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CANADA-CUBA ECONOMIC RELATIONS: AN UPDATE

By Arch Ritter                                                                                                  October 5, 2016

 Canada and Cuba have maintained a normal and mutually beneficial economic relationship from Colonial times to 2016.  With the beginning of Cuba’s “Special Period” in 1990 and its modest moves towards a mixed market economy in the 1990s, Canadian participants were optimistic about future economic relations.  In the 2000’s, this was replaced by some skepticism, but with the reforms of 2010-2012 and the beginning of the normalization of US Cuba relations, optimism has returned. This article provides an update on Cuban-Canadian economic relations, including trade, foreign investment, development assistance and migration and some speculation concerning the future of the relationship.

Canada-Cuba Trade Relations

Since the start of Cuba’s revolution, normal trade relations between Canada and Cuba have been maintained. However, trade has waxed and waned over the years as can be seen in Chart 1. The chief feature of the trade relationship in the 1980s was the large volume of Canadian exports which were mainly wheat. Trade expanded steadily in the 1990s with the ending of the special trade relationship with the Soviet Union, as Cuba’s economy began to recover and as it began to diversify its export markets and sources of imports.

q1After 2001, Cuba’s exports to Canada expanded and began to exceed Canada’s exports to Cuba due to high nickel volumes and prices. Canadian exports to Cuba have more or less stagnated since 2001 while other countries have increased their market shares.  By 2015, Canada was the fourth ranking exporter to Cuba following Venezuela, China, and Spain (Table 1.) In contrast, Canada was the second largest export market for Cuba after Venezuela in 2015, accounting for 11% of Cuba’s exports.

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Cuba’s exports to Canada have consisted almost totally of nickel concentrates, with cigars, rum, seafood and copper scrap (presumably a quirk in 2015) as very small foreign exchange earners (Table 2.).

By 2015, Canada’s exports to Cuba were reasonably diversified (Table 2.) Its agricultural exports remained significant, though overwhelmed by US agricultural exports. Minerals (sulfur for Cuba’s nickel industry, potash for fertilizer), metals (copper products for Cuba’s electrical system mainly) and machinery of various types have all been significant in the 2010s.

r2 Tourism

Cuba’s best and most faithful friend is the brutal Canadian Winter, which has driven millions of Canadians to warmer Caribbean climes during the December to April period. Canada has been the largest single national source of tourists consistently from 1990 to 2015 and accounted for almost 40% of all tourist arrivals in 2015.  But when US tourism opens up completely, there will likely be a deluge of US winter-escape tourism as well as curiosity tourism, convention tourism, medical tourism, March-break tourism and retirement relocation. The result will likely be that prices rise, and Canadian winter time tourism may well be squeezed out of Cuba into lower cost destinations.

q2Canadian Enterprises in Cuban Joint Ventures

In 1991, Cuba opened itself to foreign investment in joint venture arrangements with state firms. By the end of 1999, there were 72 joint ventures or “economic association” agreements between Canadian firms and Cuban state enterprises but few seem to have ever come to life.

Sherritt International has been by far the most successful Canadian-Cuban joint venture.  Its formula for success is one that cannot likely be replicated by any other enterprise.  In effect, it exchanged 50% of its ownership in the nickel refinery in Alberta Canada for 50% ownership of the Moa mine and concentrator in Cuba and shared in the ownership of the marketing enterprise.  This made Cuba a significant foreign investor in Canada!  The Sherritt experience was explored in the previous issue of this publication.

A number of mineral exploration companies established joint ventures in Cuba by 1994 in association with Geominera S.A. It was thought that Cuba was an ideal location for mineral exploration because much of the country had been covered by aero-magnetic and geological surveys in the Soviet era.  Among the enterprises involved in exploration projects in joint ventures with Geominera were Holmer Gold Mines, Joutel Resources, CaribGold Resources, Northern Orion, and MacDonald Mines. Unfortunately, the exploration undertaken from 1992 to 2007 yielded disappointing results and none of the exploration projects led to producing mines. This suggests that either the quality and/or magnitude of the deposits are lower than in other regions of the world. Alternatively, perhaps the investment conditions, the policy environment and/or the political risk situation were worse than elsewhere. It would be surprising if there were another mineral exploration rush in the medium term future, unless mineral prices were to rise to very high levels.

Canadian enterprises in real estate development have also had difficult experiences in Cuba. One project announced in October 1998 by an association between Cuba’s luxury hotel chain, Gran Caribe and Cuban Canadian Resorts International proposed U.S. $250 million set of four condominiums with hotel and resort facilities. It would have opened up an important new type of tourism for Cuba.  However, in May 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Investment and Cooperation announced a prohibition of foreign ownership of condominium units killing this and other such projects for the time being.

Another project was that of Leisure Canada for the construction of some 11 hotels and two golf courses, a marina. (Leisure Canada Incorporated, 2000). This project fizzled out. In 2011 Leisure Canada, having changed its name to 360 VOX Corporation, was bought out by Dundee Corporation in May 2014.  Any mention of this project has disappeared.

One successful venture was the construction of five airports in Cuba, including Varadero and Havana International Airports by Intelcan Technosystems of Ottawa. The CDN$ 52 million investment in the Havana Airport, was financed in part by Canada’s Export Development Corporation (33%) and 15% from Intelcan. Since 2000, the ultimate payment has come from international passengers who pay U.S. $25.00 (CUC 25.00) as an airport tax on departure.

Unfortunately brilliant successes for Canadian-Cuban joint ventures seem to be few and far between.  Indeed, a number of executives of Canadian trading enterprises and joint ventures, Cy Tokmakjian and Sarkis Yacoubian, were jailed and tried on corruption charges –a cooling factor in the foreign investment process. The moral of the story is that establishing a joint venture in Cuba can work, but it must be done with patience, intelligence, and scrupulous awareness of Cuban regulations and processes and with clear benefits for the Cuban partner enterprise and the Cuban people.

Canadian Development Assistance

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has provided some interesting development assistance to Cuba since 1994. A major proportion of this has been “economic” in character, aimed at the “modernization of the state.”  Some has been used to support the initiation of projects by Canadian enterprises with Cuban counterparts or to promote Canadian exports. Some of the economic programs were micro-enterprise tax administration, economic management, support for technical training and computer acquisition at the Central Bank, a program to help strengthen administration and professional economics at the Ministry of Economics and Planning and training/certification programs for tradesmen in some basic industrial areas. Various types of commodity assistance were provided as well. Much of the assistance provided by NGOs was aimed at community level activities.  A small amount of assistance was directed towards human rights and governance initiatives including a “Human Rights Fund Pilot Project” and “Dialogue Fund” with multiple Canadian and Cuban partners.

r3Canada’s active development assistance projects in Cuba as of mid-2016 are listed in Table 3. The annual expenditures of these multi-year projects for 2014-2015 was $CDN 2.42 million, a very

 International Migration

 An interesting dimension of Canadian-Cuban relations is migration. As indicated in Chart 3, Cuban migration to Canada has risen from levels in the hundreds in the 1980s to around 1,400 in 2014-2015. However, an unknown number of the Cuban immigrants to Canada move on to the United States, especially Florida, reflecting the attraction of the large Cuban-American population there and the weather.

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Detailed sociological information on Cuban migrants is not available. However, my impressions are that, generally speaking, they are relatively well-educated, industrious, self-activating and entrepreneurial. They also seem to be relatively young, for the most part, many having recently finished their education and just starting out on their careers. Many Cuban immigrants seem to have done reasonably well and have found work in their professional areas, something that is not easy in a new society, culture and language.  This migration represents a “brain drain” or a loss of human capital for Cuba and a corresponding gain for Canada.

