Back in January I wrote here that the Chinese are stealing a march on the US, and everybody else, in building trade relations with Cuba.

“In the coming years Cuba is set to become one the fastest growing economies, and it’s a mere 90 miles form the US coast.  It’s madness that the US is not moving to secure this economic miracle for itself, with both hands.”

I predicted that tourism and trade would grown even faster than the so called experts predict.

And lo it has come to pass!  If these numbers are not a wake up call to dozy Uncle Sam I’d be astonished.

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So it’s been a year since Cuba and the US restored diplomatic ties.  The US is trying hard to re-engage and Cuba is listening. But until the embargo is properly lifted, the diplomatic winter is not going to turn into a nice Cuban summer.

The country is coming in from the cold and the US flag flies again outside its embassy.  There’s still no US ambassador yet though.  Obama hasn’t appointed one, and in the meantime the post is filled by an interim Chargé d’Affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis.

Since ties were restored in July last year, Obama has lifted a number of trade and travel restrictions using the President’s executive authority.

Right now, tourism is technically still illegal under the terms of the US embargo.  The rollback of restrictions allows 12 exemptions to the ban, all under the banner of ‘purposeful travel’.  So medical travel, religious travel, or cultural tourism are all allowed.

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Ever been on a cruise?

No nor have I.  Can’t say the idea appeals to me, but obviously some people like it.

On Monday evening the first cruise ship in nearly 40 years arrived in Cuba, from Miami, with 700 yanks, and 6 Cubans on board.

It has now joined the 2 regular cruise ships that visit Havana weekly from the Caribbean. More tourists jamming the old town coffee shops.

When I asked one of my Cuba partners what they thought of the cruise ship from Carnival arriving, the response was –  it’s the first “ferry service.”  A cruise is it not. Maybe there’s something in that comment?!

The ship very nearly didn’t sail.  A big fuss blew up because of a historic Cuban law that banned people born in Cuban from arriving on the island by boat.  To comply with the law the cruise operator Carnival refused to sell tickets to Cuban Americans.  And this prompted a flurry of protests, a discrimination lawsuit, and eventually John Kerry waded into the debate.

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As soon as I heard that Cuba was running out of beer I knew I had to get out there to help.

Beer is akin to a basic human right.  It provides health and happiness to billions of people around the world each day, lubricating conversations, slaking thirst, and bringing communities together.  A nation starved of beer is no nation in my book.

I knew something was amiss when I checked into my hotel.  (No I’m not going to reveal which one, it’s hard enough getting a room at the best of times.)  Ernesto, the night manager, welcomed me with a gloomy expression.  Hucksters had been coming round and offering three times the going rate for cans of Bucanero.  “But sir, it’s OK, I have kept some back for you, especially.”

That’s my man.

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I love America.  And I’m a fan of Obama.

He’s in his last 8 months and he’s working seriously on his legacy.

Cuba’s been on the naughty step for 55 years. It’s cost them a trillion dollars.  America hasn’t always been behaved brilliantly towards her neighbour.  In fact, the relationship has been soured by all sorts of hiccups – Russian nukes, Guantanamo Bay, the Bay of Pigs fiasco (when American-trained Cuban exiles tried to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government), lots of finger wagging, and the embargo.

But this week Obama was man enough to accept that this hasn’t worked and that the time has come for US policy on Cuba to change. “A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War makes little sense in the 21st Century.

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Obama’s Cuba visit is more than an historic moment.  For Obama it’s personal.  Mark my word, we’re in for some big words this week.

It is nearly 90 years since a US President has visited Cuba (Calvin Coolidge was the last, in 1928).

And it’s over half a century since relations soured following Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.  Pointing nukes at the Americans in 1962 went down very very badly (I don’t recommend it.)

As recently as 1996 the US imposed the Helms-Burton Act penalising companies investing in Cuba.

So when President Obama stepped off Air Force One yesterday, flanked by the First Lady, daughters Sasha and Malia, and even the First Mother-In-Law Marian Robinson, the sense of history was in the air.

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In tomorrow’s budget Chancellor George Osborne is going to greenlight the £33Bn Crossrail 2 project.  He reckons that Crossrail is a top priority scheme for London.  He’s right.

