HAVANA, Jul. 18th The Cuban government authorized this Monday the conversion of the Spanish company Alto Cedro Finanzas Internacionales, present on the island since 2020, into a corporate bank.The company, legally registered in Madrid, will be able to open accounts and grant financing to Cuban companies, but will not provide its services to micro, small, and medium-sized companies (MSMEs), “except those previously authorized by the Central Bank of Cuba.”
Alto Cedro, founded in 2020 with an injection of 3.5 million euros by the Spanish magnate Javier Botín – a member of the family that runs the prestigious Santander bank, of which he is an “external consultant” – operated in Cuba as an international financial institution of a non-banking nature. This year, its directors requested a license from Havana to expand its powers.
After the authorization, published this Monday in the Official Gazette, the corporation will be able to open accounts in foreign currencies and in pesos, receive and grant loans, manage “types of risk” and even “monitor their debtors.” It may also “finance, using the different existing financing modalities, export and import operations of goods or services and investments.”
The corporation will be able to open accounts in foreign currencies and in pesos, receive and grant loans, manage “types of risk” and even “monitor its debtors.”
A source linked to the Alto Cedro board of directors, who wishes to remain anonymous, informed 14ymedio that the corporation intended to do business with MSMEs without restrictions, but the government refused.
“The objective of the restriction is to benefit the state authorities and the MSMEs that they authorize,” he says, which is why each paragraph of the new license contains the possibility of “special permits” from the Central Bank.
According to the source, the person who chose Botín as financial director of Alto Cedro is Luciano Méndez, director for Cuba of Sabadell – another important Spanish bank – and with vast experience negotiating with Havana.
Méndez, who paid $115,000 at the 2017 Habano Festival for a luxurious humidor adorned by the painter Roberto Fabelo, “has traditionally conducted Spanish banking business with Cuba,” he adds. The businessman already advertises on LinkedIn his position in Alto Cedro.
Thanks to the new license, Alto Cedro will also have permission to issue securities, payment orders, and drafts and make collections, payments and transfers of funds. It may offer discounts to whoever it considers and “grant endorsements, sureties or guarantees to ensure compliance with its clients’ obligations.”
It will also be allowed to “receive deposits of securities in custody or under administration, prior authorization from the Central Bank” and serve as a financial and insurance agent or adviser.
The law provides for Alto Cedro to carry out “any other operation and services typical of corporate banking that the Central Bank of Cuba previously authorizes.”
Finally, the law establishes that Alto Cedro performs “any other operation and services typical of corporate banking previously authorized by the Central Bank of Cuba”, opening the possibility of making the “exceptions” that are deemed pertinent. The document also prescribes that the permit be notified immediately to the general director of Alto Cedro.
In 2019, the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial revealed that Javier Botín – who is characterized by keeping a low profile – had included Cuba in his investment agenda. With the argument that the country was aiming for a supposed “hybrid transition” with the mandate of Miguel Díaz-Canel, the businessman bought a residence in the “jewel of the Caribbean”, an operation that the newspaper defined as “one of his first international adventures to invest his family fortune”.
Botín intended to “convince a small number of (Spanish) investors to make the leap to Havana”, a city where his family came to open a Santander bank branch in 1947. At that time, the newspaper assured, they already had the “necessary dialogue to be able to do business with guarantees, an essential endorsement for anyone interested in putting millions of euros to work”.
This is how Alto Cedro was born, which learned, according to Botín, from the experience of Spanish families such as the Escarrers, owners of the Meliá chain
This is how Alto Cedro was born, which learned, according to Botín, from the experience of Spanish families such as the Escarrers, owners of the Meliá chain, who achieved good deals with the regime.
The senior Cuban official in charge of facilitating the conversation with Alto Cedro in 2020 was Ricardo Cabrisas, current Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and then vice president of the Council of Ministers.
The environment for the exchange was ideal, since the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, had traveled to Havana in 2018 to, among other objectives, open the doors to more investors from the Peninsula.
As for Javier Botín –the youngest of the brothers who manage Santander–, Forbes magazine assigned him 98th place in the list of the richest men in Spain in 2019, with a fortune of 275 million euros.