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Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina SmithHAVANA, June 25th 35th Minnesota does little in the way of trade with Cuba, but Lt. Gov. Tina Smith believes last week’s trade mission to the island is likely to change that.

Smith spent much of last week touring Cuba with a group of state Read more

havana-live-havana-nightCuba is opening up and Lebanon has planned its future

HAVANA, Sept. 15 Cuba, famous for cigars, salsa dancing and Che Guevara, is now open for business! In the past year, Cuba has slowly been opening up to external markets and Lebanon is one of the first countries to have set foot on this territory.

Cuba has undergone a number of changes in order to attract investments and business. First, they implemented the Law on Foreign Investment (LFI), also known as Law 118, which provides great incentives to attract new technology and foreign capital as well as increase domestic production. It also provides the main vehicles for foreign investment, be it a joint venture company, an international economic association contract or full foreign ownership.

Its main objective is to establish the legal framework for foreign investments and the guarantees and legal security to attract and utilize foreign capital. It also provides greater tax incentives because of a special taxation regime: there are no more taxes on dividends. Companies in joint ventures are exempt from all taxes on profits for the first eight years, and thereafter only pay a 15 percent tax rate (previously 30 percent).

Opening the investment door

They are exempt from paying the wholesale and service taxes during the first year, from paying labor taxes, and from paying customs taxes for the importation of equipment, machinery and other assets during the investment process. However, foreign capital companies are obliged to pay taxes for the duration of their contract.

There were also some key changes that helped to promote foreign investment, such as allowing 100 percent foreign ownership, recognizing the intellectual property rights and technological innovation of the foreign investor, and the guarantee to freely transfer profits abroad without paying taxes or other charges.

Additionally, mixed companies, foreign owned companies and contractual international economic association are to receive preferential treatment concerning pricing, quality and terms when purchasing domestic goods and services.
This law is oriented towards diversifying and expanding the Cuban market, as well as accessing state of the art technology, generating new jobs, harnessing new managerial methods and developing renewable sources of energy.

It prioritizes 11 sectors: agriculture and forestry, construction, energy and mining, the food industry, healthcare, the light chemical and electrical industries, pharmaceuticals, the sugar industry, tourism, transport and wholesale trade.

Secondly, the Zona Especial de Desarollo (ZED) Mariel, the first special development zone created by the Decree Law no 313, is another method used to attract investments.
It is not a free trade zone, but rather an area where production of goods and services are incorporated to promote innovation of new technology, industrial concentration, import substitutions, export generators, and sources of high quality jobs.

It already ensures investors have basic infrastructure, access roads, a stable supply of drinking water and electricity, and a communication system interconnected with fibre optics. In this zone, there are some sectors that take priority, such as biotech and pharmaceutical, containers and packaging, renewable energy, agriculture, agro food industry, telecommunications and informatics, tourism and real estate, and investment and infrastructure.

The objective of the ZED Mariel is to contribute to national development and generate exports, while promoting the replacement of imports, the transfer of cutting-edge technology and know-how, and skills referring to business management. It also aims to attract foreign investment, generate new sources of employment, favour environmental sustainability, develop infrastructure necessary for economic progress, stimulate the establishment of national or foreign enterprises and ensure its coordination with the rest of the economy.

The Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment states that there are 246 business opportunities presently in Cuba. They range across various sectors and domains, available in both the ZED Mariel and the rest of the country.

According to Rafif Berro, a representative from the Ministry of Economy and Trade, they have launched, along with the Lebanese Cuba Business Council (LCBC), a process to amend the trade agreements between Cuba and Lebanon.

They are first reviewing existing agreements to see what can be improved, and will later change them so they become more specialized. This is not limited to the exchange of goods and services, but also encompasses joint ventures. They are grooming Cuba to become an entry point for this type of development.

When asked about the future, Berro says he sees a partnership between Cuba and Lebanon. Some Lebanese products may be produced for Cuba specifically, such as programming and software development. Berro doesn’t believe it’s going to be a one sided direction, but rather a complementary one.

The Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade has also been seeking non-classical markets such as Cuba as a way to begin exchange with countries outside of the Arab world and Europe. They have launched negotiations for free trade agreements with Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Cuba’s favourable geographical location might be the entry point for these Latin American countries. In some ways, the opening of Cuba has happened at the optimal time for Lebanon since it will hopefully be the start of a long list of non classical markets.

Mohammad Choucair, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, said that the Chamber has given its full support to the LCBC in order to open the capacity for investing in Cuba. Lebanon is one of the first countries preparing itself for Cuba and the advantage it holds are threefold: (1) there is an existing diplomatic relationship, (2) the Lebanese know how to work in difficult countries (with years of instability and lack of resources) and (3) there are over 50,000 people of Lebanese origin already living in Cuba. A history exists between these two countries which will aid negotiations.

Early bird catches the Cuban worm

The president of the LCBC, Ali Kazma, is the person selling and promoting Cuba to potential investors. He has announced that the objective of LCBC at the moment is to prove its commitment to doing business in Cuba, which is why they have launched an impressive advertising campaign to promote the country through videos and other media.

They want to show the Cuban government that the council is serious, and as part of this campaign, the first Cuban Lebanese Economic Forum will be held on September 29. Cuba is ready to open its doors but this has to be done slowly. The country is not equipped to handle all the demand, so it made a ten year plan. “We are just placing our foot in the door” he said.

Cuba has a lot to offer, its projects are worth $8 million and ZED Mariel has built the biggest port in Cuba. The LCBC doesn’t expect or want all the projects, but they do want a piece. Cuba Invest, a business created by Kazma but unrelated to the LCBC, has two projects lined up, including a boutique hotel which will hopefully be finalized by February 2016.

“We believe it’s going to take 2 years to start generating a revenue on these projects. It’s a long process but it’s an investment.” said Kazma. Cuba Invest is not only working with Lebanese companies; it is recruiting international companies to work in Cuba through Cuba Invest. The first website, LCBCouncil.com, is already up and running.

Cuba still has a long way to go. There is uncertainty about the Cuban government’s commitment to foreign investment and state control of the economic activities which might hinder its prosperity. It’s a land that is in need of a lot of reforms. Lebanon can help it take the first step.
http://www.executive-magazine.com/economics-policy/lebanon-looks-to-havana

havana-live-US-Cuba-RelationsHAVANA, Sept 12  President Obama has reauthorized Cuba‘s listing on the Trading with the Enemy Act, a move that allows him to continue to use executive authority to improve ties with Cuba.

Obama’s action follows a unilateral decision last December to re-establish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, paving the way to embassies being opened in both countries.

The act, which must be reauthorized every year, gives the president the power to make changes to U.S. relations with listed countries, in this case that is Cuba.
Obama “continues to believe Congress should lift the embargo on Cuba and has already taken a number of steps to normalize relations and empower the Cuban people,” National Security Council spokesman Peter Boogaard told ABC News.

“That said, until the Congress acts, the Administration will continue to take prudent and responsible steps to allow commerce and travel, consistent with its authorities and within the continuing constraints of the embargo.”

Officials say that in order to do regulatory changes, like those taken by the administration in January to allow expanded travel under 12-specific licenses, the president needs the authority embedded in the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Without the act, the standing U.S. law with respect to Cuba is the Helms-Burton act, or the embargo, which limits nearly all transactions, travel and business with the island nation.

Congress has made no effort to change the embargo, although legislation was introduced to committee earlier this year that would allow for all travel restrictions to be lifted.

Last month, ABC News learned that the administration has plans underway to make it easier for people to visit and do business with Cuba, through regulation changes at the Treasury Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Those changes however, wouldn’t be possible without the power granted to the administration under the Trading with the Enemy Act.
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-obama-reauthorizes-cuba-listing-trading-enemy-act/story?id=33690036

havana-live-us-embassyHAVANA, Sept. 12   The bilateral commission created by Cuba and the United States to advance the normalization of their ties concluded here Friday its first meeting in which it set the agenda for talks.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said in a release that the meeting took place in “a professional, respectful and constructive climate,” adding that the next meeting will be held in November in Washington.

The U.S. delegation was led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America Alex Lee, while the Cuban one was led by Director of U.S. Affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry Josefina Vidal.