 Prospective Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations

The future economic relationship between Canada and Cuba will be shaped mainly by three factors: the strength and durability of Cuba’s economic recovery; the nature of Cuba’s economic policies affecting trade, and foreign investment; and the character and timing of complete normalization of relations with the United States.

A sustained recovery of the Cuban economy would promote a deepened and broadened economic relationship with Canada. A growing Cuban economy would permit increases in imports from all trading partners, including Canada.  At the same time, economic recovery in Cuba also requires expansion of its exports of goods and services.

Is an enduring recuperation of the Cuban economy probable in the next decade or so? First, the driving force for the Cuban economy, namely export earnings, at this time depends mainly on tourism, medical services and nickel exports.  Nickel and tourism should continue to be strong, but the obscured subsidization from Venezuela is over. Cuba’s medical service exports will likely be transitory as other countries develop their own medical systems and increase medical personnel.  Pharmaceutical exports may hold promise in the longer term but have been somewhat disappointing relative to the high hopes once placed in their prospects. Little progress appears imminent regarding the expansion of other merchandise exports. New exports of manufactured products have not appeared on the scene in a significant way and are obstructed by some public policies.

Some continuing problems may prompt skepticism regarding Cuba’s economic prospects in the near future. Among the difficulties often cited are: a dual exchange rate system with negative consequences for export diversification and expansion; a blockage of people’s initiatives, energies and entrepreneurship due to the unwillingness to extend further the reform process especially for medium scale enterprise; and the deterioration of parts of the infrastructure, most notably housing.

The second set of factors that will shape Canada’s future economic relations with Cuba in is Cuba’s policies relating to trade, foreign investment and tourism. These policies are unlikely to undergo dramatic change under Raul Castro’s leadership. This implies that the basic Canadian-Cuban economic relationship should not be affected seriously by changed Cuban policies in the next few years. The state-trading that in part characterizes these relationships is not intrinsically beneficial for Canada.

Thirdly, the complete normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations especially regarding trade and US investment in Cuba, will have a major effect on the Canada-Cuba economic relationship. Complete normalization will permit expansion of Cuban exports, US foreign investment in Cuba, US tourism in Cuba, financial flows and the possibility of open and vigorous collaboration of Cuban-America and Cuban citizens in business activities.  Greater prosperity will be the result.

Normalization with the United States will lead to expanded exports of goods and services to Cuba from the U.S. and vice versa.  This is due to geographic and transport factors.  More frequent freighter connections, high speed hydrofoil passenger boat connections, a re-connection of U.S. and Cuban railway systems and a proliferation of airline connections will lead to a reintegration of the two economies. The diversified U.S. economy can provide a broad range of consumer and capital goods and services competitively with other countries and with low transport costs and quick delivery times.

Canadian exporters to Cuba therefore will face a challenge after US – Cuban normalization. The location and logistical advantages of U.S. exporters, plus the interest, activism and advantages of the Cuban-American business community will outweigh any lingering “goodwill effect” with Canada. Overnight or next-day delivery of products ordered from the U.S. makes continuation of some types of exports from Canada difficult, as delivery from Canada currently may take up to two weeks or more on ships leaving Canada every week or ten days on average.

On the other hand, some of Canada’s current exports to Cuba are competitive with U.S. products and should increase in a post-embargo Cuban economic recovery. This might include fertilizers (potash), cereals, animal feed stocks, lumber, wood and paper products and fabricated non-ferrous metals products. Canada also is competitive in certain types of capital equipment such as minerals machinery and equipment, some paper making equipment, Bombardier aircraft, railway rolling stock and equipment, urban transit vehicles, communications equipment, electrical generation and distribution equipment, and some specialized vehicles. However, some Canadian exports may be threatened by U.S. competition.

In summary, the recovery of the Cuban economy and the increase in foreign exchange receipts that U.S.-Cuban normalization in time should bring about will be of benefit for some Canadian exporters while others may be replaced by U.S. suppliers.  Will the “expansionary effect” outweigh the costs of the “displacement effect” for Canadian exporters?  Perhaps, but this is not assured.

Normalization will also induce U.S. enterprises to invest in Cuba. With no further changes to the foreign investment law and within the current policy environment, one can imagine some but not many U.S. firms entering joint ventures.  But with policy liberalization in a post-Raul Castro situation, one can imagine large numbers of U.S. enterprises investing in Cuba. Cuban-Americans would also enter Cuba to set up small businesses or to finance business ventures with their Cuban relatives or counterparts.  The “geo-economic” gravitational pull of the U.S. will be strong. After U.S.-Cuba rapprochement Canadian trade and investment as a proportion of total trade and investment will likely diminish even though both might increase in absolute terms.

To conclude, there are future uncertainties and challenges regarding the Canadian-Cuban economic relationship.  The character and intensity of future economic performance in Cuba, Cuba’s policy environment and the timing of the complete normalization of relations with the United States are still ambiguous and uncertain. These factors will have mixed effects, but effects that on balance should be positive for Canada and Cuba.

Bibliography

Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2014/permanent/10.aspAccessed October 23, 2016

Cuban Club Resorts. 2000. Web site: www.cubanclubresorts.com

Global Affairs Canada, Cuba – International Development Projects, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/cidaweb/cpo.nsf/fWebCSAZEn?ReadForm&idx=00&CC=CU.  Accessed 3 October 2016

Industry Canada, Trade Data Online (TDO), Trade by Product (HS Codes) http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/tdo-dcd.nsf/eng/Home

Leisure Canada Incorporated. (2000, August, 17). Press Release. Reproduced in   www.cubanet.org

Nolen, Stephanie. 2015. In tourist-deluged Cuba, Canadian firms are noticeably absent. The Globe and Mail December 13.

Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Cuba.  Anuario Estadistico de Cuba. (Various issues) http://www.one.cu/ . Accessed various times and October 4 2016.

Sequin Rob. 2013. Leisure Canada now a defunct Cuba real estate development brand.  Havana Journal September 25,

 

 

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FLIGHTS TO CUBA FROM THE U.S. COULD START THIS FALL

JEFF MASON and JEFFREY DASTIN

Globe and mail, Reuters, Thursday, Jul. 07, 2016 3:44PM EDT

Original Arcicle: FLIGHTS TO CUBA FROM THE U.S. zzza - Copy

The United States has tentatively approved flights on eight U.S. airlines to Havana as early as this fall, with American Airlines Group Inc. receiving the largest share of the limited routes, the U.S. Transportation Department said Thursday.

The decision, coming about a year after the United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations, includes 35 flights per week on American, the biggest U.S. airline in Latin America by flights. Its rival for Caribbean travel, JetBlue Airways Corp., was granted 27.

The department expects to reach a final decision on the routes later this summer after reviewing any objections. It also recommended flights to Havana on Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Alaska Air Group Inc., Spirit Airlines Inc. and Frontier Airlines Inc.

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The flights to Cuba’s capital would be the latest step in bringing the former Cold War foes closer together.

Last month, the Transportation Department gave airlines the green light to schedule flights to other cities in Cuba for the first time in decades. Until now, air travel to the Communist-ruled island has been limited to charter services.

Selecting the carriers for the Havana flights created a challenge for the Obama administration. Airlines applied for nearly triple the 20 daily round-trips that Cuba and the United States agreed to allow.

