Economic change in Cuba likely to come slowly — and bypass South Florida
Fidel Castro's departure not likely to open Cuba-South Florida trade
By Doreen Hemlock | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 20, 2008
Fidel Castro has resigned, but don't expect Cuba to open up to business
from South Florida any time soon, analysts say.
A government permanently led by a Raúl Castro team is likely to loosen
the state's grip on Cuba's economy, but specialists expect change to be
slow and gradual.
As long as Raúl remains in charge, they also forecast the Bush
administration will maintain Washington's decades-old embargo on U.S.
business with the communist-led nation.
Bottom line: Both Havana and Washington will keep delaying plans by
South Florida to offer goods and services to the neighboring island.
"If you're interested in investing in Cuba, prepare now for something
that may happen in three to five years," Marifeli Perez-Stable, a Cuba
specialist at Florida International University, has said.
Raúl as permanent chief is expected to open Cuba's economy somewhat
Antonio Jorge, a professor of political economy at Florida International
University, said Raúl likely will give more land to private farmers, pay
them higher prices for food and increase the availability of machinery,
fertilizer and other inputs to those farmers to ease food supplies.
Raúl also may ease some restrictions on entrepreneurs, aiming to boost
buying power for cash-strapped Cubans and political support for his
team, Jorge said. Cubans today earn an average $15 to $20 a month, too
little to afford even frequent chicken meals at home.
Cuba liberally handed out licenses for the self-employed in the early
1990s after its economy crashed from the loss of Soviet subsidies. But
Fidel clamped down once Venezuelan oil subsidies started propping Cuba
Raúl's tinkering should ease some financial pressure but also carries
political risk. It could whet appetites among the island's 11.2 million
residents for greater change.
"Small reforms could lead to demands for more basic reforms, and things
could unravel," Jorge said Tuesday.
Today, South Florida hardly does business with Cuba because of the U.S.
embargo aimed at stifling the flow of cash to the communist regime.
Americans generally need licenses to travel to the island, too.
But Cuba buys hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. food and medicine
yearly under a U.S. embargo exemption, and some food is shipped from
Port Everglades in Broward County through Crowley Maritime Corp. Some
charter airlines also fly licensed travelers between Miami and Havana.
"Today, nothing changes for tourism," Nicki Grossman, president of the
Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Tuesday. "But
long term, when Cuba opens to American visitors, they become a
competitor. We're years away, however, from major changes in U.S
relations with Cuba."
For now, Raúl may try to buy more U.S. food to boost pressure by the
U.S. business community on Washington to end the U.S. embargo. But any
significant shift in U.S.-Cuban links will have to wait at least for a
new leader in the White House, analysts say.
Once the U.S. embargo is eased, Cuba likely will seek U.S. help to
rebuild basics, from roads to homes. The island has a shortage of at
least 500,000 housing units, and its highways are dismal, said Hans de
Salas, a researcher at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and
But Raúl's team may opt to bypass greater Miami in doing U.S. business
"to diminish the role of Cuban-Americans," long hostile to the Castro
government, de Salas said.
"Logistics firms and shipping companies in Jacksonville and Tampa will
probably benefit more," de Salas said, "than those businesses affiliated
with the Cuban-American community in South Florida."
Doreen Hemlock can be reached at email@example.com or 305-810-5009.