Both sides agreed that in upcoming months, they will work to establish cooperation mechanisms in such areas as environmental protection, the prevention of natural disasters, health, civil aviation, law enforcement, as well as combating drugs, human trafficking and transnational crimes.

They also decided to address human rights, as well as topics with multilateral interest such as climatic change, the fight against epidemics, pandemics and other threats to world health.

The Cuban delegation also demanded on Friday that its former foe stop its “illegal” radio and television broadcasting at Cuba and eliminate programs designed to destabilize and subvert the Cuban government.

U.S. and Cuban presidents announced their decision to restore bilateral ties on Dec. 17, 2014. Their embassies in Washington and Havana were reopened on July 20.

havana-live-spain-cuba_tony-wilson_jelly-london_964_0_resizeHAVANA, Sept. 5 (EFE) Spain wants to “facilitate to the maximum” relations between Cuba and the United States, the speaker of the lower house of Spain’s parliament, Jesus Posada, said Saturday in Havana, adding that his country will “do all it can” to smooth the path to normalization between the two countries.

After hailing the renewal of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington as “a great accomplishment,” Posada recalled that after so many years of embargo and confrontation, “we can’t expect that everything will be all fixed up in a matter of weeks or months,” but considered that “there is a positive path ahead that will open bit by bit.”

“Spain as a member of the European Union will do all it can to make that happen,” the lower house speaker said.

He recalled that his country has stood by Cuba through “difficult times,” while other European Union countries “were perhaps not so close to Cuba as we were.”

Asked about the expectations sparked by the next round of talks between Cuba and the European Union, to be held next week in Havana, Spain’s lower house speaker expressed his confidence that it will be successful and that Spain is being “very active” in making it so.

The visit to Cuba has been “a success,” according to Posada, who insisted on its parliamentary and multi-party character, accompanied as he was by Ignacio Gil of the Popular Party, Teresa Cunillera of the Socialist Party, and Jose Luis Centella, spokesman for the leftist Izquierda Plural coalition and secretary general of the Communist Party.

Attending the meeting of the Spanish parliamentary delegation and Cuban lawmakers on Saturday were Posada, Gil, Cunillera, Centella and Ambassador Francisco Montalban on the Spanish side, while for Cuba there were parliament speaker Esteban Lazo, the head of the International Relations Commission, Yolanda Ferrer, and the leader of the Constitutional and Judicial Affairs Commission, Jose Luis Toledo Santander.

The Spanish parliamentarians return to their country Saturday night after a three-day visit, during which the met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the Association of Spanish Entrepreneurs in Cuba, or AEEC, and with representatives of Spanish communities in the Caribbean nation.

cuba-chileHAVANA, Sep 2 (acn) Chilean foreign minister Heraldo Muñoz is heading a large business and official mission in Cuba in a bid to strengthen bilateral links and explore new business and trade opportunities.

The visit by the Chilean delegation to Cuba, which will last till Saturday, includes government authorities and representatives of 35 business organizations.

This mission and previous one on November 2014 by 15 Chilean companies are in tuned with the increasing interest by the Chilean private sector in the new trade and investment opportunities offered by Cuba to attract foreign capital.

The agenda of minister Muñoz and his delegation includes bilateral business rounds, a meeting to assess the opportunities offered by the Economic Bilateral Accord, boosted in 2012 by the two countries to encourage commercial exchange, among other activities.

Trade exchange between Chile and Cuba reached 42 million dollars in 2014, out of which 36 millions in Chilean exports to Cuba.

havana-live- jose manuel carenoHAVANA, July  22 Cuban dancers and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, founded by Alicia Alonso, are known all over the world. Now that diplomatic relations have been restored between the United States and Cuba, opening the island up for more cultural exchange, what will that mean for Cuba’s ballet scene?

Meghna Chakrabarti spoke with José Manuel Carreño, a Cuban-born former principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, who is now artistic director of Silicon Valley Ballet, based in San Jose.

“I see it as a good thing. I see it as a great opportunity for Cuban dancers also to explore and dance with other companies,” Carreño said. “Many dancers, they have been defecting and dancing in the United States and in other companies, but I guess this will open up the relation with Cuba, and I think it’s a great thing.”