“The proposed slate of airlines will ensure service to areas of substantial Cuban-American population, as well as to important aviation hub cities,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

“The department also sought to offer the public a wide array of travel choices in the type of airline such as network, low-cost and ultra low-cost carriers.”

Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. which have the biggest Cuban-American communities in the United States, received the most flights, at 83 a week among six airlines.  American won one-third of flights from south Florida. This may give it a leg up over rivals because it can offer corporate customers more convenient connections through Miami.

“It’s enough to make it a viable business-traveler schedule,” said aviation industry consultant Robert Mann.

Over time, U.S. airlines anticipate a bigger payout from Cuba than is typical for Caribbean destinations.  Strong demand will come from Cuban-Americans visiting relatives and executives travelling in business class to evaluate commercial opportunities, experts said.

“These flights open the door to a new world of travel and opportunities for our customers,” said Oscar Munoz, United’s chief executive officer. United will fly from Newark, N.J., and Houston under the proposal.

Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and Tampa will also offer non-stop service.

While a ban on tourism to Cuba remains part of U.S. law, President Barack Obama has authorized exceptions. U.S. citizens that meet one of 12 criteria, such as taking part in educational tours, can now visit Cuba.  The U.S. House of Representatives was due to vote as early as Thursday on a spending bill amendment that would essentially lift travel restrictions to Cuba for a year.

American said it hopes to begin Havana service in November.  Its shares rose 3.3 per cent while JetBlue shares added 1.7 per cent. Southwest rose 1.7 per cent and Delta was up 2.2 per cent.

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Cubana de Aviación Ilyushin Il-96-300; What Share of the US Tourism Market for Cubana?

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U.S.-CUBA NORMALIZATION AND THE ZIKA VIRUS RISK: PROBABLE IMPACTS ON CUBAN AND CARIBBEAN TOURISM

By Arch Ritter, March 14, 2016

Tourism has been the spectacular growth sector for Cuba since the beginning of the “Special Period” in 1990.  Tourist numbers have increased 10-folds in the quarter-century from 1990 to 2015, as illustrated in Chart 1.  Foreign exchange earnings from tourism have increased correspondingly.  Canada has been by far the largest source of tourists. Indeed, Cuba’s best friend throughout the “Special Period” has been the Canadian winter.

Now with full normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations “en route,” huge prospective increases in U.S. tourism will have major impacts on Canada but also perhaps on other Caribbean tourist destinations.  What might these impacts be?

Chart 1. International Tourist Arrivals, 1990-2015, Thousands. y Source: Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Government of Cuba, various issues, Access3ed February 23, 2016

The Coming U.S. Tourism “Tsunami” to Cuba!

Full normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations in time will bring unrestricted travel for U.S. citizens to Cuba. This will lead to a deluge of US visitors. Among the varieties of U.S. tourists would be the following:

  • Curiosity tourists. There will be a huge tourist influx of US citizens wanting to see Cuba for the first time since 1961. Relatively few US citizens appear to have broken US travel restrictions so that the pent-up demand is enormous.
  • Family Reunification tourists. When all controls are lifted on the US side for travel to Cuba, a further increase in short-term visits by Cuban-Americans for family purposes is likely to occur – following major increases already.
  • Sun, Sea and Sand tourists. Many US citizens, especially from the North Eastern and Central parts of the country will likely follow the winter-escaping Canadians to Cuban beaches for one to two week periods.
  • “Snow-bird” tourists. Some US citizens, mainly retirees, will spend several of the winter months in Cuba.
  • Retirement tourists. With normal U.S.- Cuban relations, some citizens of the northern part of the United States, especially Cuban-Americans in new Jersey, may decide to reside for half the year or so in Cuba returning to the U.S. for the other half of the year or even the whole year in Cuba, if their pensions permit it.   Permitting the purchase of time share condominiums would facilitate both snowbird and part-time retirement tourism.
  • Medical tourists. There may be some travel to Cuba for access to medical services which will likely continue to be inexpensive relative to the United States.
  • Convention tourists. Short-term visits for conventions could increase significantly.
  • Cultural and Sport tourists. One might expect more visits for purposes of interacting with and experiencing Cuban art, music, cinema, and sports.
  • Educational tourists. It is likely that American students and teachers at various levels would enroll or visit Cuban institutions of higher learning or cultural and sports centers for courses, years abroad, sabbaticals, language training etc., in much greater numbers than have been possible under the embargo.
  • March-Breaker” tourists. Students from the US are likely to try a visit to Cuba for the March Break, instead of the Maya Riviera, Florida or elsewhere.

One can only guess at the future volumes of U.S. tourists to Cuba. One could imagine it quickly doubling the 2015 Canadian level (1,300,092 tourist arrivals) and then redoubling again to 5.2 million and then beyond, as Cuba’s capacity to accommodate more tourists expanded. The total number of tourists then could reach about 8 million by 2022 – or many more if tourism from other countries also increases and does not get “squeezed out.”  (However, U.S. “curiosity tourism” will peak and then subside over the next four or five years following complete normalization.)

This would perhaps lead to an increase Cuba’s total foreign exchange earnings from tourism to about $US 8.0 to 9.0 billion by 2022, up from the estimated level of $US 2.98 billion in 2015 (extrapolating from ONE’s 2014 statement of tourism earnings and 2015 total numbers of tourists.)  This would replace the foreign exchange earnings and the semi-obscured subsidization that Cuba has been receiving from Venezuela which looks totally unsustainable at this time.

The expansion of tourism is great news for Cuba, and will lead to

  • increased foreign exchange earnings for the country,
  • a construction boom in resorts and tourist facilities,
  • a major increase in incomes for the growing private sector servicing tourism (bed and breakfasts, restaurants, travel and guide services among others),
  • higher tax revenues of many sorts, and
  • generalized improvement as real incomes of citizens improve.

The downside is that success in the tourism sector may reduce the urgency of reviving the manufacturing sector which is still operating at close to 50% of the level it had achieved in 1988 before the economic meld-down.

 Will “El Cheapo” Canadian Tourism be Squeezed Out?

Will the increase in U.S. tourism to Cuba crowd out the Canadian tourists who constituted 37% of all tourists to Cuba in 2015%.  Maybe. But U.S. “curiosity tourism” will most likely focus on Havana and the historical areas of Cuba rather than the beaches so that the Canadians at the beach resorts would not be pushed out for some time, at least mot physically!

 yy Source: ONE Anuario Estadistico de Cuba, 2015 Table 15.3), Accessed February 23, 2016

 Most Canadian tourists head to the beach with a package tour – going to Havana or another city on a day’s excursion.  For this reason, they have been sometimes derided as “el cheapo” tourists who spend as little as they can in the Cuban economy.  There may be some truth in this, but most other tourists also are in similar package tours. If prices were to rise significantly with the influx of U.S. tourists, one could expect that some Canadian tourists would switch to other Caribbean destinations. This could indeed happen to some extent, especially if the winter-time “sun, sea and sand” tourism from the United States increases greatly.

Chart 3 Tourist Arrivals, Major Caribbean Countries, 1995 – 2013

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Table 1. Caribbean Tourist Arrivals and Earnings, 2010 and 2014 yyyy1

Source: United Nations World Tourism Organization, Annual Report 2014, p.6.  http://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284416899, Accessed February 29, 2016

Will Other Caribbean Destinations Lose Out to Cuba?

There has been some fear that other Caribbean tourist destinations would lose when U.S. citizens start flocking to Cuba.  This indeed is a legitimate fear.

