Entrepreneurship in Cuba – ‘The Doors Are Opening’
Entrepreneurship in Cuba: ‘The Doors Are Opening’
Apr 03, 2015 Business Radio Podcasts Latin America
The likelihood of the U.S. lifting its 54-year-old trade and investment
embargo on Cuba is proving a catalyst in boosting entrepreneurship in
the island nation. Cuba under Raul Castro has in recent years steadily
opened up the economy and removed many business barriers. President
Barack Obama’s announcement last December of his administration’s
intentions to normalize ties between the two nations appears to have
infused fresh energy into that economic liberalization process.
“On December 17, [in] their hearts and minds, the Cuban people started
to see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Hugo Cancio, president and
CEO of Fuego Enterprises in Miami, which has interests in music,
publishing and telecommunications in Cuba, and in the U.S. “They now see
the future they didn’t have before. Businesses are flourishing, and
people are now seeking new opportunities?Twitter .”
Born in Havana, Cancio migrated to the U.S. in 1980 when he was 15 years
old. He has since emerged as an unofficial ambassador of business
opportunities in Cuba, networking with governments in both countries. He
has been a vocal advocate against the U.S. embargo and has spoken out
against Cuban government crackdowns on political dissidents.
Cancio spoke at the Cuba Opportunity Summit held on April 1 at the
Nasdaq MarketSite in New York City, organized by Knowledge@Wharton,
Wharton’s Lauder Institute and Momentum Event Group. Knowledge@Wharton
interviewed him on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111 on the
emerging environment for entrepreneurship in Cuba. (Listen to the
podcast at the top of this page.)
In his interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Cancio said he finds “a new
Cuba” every time he visits the country, with its increasingly vibrant
business and economic environment. “The doors are opening; it is
irreversible,” he said of the restoration in U.S.-Cuba ties. “Cubans are
[now] willing to allow foreign investors in Cuba.” However, he said he
would like to see Cuba open its doors wider to foreign investments.
“Hopefully, that’s what is taking place right now.”
Cancio also noted that fewer Cubans are leaving the island to live
abroad. “To the contrary, many Cubans are returning to their country of
origin to participate in this process.” The expatriate Cuban population
in Miami “will be a great ally [of] Cuba in the future,” he added.
Cancio pointed out that the older generation of Cubans in Miami has
lobbied hard over the years to foster economic change in Cuba. “But
there is a newer generation now that is still connected culturally and
emotionally to its homeland.” Cuban natives settled in Miami own most of
the flourishing businesses in Cuba, he added.
Cancio acknowledged that Cuba continues to have “some serious internal
issues,” such as the economic disparity caused by the increase in
entrepreneurial activity. But that won’t dampen the current
entrepreneurial rush. “New business is flourishing in every sense of the
word [including] factories, restaurants and clothing stores being opened
by private entrepreneurs,” he said.
Slow and Measured Pace
Cuba’s economic resurgence, however, is slow and measured. “The
transformation is not going as fast as some of us would like to see, but
it’s their own way of doing things,” said Cancio. The reason: “The Cuban
government has the historical experience of seeing what happened in the
old Soviet Union, in Vietnam and in China under communist regimes. They
are concerned about a disruption in their economy in the way of
corruption like it happens in some of these countries, and they are
taking their own time.”
Where in Cuba’s emerging new economy will U.S. investors find
opportunities? “The first thing we have to do is to find a way to
motivate [the U.S.] Congress to lift the economic embargo,” he said.
Once that happens, opportunities will open up in telecommunications,
agriculture, travel, media and technology — Cuba has a sizable pool of
well-trained IT programmers, he pointed out.
Music, a Bonding Factor
Notwithstanding all those pluses, Cuba is not for the faint-hearted.
“Doing business in a communist country in transition is not an easy
task,” said Cancio. “You need PPV — passion, perseverance and vision —
to do business in Cuba.”
Cancio believes his passion for music strikes a chord here. His firm has
organized several U.S. concerts featuring Cuban stars, and he produced a
film on a popular Cuban music group of the 1960s called “Sapphires” that
his father, Miguel Cancio, had founded.
“We Cubans are very emotional, and when we sit down at a domino table
some Sunday or to drink beer or a glass of rum and talk about politics,
we always get into an argument,” he said. “But when we talk about our
music and our culture, that belongs to us; it’s our inheritance, we own
it. I think we did a great job changing the hearts and minds of people
through music and culture and the concerts we have produced over the
past 20 years.”
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