cows look fat and contented.

The path dips down to follow a small shady stream, then

re-emerges at the entrance to a cave. Tourists cluster around the

entrance, paying 2 CUC to escape the sun and explore the inside

of the mogote.

At their base, the vertical faces of the limestone mogotes

look impossible to scale. Yet the valley has over 250 climbing

routes, according to A glance at rock-climbing

website’s message boards shows a

steady flow of serious U.S. climbers to Viñales, many of whom

make a point of leaving gear behind to support the local climbing


Our next stop is a thatched cabaña near a small lake, where

visitors can swim and enjoy drinks in the shade. Several European

women on a National Geographic tour are enjoying their

walk without skimping on rum cocktails. Nearby, several tourists

emerge on horseback from a small restaurant overlooking the

Valle del Silencio.

Our final stop includes a lesson on arabica coffee cultivation

and processing techniques (though coffee is grown higher up in

the mountains), as well as the history behind Guayabita del Pinar

rum. Here, you can buy small bottles of arabica beans, coffee

grounds, and bottles of rum.

By the time we emerge from the park, the sun is at its peak,

and the five-minute walk back to Yuya’s house feels Homeric.

Other travelers wheel past on rented bicycles that can be found

next to the Centro Cultural, or provided by B&B hosts. We arrive

hot and dusty, and are grateful for the air-conditioned room

and clean shower. H




in closing



The Argument for Congress

to Open Agriculture Trade

with Cuba Now

American wheat

growers stand ready

to meet demand

in Cuba.

It’s time to end

the embargo.

By Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.)

Choosing Wisely: Crawford examines food at a market in Cuba

Direct on-farm employment accounted for 2.6 million American

jobs in 2015, about 1.4 percent of U.S. employment. Meanwhile,

Cuba imports nearly 80 percent of its food, which includes

about 400,000 tons a year of rice—an important crop grown in

my home state of Arkansas.

But instead of buying from Arkansas, Cuba currently

imports its food from faraway countries like Vietnam. American

farmers could provide cheaper, better quality goods in a matter of

hours instead of weeks. And we now have the opportunity to ever

so slightly alter our Cuba policy to create that economic opportunity

for millions of Americans, as well as to offer better, cheaper

food for the Cuban people.

The kind of change I’m talking about wouldn’t repeal the

embargo, nor would it change its structure. Simply put, this

change would allow agricultural goods to be sold on credit.

Producers can already trade agricultural goods with Cuba, but

credit restrictions limit that trade to cash-only transactions. As a

result, trading with Cuba is more difficult, especially considering

that nearly all global trade relies on credit. By lifting the credit

restriction, the United States would gain access to an important

market 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

My legislation, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, would

provide new economic opportunities for U.S. agriculture by providing

access to that market, which is worth over $1 billion per

year. Producers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, Minnesota

and other rural states would be the first to directly benefit

from this change.

Running on a platform of job creation and revitalizing rural

areas, President Trump would like to fulfill his promise to rural

America without angering Cuba hardliners by repealing the

embargo. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would help him

appease both groups. President Trump also loves a good bilateral

trade deal, and that’s essentially what this bill would allow: fair

trade between two countries that supports American jobs and

puts America first.

Some believe that trade with Cuba would only benefit the

Castro regime, but the Cuba Agriculture Exports Act does not

permit agricultural sales that would help the Cuban military,

Communist Party or members of the Politburo. Any U.S. entity

that violated these terms would be held liable under the Trading

with the Enemy Act.

If there ever was a time for this bill to move, it is now. Some

Americans may not be ready to completely repeal the embargo,

but if the United States wants to prevent nations like China and

Iran from dominating Cuba’s future, then we must consider ways

to increase our influence now, for both national security and

economic reasons.

After Fidel’s death, President-elect Trump said, “our administration

will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally

begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.” Allowing agricultural

trade on credit would be an undeniable victory for this

administration: it’s a move that supplies the Cuban people with

high-quality food and supports rural American jobs, all while

respecting the sensibilities of embargo supporters. H




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