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Cuba: Hopes too high, too soon?

It’s been almost a year since President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba.

It’s been almost a year since President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, the first American President to visit the Communist island in almost 90 years.

As I look back on the trip I took that week in 2016 to Havana, my hopes for Cuba turned out to be higher than the reality that followed. After the splash of publicity that came with the President’s visit, a local Cuba expert told me investment and sales between the United States and Cuba haven’t improved much since the November election. Granted, President Trump has only been in office three months.

Luis Alcalde, a local attorney who does global business affairs for Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter said, “A few deals were closed right before January 20th. Roswell Medical Center in New York signed a deal to bring a Cuban lung vaccine to U.S. for testing and to do a joint venture in Cuba for biopharma; Google signed a small deal, but otherwise not much progress. I believe that there is too much uncertainty as to what the Trump administration is going to do on Cuba. This uncertainty chills companies and investors and puts them in a wait and see mode.”

The Motley Fool, an on-line Wall Street investment publication says that six months ago, a group of U.S. airlines were eager to start flights to Cuba, but that venture is starting to lose its luster. Because of Cuba’s still restricted tourism policies, supply has been bigger than the demand. So much so that a couple of smaller players, Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways have decided to pull out of Cuba altogether.

Washington is not much help either. Hard-liners on Capitol Hill and those who want to end the trade embargo remain in a tug of war over the future of U.S. relations with the largest island in the Caribbean. “There are a number of bills that have been introduced in Congress to end all or parts of the embargo but are not likely to get much traction. Until that happens, the U.S. airlines continue to take Americans down in fairly good numbers, but not in the numbers that some had hoped,” says Luis Alcalde.

A trade mission to Cuba is being planned by a group called Engage Cuba. It’s a national coalition of private companies, organizations and local leaders with a goal of getting the 55-year-old embargo lifted.
The trade mission will focus on agriculture and according to organizers, there should be a good representation from Ohio agri-business for the trip planned for July 5-9. Ohio grows in abundance a couple crops that Cuba can’t: Corn and soybeans. Ohio farmers would love nothing more than to get a foothold in a new market for their products. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

Photos from Havana