I attended a two-day Wharton School-sponsored conference on upcoming business opportunities in Cuba, the second such conference put together by my alma mater. Very high level fascinating speakers and very candid and blunt interactive discussions. Congrats to my friend Faquiry Diaz as one of the chairs. So what’s on the good side? Credit cards are coming. Cruise ships. Direct phone service resumed. Broader access to the Internet. The ability for foreigners to open business offices and even make foreign direct investments. Scheduled airline service. Possible additional easing of travel restrictions. A priority on foreign help for technology, agriculture, infrastructure and tourism.
Cuba's Challenge: Aspiration Over Anaylsis
The challenges? As one speaker put it, “There is more aspirational thinking than practical analysis.” The government is overwhelmed attending to this and some feel their priorities are more towards improving the locals’ lives and helping their long time European friends than working hard to open things up with the US. Another speaker called it “Communism in transition.” And of course, the US-Cuba trade embargo still exists. The medium sized elephants in the room are the property and debt claims by former landowners and lenders to Cuba. Most say this will get resolved, but it may take some time.
Another key speaker, Hugo Cancio, said you need the Four P’s in Cuba: Patience, Perseverance, Passion and Persistence. As with so much in business, there is both great risk in Cuba...and great opportunity.
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