Miami trade lawyer predicts the end to Cuba embargo
Peter Quinter planning his third trip to Havana since President Obama’s
diplomatic embrace of Cuba
Sees a Cuban consulate coming to Miami
BY DOUGLAS HANKS
Peter Quinter knew he was onto something when an overflow crowd showed
up to a legal conference he organized in Orlando.
A big turnout in Miami? Sure. But Central Florida?
The topic of that Florida Bar gathering in the fall of 2014 was Cuba,
and the turnout was so strong that Quinter got a little carried away
when he took the microphone that day. Let’s make this Cuba conference an
annual event, he said, and have it in a different city each year. We can
do Orlando, Tampa, Miami — and Havana.
“I just threw it out there,” Quinter recalled from a conference room on
the 32nd floor of the Miami office of Gray Robinson, where he is
chairman of the international-trade group. “I thought it was a dream.”
The crowd loved the idea, but Quinter, a former Customs official who has
been in private practice since the 1990s, considered it wishful thinking.
Then, a few weeks later, President Barack Obama announced a new
diplomatic embrace of Cuba. And in May 2015, Quinter led a delegation of
about two dozen Florida Bar members on a tour of Cuba.
The 51-year-old has been back a second time, and plans a third trip in
June for a presentation on the U.S. embargo during a meeting of the
Inter-American Bar Association in Havana. Meanwhile, he’s fielding a
surge of client inquiries and would-be deals tied to Cuba, a nation that
suddenly finds itself a top international target of almost every
industry in Florida.
THE ONLY PEOPLE ANGRY AT ME WERE THE ONES WHO COULDN’T GO.
Peter Quinter, on the Havana trip he organized for the Florida Bar
Carnival plans cruises from Miami to Havana in May. Miami condo king
Jorge Pérez mingled with Obama during the president’s recent state visit
there. PortMiami is planning for Cuba-bound ferries from its docks.
A Massachusetts native, Quinter brings no Cuban roots to the island or
the discussion. Only a legal career tied to global commerce — and a
specialty in both enforcing the embargo during his tenure as a Customs
lawyer and in fending off government penalties tied to it for clients of
his private practice.
His trips brought him a new sense of ease when it comes to Cuba, but
also firsthand experience of the conditions there. A cellphone photo of
him in a baseball cap in Havana shows two crumbling buildings in the
background. “Look closely,” he notes, “to see the poor condition of even
the downtown area.”
Quinter sat down with Business Monday about two weeks before Obama’s
recent trip. Topics included anxiety over Quinter’s first journey to
Cuba, found confidence for the second, and a prediction that the U.S.
embargo’s final days will begin once a new president takes office in
Q: Tell me about your first Cuba trip, with the Florida Bar.
A: It’s amazing how much response we got. To my surprise, it was not the
response of people saying: “Oh my god I can’t believe you’re going there
with Fidel still alive.” It was: “How quickly can I get my check to
you?” The only people angry at me were the ones who couldn’t go.
I was nervous. I’m flying to a communist country that was seen as the
enemy of the United States for so long. And I heard so many negative
things about Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl. And the oppressive
So I was very curious to see it myself. And I have traveled to communist
countries, like China, many times. What was really interesting is about
half the lawyers who went with us were Cuban Americans — children of
people who had fled Cuba after the dictatorship of Fidel. Who in their
own families had disputes about whether or not they should go back to
Cuba. Sometimes, their parents would say: We don’t want you to go…
We were lawyers. So we wanted to meet with other lawyers there. And we
did. We were fascinated by how the rule of law exists in Cuba. Do they
go to law school? Do they clerk? How the court system works. How they
It was fascinating. I came away with a lot. One of the things is I’m not
afraid of going to Cuba. The second time was much more comfortable. The
Cuban people adore Americans. They look up to Americans. They’re looking
forward to the end of the embargo.
Q: When you worked at Customs in the 1990s, you were helping enforcing
the embargo. At the time, did you think the embargo was a good idea?
A: It was not my role to decide whether it was a good idea or not. I
probably didn’t give it much thought. Back then we had an embargo
against South Africa. We had an embargo against Panama. Embargoes come
and go. Cuba’s is the only one that’s been around since before I was born.
Q: In Miami, there has been some controversy about whether it’s a good
idea to bring a Cuban consulate here. Has that come up in discussions?
A: It makes sense for the Cuban consulate to be in Florida. Tampa is
enthusiastic about having it there. And there’s a historical connection
between Tampa and Cuba. But the bulk of the Cuban Americans who fled
Cuba live here in Miami-Dade County. So this is the logical place for
it. And I think eventually, whether it’s a year from now or 10 years
from, the Cuban consulate will be in Miami.
Q: And has the idea of Cuban consulate in Miami come up in your travels?
A: Certainly. When you talk to Cubans in Cuba — I told you they love
Americans. But they think the Cuban Americans in Miami, they know are
anti-Castro, and therefore anti-Cuba. Which is really unfortunate. They
always remark: “We love Americans. But there are some people in Miami we
have concerns about.”
Q: And you’ve heard them mention the Cuban-consulate controversy?
A: Yes. It’s not as complete as we would like, but they have plenty of
access to information from the United States, including in Miami… They
think the Cuban consulate should be in Miami. Because when they leave
Cuba and come to the United States, they automatically think of Miami.
This is the crossroads of Latin America.
Q: What’s the status of the logistics business in Cuba right now?
A: The port of Mariel is being expanded. There are a couple of million
square feet of warehousing going in there. It’s a port that one day,
meaning five or 10 years from now, will compete with the major ports
here in Florida. For international business. In other words, instead of
coming from Europe to Miami, and being loaded onto another ship going to
Latin America, it will go to Mariel instead.
It is already happening in the Bahamas. Kingston is growing. Panama is
competing with the United States.
Q: What are some next steps you are waiting for from Washington?
A: I think the Congress of the United States will eventually, in the
next term, whoever the president is, decide to terminate the embargo. In
one fell swoop.
Q: You think that will happen when both Castros are alive?
A: I do. Most people think there won’t be a termination of the embargo
until Fidel is dead. But he’s lived much longer than people have
expected. He could be around another five or 10 years.
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