A glimpse at the past 25 years suggests that the impacts on other Caribbean destinations in general may be mixed. A glance at Chart 3 indicates that some other major destinations, including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the other “Caribbean Small States” in general have been able to withstand the growing competition from Cuba and have continued to expand significantly in terms of tourist arrivals over the 1995-2013 period. The expansion of tourism in the Dominican Republic is especially notewortheyPuerto Rico is the major exception along with The Bahamas.  Both have lost its shares of tourist arrivals and of revenues in the brief 2010-2014 period as indicated in Table 1.  Surprisingly, Cuba increased its share of tourists in the region, but its share of tourist revenues actually declined.

There is one reason for optimism with respect to the other Caribbean destinations.  Much of the prospective U.S. tourism to Cuba will not be of the “sun, sea and sand” variety, but will be of the other varieties especially “curiosity tourism.”  But what most of the other Caribbean Islands offer is a beach “escape-from-the-winter” holiday. They may therefore be less vulnerable to a tourism “shifting to Cuba” effect.

A small compensation will be that if Canadians are squeezed out of tourism in Cuba with the onslaught of U.S. beach resort tourists, they will likely go to other Caribbean destinations. However, there is also great affection on the part of many Canadians for Cuba as a tourism destination, and the return again and again and again!

Furthermore, international tourism generally has been growing steadily in the post-World War II period and there is little likelihood that this will cease unless the world enters a deep and prolonged recession.  Tourism in the Caribbean generally has been increasing steadily as well.  The overall expansion of tourism in the region should help compensate for any diversion of U.S. tourists from the other Caribbean islands to Cuba.

Will the Maya Riviera be hit with a diversion of U.S. tourists to Cuba?  This may well happen to some degree.  However, the Mexican Yucatan region is a highly attractive tourist waterfront destination with other major attractions. A beach holiday can be combined with archaeological tourism with a visit to the ancient Maya cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza (both World Heritage Sites), Tulum, to less well-known but quite incredible Calakmul (another World Heritage Site) and Kohunlich and innumerable smaller sites. As well as this is the Colonial legacy in many small towns as well as Merida and Campeche (still another World Heritage site.)   In the long term, the Yucatan should certainly be able to hold its own.

 The Zika Virus Risk to Cuba’s Population and Tourism

While it is not known whether or not the  Zika Virus, linked to birth defects elsewhere in Latin America, has arrived in Cuba, there can be no doubt that it will. If, as seems increasingly certain, the Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti, then pregnant women in Cuba would be at grave risk. This would likely have a major impact on the tourist sector and the Cuban economy generally – as well as tourism elsewhere in the Caribbean and tropical parts of the world, as suggested by the accompanying map.

Cuba has had long and reasonably successful experience in containing the dengue virus that has affected many people and also the rarer Chikungunya virus, a disease that causes fever and severe joint pain.  Both are also spread by some branches of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.  This has been achieved with frequent fumigation of homes, public and buildings and clean-up of stagnant waters that are the breeding grounds of the mosquitos.

 Map 1. Probable Occurrence of Aedes Aegypti in the Caribbean Region zika 2

Source: Wikipedia, Zika Virus, accessed February 29, 2016

Note: Global Aedes aegypti predicted distribution. The map depicts the probability of occurrence (blue=none, red=highest occurrence).

 On February 23, a public program was announced to deal with the potential problem. This involves:

  • using the army to expedite fumigation spraying,
  • calling on the somewhat moribund neighborhood associations – the Comites por la Defensa de la Revolucion – to promote public education,
  • a general clean-up of the streets and stagnant waters and
  • improved garbage disposal arrangements.

Judging from recent reports from Cuba these programs have been implemented quickly and people are already adjusting their behavior to eliminate the mosquito vector of the disease and in their normal living arrangements (using mosquito nets at night for example.)

Cuba’s public health system is very strong and its actions already seem to be determined and serious.  Cuba will probably be able to deal with the mosquito and the disease very effectively. Obviously effective action is imperative to protect Cuba’s people and future generations.

What will be the effect on Cuba’s tourism and its tourism-dependent economy?  Already there are concerns on the part of young women and especially of course pregnant women regarding travel to Cuba. This will undoubtedly have an impact, very minor one hopes, on Cuba as well as on the rest of the countries in the region.  But it is probable that Cuba’s public health system will minimize and hopefully eliminate the problem. If so, tourism will not be affected that seriously.

 Conclusion

In summary, if managed wisely, Cuba can look forward to greatly expanded and economically beneficial tourist boom with full normalization of relations with the United States. This may generate some collateral damage for Canadian tourists who may face a crowding out and pricing out effect, but this will likely be modest and would likely benefit other Caribbean countries. Within the Caribbean region, some countries may feel pressure from the diversion of U.S. beach resort tourists, but most of the bigger destinations have held their own in the last few decades and will continue to do so.

A question mark and potential risk for the tourist sector – and more importantly for the whole population and for future generations in Cuba and many tropical regions is the Zika virus. This will likely hit Cuba in time if it has not already. But resolute policy, education and action have begun to deal with Zika.  Cuba’s past successful programs for controlling the dengue virus should facilitate rapid and effective action against Zika.

With respect to tourism in summary, the positive economic impacts of the coming U.S. tourism tsunami should far outweigh any possible effects of the Zika virus, which will likely be successfully controlled.

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Cuba’s Best Friend of the 1990s: The Canadian Winter

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Cuba’s Best Friend of the 2016 Onward: The Curious American Tourist !

> on February 26, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.

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HOW CUBA IS, AND ISN’T, CHANGING, ONE YEAR AFTER THE THAW WITH THE U.S.

By Nick Miroff December 15 at 7:00 AM

HAVANA — No event in decades shook up Cuba like the announcement last Dec. 17 by presidents Obama and Raul Castro that their countries would begin normalizing long-broken relations. In the 12 months since, Cubans have witnessed scenes few expected to see in their lifetimes, or at least in the lifetimes of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul.

A U.S. flag snaps once again in the sea breeze outside a U.S. embassy in Havana. Raul Castro and Obama held talks on the sidelines of a hemispheric summit in April. So many U.S. politicians, corporate executives, foreign leaders, tourists and celebrities have visited, that an island long known for isolation suddenly feels it is at the center of the world.

The psychological impact of these events, however, has far outpaced any physical one. So far, U.S. businesses have only completed a handful of new deals. Cuba remains the only closed, one-party state in the Americas, and if anything, normalization with Washington has left communist authorities increasingly anxious about dissent and more determined to stifle it.

Cuba is still very much the same country it was a year ago. And yet, not quite.

“For a lot of my friends who are university graduates, the news was positive, and we saw it as the beginning of a long and complicated process,” said Lenier Gonzalez, a founder of the group Cuba Posible, which advocates gradual reform. But for more of the population, “it produced an unrealistic expectation

That third group of Cubans heard in Obama’s words last Dec. 17 a cue to flee. They fear normalization will put an end to the immigration rules that essentially bestow residency and welfare benefits on any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil.

As many as 70,000 Cubans have left for the United States in the past year, in what appears to be the largest wave of migration from the island in decades.

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The Legal Emigration Route to the USA: Early Morning Queue outside the American Embassy, April 2015

The changes of the past year have set Cuban authorities on edge too, bringing an escalating crackdown on public protest or opposition activity.

Dozens, even hundreds of activists are detained or arrested each Sunday, when the Ladies in White dissident group attempts to march in Havana and another group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, stages a weekly mobilization in Santiago, the island’s second- largest city.