London is the world’s second greatest city (after Brisbane of course).  And I’m pleased London is taking its infrastructure seriously.

So, George – I have some good news for you.  I might be able to help you pay for it.  You see, there’s a damn good chance that there’s oil under London.  Probably quite a lot of it!

The recent Gatwick Gusher oil discovery at Horse Hill, a mere 6 miles south of the M25, proved that those big thick juicy limestones in the Kimmeridge Clays, sitting only half a mile beneath the picturesque Surrey countryside, are full of the black stuff.

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Remember my friend James?  He’s the strange Brit who I’ve bumped into a couple of times on the plane into Cuba.  Nice chap, looks like the Tom Hiddleston character in the Night Manager.  Probably a spook.

Well last week was the 18th Habanos Cigar Festival in Havana and I bumped into James at the gala dinner.  It was cigar paradise, and very very smoky.

We got chatting about the state of this year’s crop.

Cuban tobacco growers have had a difficult couple of years.  A good tobacco year is when the cool months of January, February and March are rain free.  But last year there was a drought and this year it was raining cats and dogs, when it was supposed to be the cool and dry.

But despite the bad weather, sales of Cuban hand-rolled cigars are on the up worldwide. Cuba makes 100 million cigars a year and there’s no shortage of demand.

The Unites States is the world’s largest cigar market, but because of the trade embargo, it can’t import Cuban cigars.  So the improving relations with the US has producers eyeing up more profits.  As and when the US embargo is lifted the market for Cuban cigars is going to skyrocket.

James briefed me on a rumour about a secret stash of 45 million cigars. Apparently this stash has been squirrelled away ready for the day that the embargo is lifted.  It’s guarded by an elite unit of the Cuban military, and only 8 people know about it.  Well a few more than that, now.

Well it might make sense.  Good Cuban tobacco leaf doesn’t go off, and it actually gets better with age if stored correctly.

It’s not just the Americans who love a good cigar.  David Tang was in town (my company InCloud9 hosted a party for him and 200 guests).  He owns the Pacific Cigar Company, and exports 10 million a year to Asia.  And my mate Gordon Mott, editor of Cigar Aficionado, introduced me to Max the Mexican cigar distributor.  Same story – they simply can’t get enough.

I’d love to get may hands on those 45 million Cuban cigars.  Would be a great investment.  And also you just know there’ll be some fantastic mellow smokes in there.

So, James, time for an answer.  Where’s that secret stash?




Ah Cuba.  Land of sunshine, old cars, real rum, grand old buildings, azure seas, Partagas cigars, and fishing.

I was strolling through Havana on a warm but rainy January evening, sun struggling to set over the Plaza de Armas and something struck me.  No advertising!

How refreshing.

Look at all the photos you see of Cuba.  Or just type ‘Cuba’ into Google images.  Where are all the ads?  Where are the posters for McDonald’s, AT&T, Verizon, Unilever?  Sky, Talk Talk, KFC?  Where are the ads for Pepsi, Coca Cola, Citi, Chase?  O2, Heineken, Vodafone, Asda, Unilever?  For HBO, Comcast, Apple, Samsung, Universal, and Cracker Barrel Old Country Restaurant?

At the moment commercial advertising is illegal in Cuba.  As is public relations.

As you’d expect, the vultures are circling.  The prize, as they sadly see it, is a healthy slug of revenues selling the eyeballs of the 12 Million Cubans to the likes of McDonalds, AT&T and the rest of the gang.

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It’s just been reported that a US maintenance crew made a hash of repairing a nuke.

It’s been a tough week for our chums across the pond. As well as bodging the nuke job, they also lost one of their top of the range, laser-guided anti-tank missiles. They sent it back from Spain on an Air France jet, but instead of Florida, it ended up in Cuba. Serves them right for trying to save on the postage.

You wouldn’t want to be sat near that fella in first class.

Mind you, it would be more interesting than some of the people I’ve met. Take James, our friend trying to bring the e-cigar industry to Cuba. As much business vision as a packet of pretzels and the personality to match.

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