Cuba 1180

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.

Woe betide you if you’re busted spending your holiday on the beach (unless for health reasons, or you are researching swimming costumes!)

Airlines are competing for direct slots to Havana.  Eight airlines have been granted rights by the FAA to fly passengers between the US and Cuba recently, and FedEx has just been authorized to fly cargo.  This week, Jet Aviation Flight Services has been approved to run private jets in and out of Cuba.

I reckon we’ll see the first commercial flights by this Autumn.  And it’ll be 20 flights a day. The Airport will struggle with these extra flights right now, as it’s already nearly bursting at the seams catering for the millions of tourists visiting the country. But I’m sure the Cubans have a plan. They have a plan for everything!

There’s now growing support in US Congress for getting rid of the travel ban altogether.  The most outspoken anti Cuba critics are now out of the Presidential race.  I didn’t like them anyway. Both Hillary and The Donald both want to improve relations and lift the ban.

The Cubans are planning to build 108,000 rooms in the next 14 years (in addition to 65,000 that exist now.)  Grupo de Turismo Gaviota, the Cuban armed forces’ company that owns most of the beach resort hotels, has said it would self-finance and build 50,000 of these by 2020, most of them on the beach.

They’re going to need significant investment capital to do this though. It’s coming.  Bit by bit, the world is looking for ways to get involved with Cuba on the construction boom. OFAC or not!

In the meantime visitors can stay in private homes, casas particulares, of which there are over 50,000 across the island.  They’re a great way to experience real Cuba – meeting the locals, eating local food, and getting to understand this island’s way of life.

So the thawing of this relationship is good for everybody.  Cubans want to grow their economy and raise living standards.  Americans want the Cubans to become more like America.  Fat chance of that happening. America can keep their Starbucks and McDonalds in their back yard. Investors are taking the opportunity to get involved in an untapped market, deploying investment capital as a catalyst for growth.   And visitors get to enjoy one of the most beautiful and welcoming countries on the planet.

There’s even talk that one of the most notorious spies in US history, Ana Montes, may be about to be released.   I can’t imagine she’ll get a warm welcome back in the States. That would really change the dynamics between Washington and Havana for the better.

But for me the past year has been an opportunity to get to know Cuba.

I’ve been in and out of the country pretty much every month.  I’ve got to know the people – ordinary Cubans as well as government and business people. They know what they want Cuba to be going forward and they know how they want it done. And every trip I notice change. Good change. Buildings being repaired and painted. New restaurants opening.

We’ve invested in Cuba Mountain Coffee – promoting delicious coffee from the Guantanamo region, and possibly the best coffee in the world.  Cuba Mountain Coffee even has a proposed deal on the table with Nespresso and Washington based coffee experts Technoserve. We’ve continued to build our travel company In Cloud 9 and with tourism skyrocketing the team has had their biggest year ever.  Cuba’s official estimate was for 3.8 Million visitors by the end of the year.  They’ve already had 2.1 Million and we’re only half way through! I think Cuba could see 5 million visitors next year. Great for business and economic growth.

And our solar, gas, tourism, sport and other ventures are keeping everybody extremely busy. Very exciting times ahead.  We’re at the start of the hockey stick for growth.

We’ve just completed listing LGC Capital on the Toronto Stock Exchange.  This is a great step forward –  giving greater access to the very significant North American capital markets, where there has always been considerable investment interest in Cuba.  Canada gets Cuba.  Always has done.  There’s probably not a Canadian under 30 and old enough to travel who hasn’t been to Cuba or at least thought about it.  Plus, the banking between Canada and Cuba actually works.

So I’m very pleased to report that the long hoped for kiss and make up between the US and Cuba is still very much on track.  And I continue to be extremely optimistic about Cuba’s future and fortunes.  The road will be bumpy, but like a good old Cuban antique car things are motoring forward.  With LGC Capital I’m looking forward to helping Cuba where we can.

 

 

Written by David Lenigas