Though the government generally no longer locks up dissidents for long prison terms, it increasingly relies on short-term arrests to block protests by activists it considers “mercenaries” at the service of foreign interests.

The illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation tallied 1,447 political arrests or arbitrary detentions in November, the highest monthly total in years.

In an interview published Monday, Obama said that the United States would continue to support Cuban rights activists and that he was considering a trip to the island — but on the condition that he can meet with dissidents. “If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” he said, in an interview with Yahoo News.

“Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that over time you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,” said Obama, whom surveys show is a widely popular figure on the island.

Cuban officials this year have tried to push back at public perceptions that Obama is a friend and the United States is no longer a threat or a foe. Relations will not be truly normal, they insist, until Washington lifts its trade embargo, closes the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay and makes reparations for a half-century of economic sanctions and other grievances.

Yet the rivalry has morphed from hostile confrontation into something more sportsmanlike: a low-intensity contest to set the pace of change, with Washington trying to move faster and Cuba preferring slow, cautious steps.

As Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban journal Temas, put it: “We’ve traded a boxing ring for a chess board.”

For all its revolutionary slogans and lore, Cuba can be a profoundly conservative place, in the strict definition of the term. It is a country where the television programming, food rations and newspaper editorials seem to remain the same, year in, year out. This drives young Cubans crazy. But the continuity is a comfort to some, not least the communist party elders who have ruled for 57 years.

Raul Castro, 84, has pledged to step down in February 2018. Obama has 13 months left in office. That leaves a narrow window for the two men who charted the normalization course to see it through.

Rarely does a week go by without some new chess move. The Obama administration in May took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, paving the way for the countries to formally reestablish diplomatic ties in July.

The two countries have signed new agreements on environmental cooperation. They’ve enhanced anti-narcotics enforcement. Direct mail service is set to resume on a trial basis. U.S. and Cuban officials have even started discussing their oldest grievances, opening negotiations to settle billions in U.S. property claims and Cuban counter-claims.

The U.S. secretaries of agriculture, commerce and state have all visited Havana in the past year, along with dozens of U.S. lawmakers, adding up to the highest-level government contacts in decades.

A U.S. tourism tsunami still seems to be building. U.S. travel to Cuba increased by 40 percent since last December, according to industry estimates. Overall tourism to Cuba increased nearly 20 percent, bringing billions in additional revenue for the government.

“Our booking activity has been off the charts,” said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, the largest U.S.-based provider of the licensed “people-to-people” travel permitted under U.S. law.

Most of the U.S. travelers have come to Havana, where a shortage of hotel beds has kicked off a scramble among Cubans and their foreign business partners to buy, renovate and rent properties. Each city block seems to have at least one crew of contractors patching cracks and applying paint.

A deal to reestablish regular commercial flights between the two countries is said to be imminent, with United, JetBlue, American Airlines and other U.S. carriers pledging to begin service as soon as they’re cleared by the two governments.

Cuba established a direct phone link with a U.S. company, IDT, and a roaming agreement with Sprint. It has set up nearly 50 outdoor WiFi hotspots at parks and boulevards across the island, where Cubans gather round-the-clock to chat with friends and relatives overseas.

But the initial Cuba excitement among U.S. companies has been replaced by something more “sober” a year later, said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group lobbying to lift the embargo.

Williams said he knew of at least two-dozen U.S. companies that had submitted formal business proposals to the Castro government, aimed at taking advantage of more flexible rules. “I would imagine it’s probably in the hundreds,” he said.

The companies want to lease office space, build warehouses, dock cruise ships and ferries. Not one has gotten a green light so far, he said.

“Frankly I think the Cubans have been overwhelmed with a surge in interest and the decentralized nature of how that interest is coming to them, with companies calling them up, consultants coming to them, and not a lot of clarity about how to make a deal,” said Williams. “The non-responsiveness has slowed things down.”

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U.S. HOTEL CHAINS CIRCLE CUBA AS VISITORS SURGE, RESTRICTIONS EASE

By Mike Stone And Mitra Taj, Reuters, New York/Lima, Peru, Sept 30 2015

Original Article Here: U.S. HOTEL CHAINS

Cuba April 2015 012.jpgasdA Favouvorite Havana Bar, at the Hotel El Colina, Havana. Can US Chains compete for this for character? photo by A. Ritter

The race for Cuba’s beach-front is on.

Executives from major U.S. hotel chains have stepped up their interest in the Communist island in recent months, holding informal talks with Cuban officials as Washington loosens restrictions on U.S. firms operating there.  Executives from Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Carlson Hospitality Group, which runs the Radisson chain, are among those who have held talks with Cuban officials in recent months, they told Reuters.  

“We’re all very interested.” said Ted Middleton, Hilton’s senior vice president of development in Latin America. “When legally we’re allowed to do so we all want to be at the start-line ready to go.”

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in July after decades of hostility. Washington chipped away further at the half-century-old trade embargo this month, allowing certain companies to establish subsidiaries or joint ventures in Cuba as well as open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba.  The United States wants to strike a deal that lets U.S. airlines schedule Cuba flights as soon as possible, a State Department official said last week, amid speculation that a U.S. ban on its tourists visiting Cuba could be eased.

U.S. hoteliers are not currently allowed to invest in Cuba, and the Caribbean island officially remains off-limits for U.S. tourists unless they meet special criteria such as being Cuban-Americans or join special cultural or educational tours.  Foreign companies have to partner with a Cuban entity to do business and U.S. hoteliers expect they will have to do likewise if and when U.S. restrictions are lifted.

While they wait for the politicians to iron out their differences, U.S. hotel bosses are conducting fact-finding missions in Havana and holding getting-to-know-you meetings with government officials in Cuba and various European cities.  This week, Middleton, along with executives from Carlson and Wyndham Worldwide Corp., which runs the Ramada chain, are meeting with Cuba’s Deputy Tourism Minister Luis Miguel Diaz at an industry conference in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

In the 1950s Cuba was an exotic playground for U.S. celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardener, as well as ordinary tourists, who travel led there en masse on cheap flights and ships from Miami.  A recent relaxation of some of the restrictions on U.S. travelers has encouraged over 106,000 Americans to visit Cuba so far this year, more than the 91,254 who arrived in all of 2014, according to data compiled by tourism professor José Luís Perelló of the University of Havana.

Overall, tourist arrivals are up nearly 18 percent this year after a record 3 million visitors in 2014, making Cuba the second-most popular holiday destination in the Caribbean behind the much-smaller Dominican Republic.  U.S. hoteliers expect the number of U.S. visitors to balloon if all travel restrictions are axed.  “If and when the travel ban is lifted. We estimate there will be over 1.5 million U.S. travelers on a yearly basis,” said Laurent de Kousemaeker, chief development officer for the Caribbean & Latin American region for Marriott.  De Kousemaeker accompanied other Marriott executives, including chief executive Arne Sorensen, to Havana in July to meet with representatives of management companies and government officials.

Even if sanctions were lifted soon, Cuba traditionally has been slow to approve foreign investment projects, making it unlikely that U.S. hotels would be popping up immediately.  Rivals from Canada and Europe have seized the opportunity, operating and investing in Cuban hotels and resorts, alongside Cuban government partners, for years.  Spanish hotel operator Meliá Hotels International SA, is aiming to have 15,000 rooms in Cuba by 2018. It currently has 13,000 rooms via 27 joint ventures.  London + Regional Properties Ltd, a U.K. hotel and real estate development firm, agreed a deal this summer for an 18-hole golf course, hotel and condominium project with state tourism enterprise, Palmares SA, which has a 51 percent stake in the project.

