Cuba Libre: American Business In Post-Castro Cuba

As the world monitors the declining health of Cuban President, Fidel Castro, talk of potential government reform and an end to a 45 year old U.S. trade sanction has many American businesses poised to take advantage of a wealth of opportunity. Although countries such as China, Venezuela, Italy, Israel and Canada already benefit from intact business relations with Cuba, American interests hope to gain from its geographical advantage.

Big City Dreams

In 1960, Nicolas Quintana was a prominent Havana architect, a member of Cuba's national planning board. When Castro came to power, Quintana left for what he thought would be a few months. He has been in exile ever since. Now, from his post at Florida International University, Quintana, 81, is developing an ambitious plan to rebuild and restore Old Havana. This is not just the nostalgic musings of an old man. It is a project funded by two homebuilders--Lennar and Century. And there are indications the Cuban authorities are not only aware of the plan, they may tacitly approve of it. What role will U.S. companies play in rebuilding Cuba, especially when other countries are already there?

Their Ship Has Come In

U.S. trade with Cuba has been embargoed for 45 years. But Crowley Shipping does business with Cuba every week, and has since 2001. Under an exception to the embargo for agricultural products, Crowley sends one ship a week between Florida and Havana. The man who captained the first U.S. vessel in more than 40 years tells us that Cuba is a ripe market for American goods. And the company--which is busily planning for post-embargo Cuba--offers lessons for others that want to follow it there.

Two Nation Vacation

Tourism is Cuba's biggest growth industry. Developers worldwide are building hotels there, and tourists are flocking there--except from the U.S. If the embargo is lifted, the U.S. tourism industry is expected to be among the first to try and capitalize. This has officials in Key West, Florida, nervous. They've been planning for the fall of Castro since 2000, bracing for a new competitor for tourist dollars just 90 miles away. They even have a marketing campaign ready to roll out.

Cuban Black Gold

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there are 4.6 billion barrels of oil in Cuba, most of it undiscovered; which would put Cuba's reserves fourth in Latin America (behind Brazil). Developing those reserves would be a potential bonanza for U.S. oil and oil services companies, were it not for the U.S. trade embargo. But with other countries already there--and a Canadian company, Sherrit International, about to begin exporting Cuban oil--how much longer will the U.S. energy industry be willing to sit on the sidelines?