Before going to Cuba, I thought I knew a lot about Cuba or at least from what we hear about on our news here back at home. Upon arrival, I knew instantly that I had to erase almost everything I had heard, besides the abundance of old antique cars, and be open to what is really going on down there. I needed to understand how we have affected the Cuban environment in so many ways. I needed to see that my previous thoughts about us as Americans not being able to associate with Cuba, but that the embargo and things we have done to Cuba years ago are still the reason for so many wonderful things to not have the chance to be successful in such a simple beautiful place. After going on my trip and meeting with the economists and professors, my business sense kicked in and I saw what we had done to them and what needed to be done. I also was able to understand what they need, not what we think they need or what we think could help them.
I knew that the embargo from the early 1960’s was still in place but to hear what it is about, then see what affects it has had in person. I felt compelled to further my interest. The first day upon arriving in Cuba, we were met at the hotel by Dr. Jorge Mario Sanchez, an economist who is working diligently to better the economic situation of Cuba. He mentioned that in the words of Raul Castro in 2008, “Our only problem is our economy,” and I saw that as well. I saw that their other plans for their country and although may seem unconventional to Americans, they do take care of their people as much as they can, considering the restrictions we have placed on the world. The lack of infrastructure was an important topic as this infrastructure and stimulation of the economy cannot come from the Cubans alone and everyone recognizes that. Not that we should step in and “save the day” but that they knew they had to get all of their ducks in a row before moving forward with potential foreign investment from other countries. Sanchez gave us the number as 112,000,000,000 as embargo damage done since the 1960’s, a sickening but true number. As the “key of the gulf,” foreign investment is the key to solving many of their problems with the lack of growth in Cuba. He discussed many ways that Cuba could solve their economic problems but foreign investment, all agree, is the only way to move forward feasibly at this time. They do not want to blame the embargo for everything, Sanchez said but they certainly have hit a brick wall over the years with the embargo in place.
The embargo basically, placing restrictions on any country doing business in Cuba or having any interest of any majority in Cuba has made it impossible to grow. The U.S. wouldn’t be where it was today without foreign investment. The embargo basically makes it impossible for OTHER COUNTRIES to do business there too. Stating that it is still a terrorist country and things of that nature really blew my mind and seeing that they are in need of help, not handouts, only what I believe should be allowed. Even if the U.S. did not do business there, they could still allow others to. Cuba is even a founding member of the WTO yet is still not allowed to do anything with foreign investments because of us. As I get frustrated just talking about it and typing this, I remember things that were said by our second speaker which was on our third day there. We met with Dr. Rodriguez from the University of Havana, who did praise the Obama administration for allowing some lifting of restrictions. He then got as fired up as I did discussing in a different tone that they were in fact still considered a terrorist nation with one of the worst classifications. He enlightened us that there are instances in which the U.S. does work with Cuba such as humanitarian issues, weather tracking, etc. He strongly felt that operational cooperation without any further steps in the right direction will not be taken seriously due to the embargo on foreign investment. It really bothered me that it is such a political situation and that it is too “costly” for a politician to fight for these restrictions to be lifted. Companies and businesses are very interested in investment in Cuba from tourism, pharmaceutical, agriculture and many others. Once I experienced this seemingly innocent, trapped in time beautiful place. I would invest if I had a company as they have such valuable resources and have a lot to offer in many ways, but it seems not to be looked at that way by the U.S. or maybe it does, yet the change is too scary.
Foreign investment is the key to Cuba’s not only success but survival and meeting with economists, professors and even just everyday normal working people, it is abundantly clear that something has to be done. To not allow other countries to make these foreign investments has become a huge issue and that is what I have taken home. Being on a trip with all law students who probably understand the actual embargo itself, then seeing it for myself as a business oriented person who cares less about what the situation is, but what it can be. Only with business and these investments, can Cuba have the chances we were given to grow and prosper. I saw that not only is it us affecting the foreign investment, but Cuba itself is in fear of “losing control” with these investments. With current ownership having to be a majority Cuban, many companies do not invest for fear of the lack of their control over their business. As companies fear the U.S. repercussions, it also has the hurdle of the Cuban Government. With us lifting some restrictions and other countries working with the Cuban government, a necessary change will be made. It will be a grand transition and like anything else, it will be uncomfortable but I know will be worth it to all involved. I was lucky enough to experience this at such a crucial time. Cuba will never be like it was when I got to see it in person. It is only moving forward and I hope that the embargo and its restrictions on foreign investments are the first to go. Cubans accepting these foreign investments are going to be a small hurdle when the pros and cons are laid out.
*UPDATE 4/3/14- HERE IT IS!!! It’s finally happening. Upon finishing my blog, days later 3/30/14 an article was published by the BBC titled “Is Cuba ready to open up to foreign investment” was published. I am just now seeing this article and am thrilled to see the headline, thrilled before even reading the article. It’s looking like this foreign investment concessions and the reform taking place can bring economic growth of 5-7% with clear rules and incentives. This is a huge step in the right direction and I am so lucky to get to be a part of all this in a way. Seeing what the current situation was only weeks ago, I see that the change is happening and happening fast. This “significant signal to the international community that Cuba is ready for business,” has drawn business and even me to Cuba. Seeing how they have worked, even under strict Cuban laws and U.S. restrictions, they were still able to be hopeful and find a way to get ready for the business very well considering. The only fear now that Cuba is on board for me and I know all of the Cubans, is that the embargo will not be lifted with regards to foreign investment as quickly as Cuban government is willing to accept the changes. We shall see. I look forward to continuing to keeping up with this issue and keeping people informed on the world around them, even if we aren’t supposed to even look their direction in the eyes of the law.
• Dr. Jorge Mario Sanchez talking to the group about what Cuba needs and what they have done. Day 1
• Flag poles in front of the US interest, I would love to explain this as it represents our presence and what our influence is in Cuba. Just a visual symbol of how much they are affected by the U.S. and have been unable to move forward because of our presence.
• Me in front of one of the many Miami 5 signs all over Cuba. It’s a symbol of their support for those who they feel are considered terrorists and how the embargo has caused more than just an economic issue. The sign reading “meeting municipal public power” and “will return” shows their ongoing support for those wrongfully held.