But even with government plans to add 4,000 new hotel rooms every year for the next 15, the island is not ready for a significant surge in tourism.  The island’s tourism infrastructure went into decline in the decades following the 1959 revolution. Five-star hotel rooms, good restaurants and cheap Internet access are all in short supply.

When and if they get a green light from both governments, executives said U.S. hotel chains will likely offer branding and management partnerships to Cuban government partners such as Palmares and Tourism Group Gaviota, the largest Cuban government tourism entity.

The ultimate goal would be to secure long-term leases on resort developments, which is how Cuban authorities have generally operated with foreign hotels.  But right now, U.S. hoteliers can’t even refer to tourism when they meet Cuban counterparts, let alone talk about actual deals. Instead the buzz word is “hospitality.”  Marriott’s de Kousemaeker likes to use an analogy from baseball, a sport loved both in Cuba and in the United States, to describe the situation.

“We’re learning, and taking batting practice, but we’re sitting on the bench.”

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Airbnb: A US FIRM MANAGES TO CRACK THE CUBAN MARKET

By: Reem Nasr

CNBC, Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Original article here: Airbnb in Cuba

Airbnb Site on Cuba

Tatiana Zuniga started to rent out rooms in her Havana home two weeks into the new year. She had never done it before, but decided, along with her family, that it would be a good way to supplement their income.

Then about three months ago, Zuniga decided to try to attract a new type of visitor—tourists from North America. She connected with Airbnb, the U.S. accommodations broker, and listed her rooms for $33 a night. “They are basically teaching us how to make this a lucrative business,” she told CNBC in a telephone interview. “We are really taught how to reach out to clients and have them come to our home, our neighborhood and our city.”

Zuniga’s rooms are booked through the beginning of June. “It’s very good to get into the North American market, and this is what they seem to be helping us to do,” she said.

“We are an Internet company, and there is a 5 percent Internet penetration in Cuba. We couldn’t expect that hosts would access the site on a daily basis.”-Molly Turner, head of civic partnerships, Airbnb

Zuniga isn’t the only one excited about attracting visitors from the north. Airbnb has taken advantage of an easing of relations between the United States and Cuba since President Barack Obama’s announcement last December that he would seek an opening of links between the countries. Changes to certain trade licenses made it possible for travel services firms, like Airbnb, to finally enter and do business in the long-forbidden Cuban market. It puts the company ahead of most U.S. firms that want to do business there.

“Cuba presented a different case for us because we’ve never launched a market before,” said Molly Turner, global head of civic partnerships at the company. “We had to adapt a lot of our system to the Cuban context.”

The San Francisco-based tech firm launched in late 2008, hoping to link renters and travelers around the world through the Internet. (It is one of Silicon Valley’s many “unicorns,” or start-ups worth more than $1 billion). Travelers can search on the site to rent entire homes or just rooms in 190 countries, most of them at a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel.

Like many other American companies, Airbnb was banned from doing business in the communist nation until this year. But the company found early success when it launched in Cuba with 1,000 listings on April 2. A month later, it’s consistently adding more listings to the site. It took the company about three months to launch in Cuba because doing business there required a lot of due diligence, Turner said. First, the company had to get in touch with the State Department to make sure it was complying with all U.S. regulations.

“In the beginning, it wasn’t entirely clear to us how the regulations would apply,” Turner said. “We had to work collaboratively with the U.S. government, which meant regular phone calls with them to make sure everything we did was compliant with the law.”

The same applied to figuring out regulations on the Cuba side. That required sending several teams to the island to do research and meet with Cuban officials.

Hagar Chemali, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department and Office of Foreign Assets Contol , which deals with such trade issues, said that the government is doing a lot of private sector outreach to explain sanctions programs for Cuba and other countries. Interested companies should check the department’s website for more information, she said.

She wouldn’t comment on the specifics of working with Airbnb, but said, “it is very common for companies and individuals to reach out to OFAC to figure out sanctions compliance. In fact, we encourage and welcome that.”

Beyond tricky regulations, the company had to figure out how to do business in a country whose technology use lags much of the globe.

“We are an Internet company, and there is a 5 percent Internet penetration in Cuba,” Turner said. “We couldn’t expect that hosts would access the site on a daily basis.”

Because hosts use their listings on the Airbnb site to manage bookings and payments, the company had to reassess its expectations. Internet cafe culture is not big in Cuba, she explained, so people use the Internet at work to manage listings—providing they even have access on the job.

Zuniga is one of the lucky Cubans who can access the Internet at work, although she said the connection is slow. Like many others, she relies on the help of friends who have better connections at their places of work. “One always finds a way,” she said. “And I can’t miss out on the opportunity, so I try to make it work.”

Turner said that several Cuban hosts get help from friends and family in other countries to manager their online presence.

The company partnered with local payment companies that take payments from travelers made on the site, and put straight into the pockets of the hosts. “To the typical Airbnb customer, the website is no different, but we hacked the back end to make that possible,” Turner said. But Airbnb was lucky, said Turner, because it was able to capitalize on an already existing culture of Cubans who have been renting out their homes for years. The company was able to get into the market first and connect those hosts to the outside world.

“Airbnb was the perfect business at the perfect time,” she said. “If Obama’s talk had been five years ago, it would have been a different story.”

For Zuniga, using the site to list her home has been a start for her as a businesswoman—no small accomplishment for a nation where private property is largely forbidden. The company takes 3 percent of the rental fee she charges.

 5d29f7bb_original 5d592a1e_original 9cba793c_original ed044fde_originalSOME AIRBNB RENTAL ROOMS IN CUBA, from the Airbnb web site.

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URBAN PLANNER OFFERS TOUGH TALK ON CUBA’S ECONOMIC PROSPECTS

By Larry Luxner

November 10, 2014 http://newsismybusiness.com/planner-economic-prospects/

WASHINGTON — When Miguel Coyula discusses Cuba’s struggling economy, he sounds more like a Miami-based critic of the Castro regime than a retired Cuban official visiting the United States on a lecture tour, then going back home to Havana. But times have changed, and Coyula says he isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

“In Cuba, the word ‘criticize’ means to blame or demonize. But I try to be like a doctor. I tell the truth,” said the renowned architect and urban planner, who recently returned to Havana after a month-long trip that began in Providence, R.I., and included speaking engagements in not only Washington but also New York, Atlanta and Miami.

“To quote Raúl, we need to learn to listen to others, even when we don’t like what we hear. He’s invited people to speak out,” Coyula said. “These days, people who work for the government are more open. The instruction coming from the top is that it doesn’t matter what people say; no one can be interrupted.”

D11_293_021Miguel Coyula

A prominent architect and urban planner, Coyula, 72, advised Havana’s municipal government for more than 20 years as part of a progressive think tank known as Grupo para el Desarrollo Integral de la Capital (GDIC). He spoke to us following a private roundtable briefing at Downey McGrath Group, a Washington lobbying firm.

