Obama visit to Cuba
President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba not only erases the last vestige of the cold war in the Western Hemisphere, but also sends an unequivocal message of frank US openness towards the entire region.
The historic visit to the Island has sown the seed of hope in the desires for a better life of the Cuban people. Although the benefits have already begun to be felt, in the tourism sector especially, economic growth will continue to move "pari passu” with the changes that occur in the Cuban bureaucracy and in the government's willingness to progress.
The end of the economic blockade, in the hands of the North American Congress, should take place during the year 2017. By releasing the ties that have constrained North Americans to travel and invest in Cuba, a huge demand for goods and services will be triggered on the Island that only It can be satisfied if the channel is opened for new foreign investment and foreign trade to flow without major institutional obstacles.
While pleasure trips to Cuba are expressly prohibited by the economic embargo regulations, travelers have enthusiastically embraced the window of 12 possibilities, from educational activities to cultural exchanges, that the US government has administratively opened for them.
Commercial airlines such as American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, Wheels Up and Delta will soon make more than 110 regular flights per week to the nine international airports on the Island.
Several North American cruise lines -Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Haimark and Pearl Sea Cruises, among others- await authorization from the Cuban government to start their itineraries to different ports on the island. In addition, accommodation and travel assistance companies such as AirBnb, Marriot, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Apple Vacations have already begun their plans to penetrate the Cuban market and have begun training local personnel.
Substantial changes are also taking place in the financial sector. The Stonegate Bank of Pompano Beach, Florida, signed a correspondent agreement with the Banco Internacional de Comercio SA (BICSA.) owned by the Cuban government. Apart from the benefits that the agreement will bring to bilateral trade flows, the issuance of the MasterCard debit card has already been approved, which for now can be used in more than 10,000 points of sale and soon in ATMs on the island.
Likewise, Western Union, a leading international money transfer company, announced its decision to enter the Cuban market, as well as Stripe, the electronic transaction company that competes with Pay-Pal.
In other sectors of economic activity, important North American companies have taken their first steps to join local development. Some emblematic cases are:
- Cisco Systems, the computer giant, will initiate a joint program with the University of Informatics Sciences (UCI) to bring to Cuba the program known as Cisco Networking Academy.
- Cleber, an Alabama tractor manufacturer, builds its assembly plant in the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone. The company has developed a prototype tractor specifically designed for 40-acre farms and expects to produce 1,000 units in the first year of operation.
- Caterpillar wants to have a greater presence in the Cuban market. To date, it has only made a few isolated sales and has contributed donations to hospitals and other charities on the Island.
- Verizon Wireless and ETECSA, the Cuban telecommunications company, signed an agreement to exchange cell phone services between the two countries. Verizon Wireless will make connectivity easy for travelers including voice, messaging and data transmission.
- Netflix is already offering the video rental service to local customers who have access to international means of payment.
- The North American Coalition for Agriculture in Cuba (S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba) was formed to promote the flow of business to the Cuban agricultural sector, all within the new spirit of openness. The coalition was initially made up of representatives from various companies and sectors interested in the matter, including two former US Secretaries of Agriculture.
- The US Chamber of Commerce, for its part, created the US-Cuba Business Council made up of representatives of more than 24 leading North American companies such as Caterpillar, Kraft, Heinz, Sprint, Boeing, Home Depot and American Airlines.
President Obama's visit made Cuba fashionable in front of the rest of the world. The television clearly reflected the new position of the Cuban people towards the United States: they no longer shout Yankees Go Home! but rather Yankees Welcome Home!
In the world community of politicians and businessmen, there is a feeling that Cuba is changing. Without a doubt, Cuba is now on the radar of many investors who want to expand their horizons because they feel that changes are inevitable and irreversible.
The country must urgently dismantle its bureaucratic scaffolding and improve its physical infrastructure to accommodate the immense flow of capital and technology that foreign businessmen would be willing to inject into the Cuban economy. It would be a pity if the rulers did not give an adequate reading to everything that is happening inside and outside the Island.
Raul Castro now has in his hands the opportunity to go down in history and become the Gorbachev of Latin America.