From NPR: U.S. Businesses Look To Cuba, But See Limited Opportunities So Far

U.S. Businesses Look To Cuba, But See Limited Opportunities So Far 

Michele Keleman

Weekend Edition Sunday


27 December 2015

Broadcast 7:57 am

When the U.S. and Cuba re-opened their embassies this year, American businesses started to look for opportunities on the island. They are quickly learning though that it will be a tough slog.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, took a deep dive into the numbers and found that if you "make two columns and you have what the U.S. has gained and what Cuba has gained, Cuba has gained far more during the last year than has the U.S."

U.S. agricultural sales have been dropping steadily, falling by 37 percent, while U.S. travel to Cuba skyrocketed and U.S. dollar outflows were up 150 percent.

Even in the area of telecommunications, a priority for the Obama administration, U.S. companies have little to show but a couple of roaming agreements on the island.

That might benefit U.S. visitors, but it is a far cry from what secretary of State John Kerry told a prominent Cuban blogger in Havana in August.

"We want every person in Cuba to be able to be connected," Kerry said, adding, "Our companies are very anxious to become involved in Cuba in helping to create that connectivity."

The Obama administration must be disappointed by the results, says Kavulich, of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York. Still, he predicts President Obama will continue to ease restrictions on Cuba so that it will be harder for the next U.S. president to change course.

"Unfortunately, because of that, and because the Cuban government knows he wants to go to Cuba and they know he wants to create this landscape that can't be changed. Cubans, being good negotiators, they are basically sitting back and waiting for more," Kavulich said in an interview with NPR.

He would still like Obama to visit Havana to serve as the "gardener in chief," helping commercial ties take root so that American companies will become stakeholders in this new approach to Cuba.

Human Rights Issues

Ana Quintana, of the conservative Washington think tank, the Heritage Foundation, disagrees.

If the purpose of this new policy is to empower the Cuban people, she argues, there should be no commercial exchanges with the Cuban military or intelligence services.

"That's not at all what is been done. The new areas that have been opened for commercial exchanges have been directly through the Cuban government," she said.

If Obama wants to visit Cuba in 2016, Quintana says he should meet first with some of the dissidents, whose rights have been eroded even as diplomatic ties were restored.

She doesn't see the U.S. making human rights priority, though Kerry says that's what he's doing. On his one-day stop in Havana, Kerry told reporters traveling with him that the U.S. and Cuba won't have normal ties unless Cuba is "moving with respect to issues of conscience."

Obama, meanwhile, told Yahoo News he would go to Cuba if there's progress in the area of human rights.