Among Coyula’s key predictions:

  • Investment in the much-hyped Mariel special development zone won’t materialize anytime soon — despite the new foreign investment law and incentives — mainly because foreign companies are deeply unhappy with the government’s refusal to allow them to pay employees directly.
  • The number of universities island-wide will be slashed from 67 to 15 in order to save money, but the quality of education will suffer as a result — especially when young Cubans need business skills such as accounting and management.
  • Cuba’s population, now stagnant at 11.2 million, will never hit the 12-million mark. That’s because Cuba is aging rapidly due to a low birth rate and the continuing exodus of young people. By 2030, at least 30 percent of all Cubans will be 60 or older, up from 20 percent today.
  • The Cuban government will begin phasing out the convertible peso (CUC) in December, as part of efforts to end the dual-currency system.

“By the end of this year, they’ll begin substituting CUCs for regular pesos, so if today you pay 2.50 CUC for a liter of oil, you’ll pay 60 pesos. Considering that the average monthly salary is 150 pesos, that’s a lot of money,” said Coyula. With the planned phase-out of convertible pesos, people are trying to get rid of their CUCs and acquire dollars instead. Officially, the exchange rate is 87 cents per CUC, but on the black market, it’s 96 to 98 cents per CUC.

“Prices are astronomically high, and there’s a lack of economic education after decades of no education on this subject,” he said. “People don’t realize that the society creates wealth. The state administers that wealth, but it must come from somewhere.”

Embargo is ‘ethical issue’

Coyula’s U.S. visit was sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington-based NGO that favors lifting the embargo and all U.S. travel restrictions against Cuba. His cousin, the well-known architectural historian Mario Coyula — who headed the GDIC — died this past July at the age of 79.

“For me, the embargo is an ethical issue,” he said. “But lifting it doesn’t necessarily mean that the day after people’s mindsets will change. The Cuban economy needs to be more efficient and dynamic — with or without the embargo.”

In Coyula’s opinion, “the revolution spends more than 40 percent of its time surviving. It’s maneuvering back and forth, and this has created a reactive mentality — always reacting to problems and not being pro-active. The present leadership is committed to the legacy of the revolution. They will try to keep the boat afloat as long as possible, until they die. Then they’ll pass the problems to the new leaders.”

And one of Cuba’s biggest problems, he said, is the rampant corruption that has impeded foreign investment — even as the government attempts to crack down on corruption by jailing foreigners such as Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian, who in September was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“Recently, the World Bank ranked 189 countries based on the ease of investing. The best place to invest was Singapore. Last on the list was Chad,” he said. “Cuba is not even on the list. Imagine, Chad is there and Cuba’s not.”

Even North Korea, the world’s most isolated state, has something Cuba doesn’t have, Coyula pointed out: a sprawling free zone built with foreign (South Korean) investment that employs tens of thousands of workers.

“Mariel is the most promoted place in Cuba, with special development zones for investors. But soon it’ll be a year after the opening of Mariel, and there is absolutely nothing. Even the container terminal in Havana was moved to Mariel to give it a sense of activity, but no one will invest there,” he complained.

It’s the same thing with half a dozen golf course projects that have been enthusiastically proposed by overseas firms — yet Cuba’s new foreign investment law by itself won’t be enough to drum up business.

“All these projects are about to happen, but they haven’t happened yet,” Coyula told us. For one thing, potential foreign investors in Mariel don’t like the fact that they can’t hire employees on their own, but instead must pay a government employment agency in dollars for that labor. The agency, in turn, pays workers in Cuban pesos. That’s because the Castro government wants to avoid creating a class of highly paid Cubans who work for foreign companies, “but inequalities are there whether you like it or not.”

For example, Coyula spoke of a woman he knows who works for an Italian joint venture. That company pays the state $850 a month for her services, but the woman herself receives only 360 Cuban pesos (worth about $14 a month).

“Part of that money is used to sustain a bunch of bureaucrats,” he said. “Because of that, many foreign companies give their employees a bonus in dollars or CUCs. You never discuss with your employer how much [extra] you’re going to earn. They say it’s to protect the worker.”

 Cubans have become speculators

Because salaries are so low relative to the high prices for just about everything, Cubans have become speculators — especially when it comes to food, he said.

“People will buy everything, because if you don’t someone else will and speculate with it. So you get a pound of rice for 30 cents,” he explained. “In the free market, it costs five pesos, and in the dollar shop, it’s 25 pesos. So you sell the rice you don’t need. You wouldn’t give it to your neighbor for 30 cents a pound, you’ll sell it for two pesos, which is cheaper than the free market.”

As prices for ordinary Cubans rise, the benefits they’ve long become accustomed to, such as free education and healthcare, are rapidly drying up because the state can no longer afford to provide them.

“Cuba has 67 universities, and the idea is to leave only 15 — more or less one per province. But Havana will have more than one, so some provinces will be left with none. They’re merging institutions and reducing the budget for higher education.

They’ve already cut the healthcare budget by 15 percent. These are things that people don’t see. These measures have implications,” Coyula said, adding that old university deficits continue.

“In none of Cuba’s 67 universities can you study for an MBA. Today, we need managers and people to understand what economics really is. We don’t teach planning in our universities, either. You want to buy a book on business administration? They don’t have any. The government gives some courses in business, but in my opinion, they’re shallow.”

Telecom, tourism are bright spots

One bright spot, he said, is telecommunications. In 2009, Cuba had only 40,000 or so mobile phones in use. Today, more than 2 million Cubans have cell phones, more services are available than ever before, and costs have fallen dramatically.

“Raúl also lifted restrictions for Cubans to have access to hotels and resorts,” he said. “Last summer, half a million Cubans stayed in beach hotels. The domestic market is saving the tourism from the low season.”

But while tourism has boosted the economies of some of Cuba’s 15 provinces, others have not been helped at all. “For example, Matanzas and Cárdenas are taking advantage of Varadero, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenues. And Havana is, of course, the jewel of tourism,” he said. “But Las Tunas and Guantánamo have nothing.”

The resumption of normal relations resume between Washington and Havana would be dire news for Cuba’s closest Caribbean competitors, predicts Coyula.

“The day the embargo is lifted, the Dominican Republic will commit suicide,” he warned. “The Dominicans inherited our sugar, tobacco and tourism industries. Once Cuba is open again, nobody will be interested in the D.R. You wait and see.”

 mariel Mariel Special Development Zone

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Stephen Purvis, Wrongfully Accused of Spying and Fraud: Letter to the Economist

From The Economist, August 13, 2013

“Dear Editor,

I enjoyed reading about my misfortunes in the Economist, albeit many months after publication and in the company of fellow inmates in the Cuban high security prison, La Condesa. I would ask you to correct the impression that you give in the May 9th 2012 edition and subsequent articles that I was accused and detained for corruption.

During my 8 month interrogation in the Vila Marista I was accused of many things, starting with revelations of state secrets, but never of corruption. After a further 7 months held with a host of convicted serious criminals and a handful of confused businessmen, most of whom were in a parallel predicament to mine, I was finally charged and sentenced for participating in various supposed breaches of financial regulations. The fact that the Central bank had specifically approved the transactions in question for 12 years, and that by their sentencing the court has in effect potentially criminalised every foreign business investing or trading in Cuba was considered irrelevant by the judges. I am thankful however that the judges finally determined that my sentence should not only have with a conditional release date a few days before the trail thus conveniently justifying my 15 months in prison, but, bizarrely was to be non-custodial. So my Kafkaesque experience at the sharp end of Cuban justice ended as abruptly as it began.