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/07/22/cuba-ballet-carreno

HAVANA, July 20   (WSVN) — The United States and Cuba will mark the end of 54 years of hostilities and the restoration of full diplomatic relations with dual embassy reopenings in Washington, D.C. and Havana, as well as a ceremony in the nation’s capital Monday morning.

A sign designating the building at 2630 16th St. N.W. in Washington, D.C. a “Cuban Interest Section” has been taken down. On Monday, the Cuban flag will be raised on a pole located in the front, and the structure will become the Cuban Embassy. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, has traveled from Havana to D.C. will lead the ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

Speaking in Spanish, Cuban president Raúl Castro said the development is encouraging but it will nevertheless take time. “A new stage will begin, long and complex, on the road towards normalization of relations, which will require the will to find a solution to the problems that have accumulated over more than five decades,” he said.

On Monday, Rodriguez will also hold a joint news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department. The Cuban foreign minister is expected to press for the end of the embargo, as well as the return of the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.

Kerry, on the other hand, is expected to raise concerns about human rights and a free press in Cuba, a sentiment echoed by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “We would like to see the rights of political opponents of the Cuban government inside of Cuba not be thrown in jail because of their political views,” said Earnest. “The second would be to respect the rights of independent journalists in Cuba.”

In Havana, the U.S. Interest Section will become a full-fledged embassy. Chief of the Mission Jeffrey DeLaurentis will see his title upgraded to chargé d’affaires. However, the U.S. flag will not fly over the embassy until Kerry visits Havana later this summer. “I look forward to taking part in the reopening of our United States Embassy and the beginning of a new relationship and new era with the people of Cuba,” said Kerry.

Some, including U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have been opposed to restoring diplomatic relations between both countries, and has been pushing for change on the island first. “They still have violations of human rights. They don’t have a free and independent press, they have no rule of law, no political parties, no free elections,” she said.

Monday morning’s ceremony in D.C. is expected to air in Cuban TV. About 500 guests are expected at the event.

2014 file photo, Cuban students exit Marta Abreu Central University in Santa Clara, Cuba. Since the U.S. eased travel restrictions in 2015, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba. Both sides are exploring research collaborations. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes, File)

2014 file photo, Cuban students exit Marta Abreu Central University in Santa Clara, Cuba. Since the U.S. eased travel restrictions in 2015, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba. Both sides are exploring research collaborations. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes, File)

HAVANA, July 11   (AP)  As the U.S. and Cuba mend ties, colleges in both countries are forming partnerships that once were heavily restricted.

Only months after the U.S. eased travel restrictions, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba, and both sides are exploring research projects.

“I think there’s going to be an explosion in all of those kinds of collaborations,” said Mauro Guillen, director of the Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

At Auburn University in Alabama, the college of agriculture agreed to partner with the Agrarian University of Havana under a new five-year exchange agreement. The University of the District of Columbia and the University of California at Fullerton also signed deals with Cuban schools.

Leaders at Florida International University are making long-term plans to open at least one campus in Cuba.
Under previous travel rules, some colleges had gained permission to launch academic trips to Cuba, but college officials said the process was riddled with bureaucratic barriers. Even those who went through the lengthy application process often were denied.

But the U.S. eased those rules this year. Tourism is still forbidden, but the new rules make it easier to travel for educational purposes.

Those changes have stirred a “gold rush mentality” to form new academic ties, said Bruce Magid, dean of the Brandeis International Business School in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“I think it’s going to be significantly easier to plan trips,” said Magid, who has led several visits to Cuba in recent years.

The wave of academic interest in Cuba covers a wide range of fields, from architecture to agriculture. But business schools in particular have been quick to build ties with the island, both to study its evolving economy and to explore it as a potential business frontier if the U.S. lifts its trade embargo.

“A lot of my students, they want to go to Cuba not just because they can learn about this fascinating place, but they also see themselves potentially in the very near future doing business over there,” said Guillen, who has led student trips to Cuba.

For many U.S. colleges, Cuba also represents a largely untapped pool of future students.

There are still obstacles in the way, but admissions offices already are drafting plans to recruit students from Cuba, just like they do from Europe or South America.

