23.5.2017 was a great event: ‘Cuba – a poor bride with a bright future‘. Together with Milan Harmáček and Ales Spachil we looked at the history and the present, business opportunities, all from the perspective of personal experience of many years. We bring you a small taste. A gallery of photos from the successful event is here.
Why did we use the headline bride with cupcakes? A bit themed, outside of the usual fruit and drinks, we indulged in wedding cupcakes at the club. Fifty years on from the revolution, Cuba is still an attractive bride today – a destination that has so much to offer. We can admire the beautiful scenery, much like the Americans do on the 99-year lease of Guantanamo Beach, which, although a naval base under the US military, is used for recreation and you would search in vain for weapons. (Apart from the security of the terrorist prison there). You can enjoy the security of a police state where you’ll encounter at most petty pickpocketing, otherwise it’s safe. You can take advantage of investment opportunities – of which there are plenty at every turn. You can import anything, just as you can build any of the services, businesses, or tourist facilities that are common elsewhere. Including, of course, the demand for building energy resources. A bride for business is indeed a promising one, although it has its own specifics and is therefore not suitable for everyone.
What intrigued me about the history and the business? Cuba before the revolution was an absolutely vibrant and prosperous area, one of the top regions in the world. It was here that the first telephone was created, only they didn’t patent it and so today everyone knows Bell. It was the first country completely covered by color television and had 28 channels in the 1950s. It had the densest network of private airports. It sold lots of Cadillacs and had a Jaguar dealership. An important country. That’s why the letter on the license plate denoting the country was C – as in Cuba. The most important country in the world had an A – America. When the World Aviation Association was formed and international traffic was organized – it was based in Cuba. Of course, there was trade going on and plenty of food being produced, harvested three times a year. Cuba exported bananas, not just the cigars we know. The number of cows was higher than in Argentina, like the population of 5-6 million. Today there are a few hundred thousand cows and nobody wants them. (Because even if you own one, you can’t slaughter it and only sell it to the state, but that doesn’t pay, so one of the most imported commodities is condensed milk.) Everybody knows Las Vegas. But where would Las Vegas be if the Cubans hadn’t immigrated there and moved their casinos when the Castro regime drove them out after the revolution in an attempt to take over their business?
Another interesting chapter is the origins and course of a revolution that wasn’t even socialist or communist to begin with. It only became that afterwards, in an attempt to gain financial resources from the Soviet bloc, which in return gained a foothold there. I confess, I found a lot of the kinship relations depicted in the lecture to be straight out of a soap opera. Today the situation is such that key positions are filled by friendly people with ties. If you are looking for important people, they are of course in the political part of the country’s apparatus. The state apparatus is very complex and the number of ministries is high.
It is possible to do business here, but the state was and is run more like a badly run Ltd. Absolutely everything is centrally controlled. If you want to invest, there is a 280-page lexicon of opportunities which, although it describes the benefits and support in the first 20 pages, is published every year in a similar volume. Not many opportunities seem to be realised. In fact, in Cuba, nothing really pays. A signed contract is only worth something if it is also approved by the political part of the gerontogarnitura. And even then, any payment for supplies goes a long way. Usually, EGAP or other banks will finance the supplies up to the amount of the credit frame, but only until payment is due. Then they stop, and unless there is some trouble in Cuba, in the sense that they need to deliver something urgently, they don’t pay. When the demand comes, the debts are paid and a new framework is opened before it runs out again, and so on and on. But, not to sound completely pessimistic, there is also private investment in, for example, steam power plants, they just run permanently, they do not serve to cover the peak. Even so, there are blackouts.
Note: if you have the right contacts and do business with locals, it can be done. Still, expect non-standard things like double pricing, lack of service known elsewhere. And even as a foreigner, you’ll be asking for an exit clause when, heaven forbid, you need to leave the country, even for the funeral of a family member.
Despite all this, 80% of the population trust the system and consider it to be correct and functional. However, those who knew something have already emigrated or are planning to emigrate and it shows on the ground. Add to that the familiar things from our history, like spending working hours in meetings and training, plus an undersized civil service, and everything takes time, even if people would like to help you.
A couple of photos from real Cuba: you’ll see the cucumber – the Skoda RT bus even today. It’s a totally reliable means of transport, persisting to this day. Just like the Jawa motorcycles. You can see a photo of Castro with Pinochet, as well as the hope of Cuba – the youth of the only functional school providing quality education – aptly named: Lenin.
Welcome to another world. However, the potential of the country and the tradition is great. Unlike, say, Haiti, where there is freedom and anarchy, there is much to build on. Should the regime ever change, I’m sure the rich emigration will return and the country will go incredibly fast back up to where it was long ago. Thanks to rewritten history and massive decades of propaganda, almost no one knows that today. Cuba is such a poor bride, but with a bright future.
If you would like details or help with business in the area please contact us , we will be happy to make the connection to the speakers. And what can you look forward to next at the club, either as members or guests? We have D-Day 8 Social Services coming up on May 30, then the Benewitz Quartet – music and discussion with musicians on June 6, D-Day 9 on June 27 and the club AGM in between… In the holidays we can meet for a garden party with a barbecue. Summer is around the corner.
Have a nice day and see you soon.