HAVANA, April 18th A U.S. talent agency signed a contract in Havana on Monday to work with a Cuban entrepreneur, a seemingly simple deal that marks a big change in the relationship between the two countries.
Jonathan Blue, chairman and managing director of the Louisville-based investment firm Blue Equity, made a deal with Pedro Rodriguez, an entrepreneur licensed by the Cuban government to work in the entertainment field. Rodriguez will scout talent in Cuba for Blue’s talent company, Blue Entertainment Sports Television, or BEST, which represents broadcasters, models and celebrities.
The deal is not the first time a U.S. company has hired one of Cuba’s entrepreneurs, a new segment of the population that works outside of the state-run economy. What’s different is both parties’ willingness to operate openly in public.
Blue and Rodriguez are not hiding anything. On Monday, they held a signing ceremony and press conference at the José Martí Cultural Society headquarters in Havana announcing the new partnership.
Blue said his company, which represents sports broadcasters including Bomani Jones, Lawrence Taylor, and Ronde and Tiki Barber, helped arrange a Havana fashion photo shoot in December. That’s where he met Rodriguez, who coordinated the shoot logistics. Blue said the two hit it off immediately, which started the months of research that led to Monday’s deal.
Under the agreement, Rodriguez will find artists in Cuba and funnel them to Blue’s BEST company, which will then serve as their agents for events in the U.S. and elsewhere. Blue said his firm could also represent the Cuban artists in Cuba, but said they are many limitations there. For example, if one of the artists performs at an event paid for by the Cuban government, Blue could not receive any compensation for that because it would violate U.S. law.
That’s why Blue and Rodriguez worked for months to craft a contract that satisfied both U.S. and Cuban law. Blue hired a Miami-based law firm that focuses on Cuba to advise him on U.S. law, and Rodriguez frequently ran the proposals by Cuban officials.
The end result, Blue said, is the start of a long-term presence in a Cuban market filled with all kinds of largely unknown talent.
“We see so much potential in Cuba,” Blue said before traveling to Havana for the ceremony. “We’ve done this all over the world, so Cuba is just such a natural, close market. We’re big believers in the long-term potential there.”
Many of the question marks hanging over Cuba’s entrepreneurs could be addressed by Cuba’s Communist Party Congress, which began Saturday in Havana. But for now, Saladrigas said Blue’s new, public deal could pave the way for other companies to take the plunge.
“The good news is that they are happening and they’re growing,” he said. “It is leaving the Cuban government with few options but to come around to the idea that (these deals) have to be recognized and made legal. I hope they do.”