the Special Economic Zone in Mariel, the renewed ties with the European Union, debt renegotiations with Russia, Mexico, China, Japan, Spain, France and Paris Club and growing investments coming from traditional economic partners are also consequence of the ongoing economic reform in Cuba. Even if it is too early to evaluate the results of the current reform, transformations are already visible. Small businesses have flourished and the private sector has grown. In July 2012, the Cuban Parliament approved a new Tax Law and in April 2014, a new Foreign Investment Law was passed. A new Electoral Law is under discussion. The 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party scheduled for April 2016 is expected to be scenario of key announcements of the development strategy for the country in the following years. Cuba: A Window of Opportunity The normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba brings both opportunities and challenges for the rest of the Caribbean. Even if the embargo is still in place and most transactions between the United States, or persons subject to US jurisdiction, and Cuba continue to be prohibited—and the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Department of the Treasury (OFAC) continues to enforce the prohibitions of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations diligently—the Caribbean private sector can benefit from the new circumstances and the forced absence of the US capital yet in the island. The window of opportunity before the embargo is left and Americans can freely conduct business and travel to Cuba will not remain open infinitely. While the complete lifting of the embargo will take time, it is envisaged to happen even if political divisiveness and bureaucracy may slow the pace of progress. Minor but interesting actions are registered systematically and, by looking at the events of the first days of 2016, we may expect some boosting in the final months of Obama’s administration. On January 26, OFAC and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced further amendments to easing of sanctions on Cuba. On February 11, the US Department of Agriculture asked the US Congress
for 1.5 million dollars to send five officials to Cuba to work on the logistics that will support increases in trade when Congress authorises it. On February 15, the Obama administration approved the first US factory in Cuba when allowing a company from Alabama to build a $5 million to $10 million plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba. And on February 18, President Obama announced a trip to Cuba in March. Despite the favourable prospects that for the Caribbean represent fostering economic relations with Cuba, difficulties exist above the unfinished negotiations with the US or the long-established apathy of the region’s private sector on looking at Cuba as economic destiny. Conducting business in Cuba is not an easy process due to the central-planned model, the dominant role of state-owned enterprises and the socialist bureaucracy. A second obstacle that might discourage Caribbean firms is the Cuban strategy on looking for million dollars investment projects that may rapidly transform the economic structure, bring technological change and create jobs. Finally, as the changes in the US policy towards Cuba are so new and thus so untested, Caribbean companies should approach business opportunities in Cuba with caution, mindful of the “fine print”. The elaborated US regulatory corpus on Cuba provokes most of the measures already taken to exist only in paper, since other regulations still in place interdict their effective application without breaking any laws. Any future endeavour comes with possible success and failure and the scenario of normal relations between Cuba and the US is no less for the Caribbean. The process opens opportunities and defies for a region where most states have built close diplomatic and cooperation ties with Cuba over 40 years. The challenge is now how to preserve the main achievements and seize the new hemispheric dynamics for an extended and stronger Caribbean presence in Cuba, specifically in the economic sector, being this last one still an unachieved purpose that has proved to be the weakest link of the intraregional alliance.
THE PELICAN/ISSUE 14 –