I spent time with a number of foreign businessmen arrested during 2011 and 2012 from a variety of countries, although representatives from Brazil, Venezuela and China were conspicuous in the absence. Very few of my fellow sufferers have been reported in the press and there are many more in the system than is widely known. As they are all still either waiting for charges, trial or sentencing they will certainly not be talking to the press. Whilst a few of them are being charged with corruption many are not and the accusations range from sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity. It is absolutely clear that the war against corruption may be a convenient political banner to hide behind and one that foreign governments and press will support. But the reasons for actively and aggressively pursuing foreign business are far more complicated.  Why for example is the representative of Ericsson in jail for exactly the same activities as their Chinese competitor who is not? Why for example was one senior European engineer invited back to discuss a potential new project only to be arrested for paying technical workers five years ago when he was a temporary resident in Cuba?

You interpret the economic liberalisation evident at street level as an indication of a desire for fundamental change. It is true that these reforms are welcomed, especially the dramatic increase in remittance flows that have injected fresh hard currency into the bottom strata of a perennially cash strapped economy. But until the law relating to foreign investment and commerce is revised and the security service changes its modus operandi for enforcing these laws, Cuba will remain extremely risky for non-bilateral foreign business and foreign executives should be under no illusion about the great personal risks they run if they chose to do business there.  As businessmen emerge from their awful experience and tell their individual stories perhaps the real reasons for this concerted attack against business’s and individuals that have historically been friends of Cuba will become a bit clearer. In the meantime your intrepid reporters could usefully investigate the individuals and cliques who are benefitting from the market reorganization and newly nationalized assets resulting from this “war on corruption”.

Yours faithfully, Stephen Purvis”

Stephen Purvis and Family after his return to Britain

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Remittances Drive the Cuban Economy

By Emilio Morales and Joseph L. Scarpaci, Miami (The Havana Consulting Group).— Fidel Castro’s government reluctantly accepted remittances from abroad in 1993 when it realized it needed access to hard currency to survive.

It was a devastating ideological blow at the beginning of the so-called ‘Special Period in a Time of Peace’ because it revealed that the Cuban exile community had become a lifeline for the island. Suddenly, U.S. dollars started inundating the island and would never leave. Both the Cuban society and the exile community were startled by this bold move.

The former Cuban leader probably never imagined that the forced opening up to dollars was going to become the most efficient driver in the economy over the last 20 years. Not a single Cuban economist foresaw that outcome. Today, remittances reach 62% of Cuban households, sustain about 90% of the retail market, and provide tens of thousands of jobs.

Money sent from overseas far exceeds the value of the once powerful sugar industry which, in 1993, began a huge decline from which it has not recovered. Remittances in 2013 surpass net profits from tourism, nickel, and medical products manufactured by the Cuban biotech industry.

Table 1. Remittances versus Other Sources of Hard Currency in Cuba, 2012 (in millions of US dollars)

No.

Source

2012

1

Remittances received in cash

$2,605.12

2

In-kind remittances

$2,500.00

3

Total remittances

$5,105.12

4

Tourism revenues

$2,613.30

5

Nickel exports

$1,413.00

6

Pharmaceutical exports

$500.00

7

Sugar exports

$391.30

Data sources: Calculated by The Havana Consulting Group, based on their data and open-source statistics published by the Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas e Información (ONEI), Havana.

The table above shows that remittances ($5.1 billion) outstrip the leading four sectors of the Cuban economy combined ($4.9 billion). Moreover, the figures for items 4 through 7 do not take into account expenses incurred in generating those gross revenues (i.e., costs of processing sugar, manufacturing drugs, food imports, etc.). Sending remittances does not cost the Cuban government money, but it circulates throughout he economy and supports most Cubans in some way.

White House Policies Trigger Growth in Remittances

Barack Obama’s arrival in the White House has directly influenced the increase in money being sent to Cuba. In the past four years, $1 billion USD of remittances have infused the Cuban economy.

Cash remittances in 2012 reached a record $2.61 billion USD; a 13.5% increase over 2011.

In other words, cash remittances outweigh government salaries by 3 to 1. The current monthly mean salary according to ONEI (the official government statistics agency) is 445 Cuban pesos, or the equivalent of just under $19 USD. Today, the economically active work force is 5.01 million workers, of which about 80% (4.08 million) draw state paychecks, whereas the balance is self-employed, agricultural, or cooperative workers.

If we use the official exchange rates that one Cuban convertible peso (CUC) equals 24 pesos (CUP) or one US dollar, the annual payout for state workers is three times less than the volume of money that Cuban émigrés send to family back home. Include in-kind remittance contributions (gifts, appliances, clothing, etc., brought to Cuba during visits), and the ratio leaps to 5.5 to 1.

Behind this growth in sending money to Cuba is the opening up of travel to Cuba as well as eliminating restrictions on sending money there. In 2012, just over a half a million Cubans residing abroad visited Cuba, making them the second largest tourist group in the island’s market; only Canadians (1.1 million visits) surpass them.

Out-migration from Cuba –about 47,000 annually on average over the past decade or nearly a half million émigrés—is also a contributing factor because those who have most recently left the island are the ones most inclined to send money back home. That was not the pattern with the original exile community in the 1960s; sending dollars to the island was forbidden back then.

We also need to acknowledge that several reforms introduced by the Cuban government in the past three years have encouraged remittances. This cash infusion helps to start home restaurants (paladares), B&Bs, car rentals, and more recently the buying and selling of private cars and real-estate. These businesses are aided by the 1.6 million cell phones in use today –available to the general public only since 2007—of which 70% are paid for by Cubans living off the island.

Never at a loss to encourage remittances, the Cuban government announced just last month the opening of 118 Internet stations that charge very high hourly rates. The new cyber cafés will initially cluster in the tourist poles across the island and the provincial-capital cities.

At the present, then, the role the Cuban diaspora plays in developing the island’s economy has never been greater, despite the restrictions on how and where money can be invested. However, the short term is unlikely to witness a greater influx of capital beyond the diaspora’s giving. Witness the failures in recent offshore gas and oil oil drillings that have come up ‘dry’ and the political and economic crisis in post-Chávez Venezuela is mired. This may create a broader space for the exiles to have a more direct hand in rebuilding the country.

Like it or not, Cuban exiles carry economic clout on the island. They have a lot of skin in the game; some of it is economic, and a lot of it is love of family. Their role in shaping the lives of many will be transformative in years to come, and on both shorelines that straddle the Florida Straits.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 11 June 2013 04:20)

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“The Ugly Canadians”: Sex Tourism in Cuba

I missed a March 2013 Toronto Star series on sex tourism in Cuba, but it was brought to my attention recently by Cristina Warren. (I am a Globe and Mail and The Economist aficionado.)  It was produced jointly by the Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister publication of The Miami Herald and also by W5, an investigative television program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation station. It is a disturbing examination of this phenomenon in the Cuban context.

Below are links to the articles in the series.

Toronto Star, Published Friday, March 15, 2013, Twisted Travellers: Canadian pedophiles travel Abroad for Child Sex,  by Victor Malarek, W5 (CBC) Chief Investigative Reporter

Toronto Star, March 15, 2013 Toronto sex offender could be first Canadian convicted of child sex tourism in Cuba. By  Jennifer Quinn Investigative News reporter, Robert Cribb Foreign, Investigations Julian Sher, Toronto Star

Toronto Star, March 16, 2013 Canadians are major customers in Cuba’s child sex market  By Robert Cribb Jennifer Quinn, Julian Sher Toronto Star, and Juan Tamayo El Nuevo Herald

Toronto Star, March 18, 2013,  Cuba’s most horrifying episode of child sex tourism resulted in a girl’s death by Juan Tamayo

Toronto Star, March 19,  2013 Editorial, Paradise for sex tourists

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