The Educational Testing Service, which administers the graduate record exam in the U.S., recently announced that it will begin testing in Cuba.

“Cuba has probably the highest educational standards in all of Latin America,” Guillen said. “They have a relatively well-educated population and it would be wonderful to attract those students to the United States in big numbers.”
Financial constraints in Cuba would leave most students dependent on financial aid, but there is strong interest in a U.S. education.

“Here we take two years of English, so in terms of the language I think we are well-prepared,” said Omar Concepcion, who is in his last year in physics at the University of Havana, “and on the physics side (Americans) are very advanced, so it would be very advantageous for us.”

Colleges acknowledged that they would have to provide financial aid to Cuban students they recruit.

Despite progress, some experts are reluctant to herald a new era of open academic exchange between the countries. In many ways, there is still a wide void between them, said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

The U.S. trade embargo puts a clamp on much activity, Duany said, and could block professors from presenting or selling their scholarly works. He added that in Cuba, the state keeps a tight grip on universities and their scholars.

“U.S. academics are used to speaking their minds on any topic that they can think of, and usually nothing happens,” Duany said. “Cuba’s a different society.”

Other constraints include Cuba’s lagging infrastructure, Guillen said. Internet access, for example, is still relatively rare, he said. But Guillen is confident that new relationships between colleges will play a role in the larger reconciliation between the countries.

“Educational collaboration and exchange is a consequence of the opening,” Guillen said, “but it will also contribute to deepening and accelerating the opening.”

Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana also contributed to this report.

obamaHAVANA, July 1 President Obama on Wednesday announced his plans to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, declaring that the two nations were ready to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals and to start a “new chapter” of engagement after more than a half-century of estrangement.“Our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people, but there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” Mr. Obama said in the Rose Garden at the White House, taking note of the decades of hostility born of the Cold War that prompted the United States to isolate its neighbor to the south, a strategy he said had failed.

The diplomatic breakthrough is the most concrete progress to date in Mr. Obama’s push, announced in December after months of secret talks, for an official rapprochement with Cuba.

He also renewed calls on Wednesday for the lifting of a trade embargo with Cuba that has grown stricter over the years as Republicans in Congress, some of them Cuban-Americans, have pressed for a hard line against Havana.

“We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the president said. “When something isn’t working, we can and should change.”

Mr. Obama said that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Havana this summer “to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”

Mr. Kerry, who is in Vienna for talks with Iranian officials on a potential nuclear accord, said that he would travel to Havana for the reopening of the United States Embassy. It would be the first visit to Cuba by a secretary of state since 1945, he said.

Acknowledging that the United States and Cuba continued to have “sharp differences” over human rights, Mr. Kerry said reopening the embassy would enable American officials to “engage the Cuban government more often and at a higher level.”

“This step has been long overdue,” Mr. Kerry added, declining to take questions.

Asked if the American diplomats in Cuba would have free access to talk to Cuban citizens, he said: “We’ll talk about all those details later.”

The United States already has a limited diplomatic outpost in Havana, called an interests section, in the same seven-story building on the Malecón waterfront that served as the embassy until 1961, the year President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in response to tensions with the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.

Republicans who oppose the thaw with Cuba have vowed to block funding for an embassy and the confirmation of a new ambassador. But senior administration officials said on Wednesday that they did not believe they needed Congress to approve new money for the building and that they were in no rush to install a new ambassador to replace the career diplomat currently running the interests section.

The diplomat, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, was selected expressly because he is seen as someone who could serve as the acting ambassador pending a permanent appointment, one of the officials said on Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the release of details by the State Department.

Mr. DeLaurentis, who holds the rank of ambassador, has served at the United Nations, as a deputy assistant secretary of state and in Havana as the political-economic section chief.

Cuba has an interests section in a stately manor in the Adams Morgan section of Washington that could be upgraded. In May, Cuba announced that its banking services for that office had been restored, a precondition to reopening a full embassy. In recent weeks, Cuba also repaved the driveway, repainted the fence and erected a large flagpole on the front lawn to await the formal raising of its flag.

The official said that would happen on July 20, but it was not yet clear when Mr. Kerry would make the trip to Havana to cut the ribbon on the American Embassy there.