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Entrepreneurs eye Cuba

Dan Grech Aug 2, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Stable is the word state-run television in Cuba is using to describe Fidel Castro’s condition. A statement read on the air yesterday said it’s going to be a while before there’s any change in Castro’s health. And, by extension, in Cuba’s government. The White House urged people to stay calm today. But entrepreneurial exiles are busily contemplating the possibilities. From the Marketplace Americas Desk at WLRN in Miami, Dan Grech has more.

DAN GRECH: Angel Hernandez was among hundreds of people partying in the streets of Miami’s Little Havana last night.

Waving a Cuban flag he bought for $5 from a street vendor, he’s celebrating that for the first time in 47 years, Fidel Castro is no longer running Cuba. He says many Miami Cubans are eager to make a buck back home.

ANGEL HERNANDEZ: A lot of people might have in mind to make business. Why not, they’re doing it here, why not do it in Cuba? Create a beautiful country like it’s supposed to be, not like we have now.

Cuba is a virgin market, the last one left in the Western hemisphere. And here on Calle Ocho, there’s no shortage of ideas for how to make a profit on the island.

Last year, South Florida CEO magazine polled 500 local business executives. Two-thirds said they planned to do business in a post-Castro Cuba. And they’ll likely find a willing consumer, says Brian Latell, author of “After Fidel.”

BRIAN LATELL: The younger generation of Cubans are so unhappy with their conditions, with the poverty, the deprivation, the repression, they are dissatisfied with almost anything that’s described to them as Cuban. They go into a restaurant, they don’t want a Cuban sandwich. They want a hamburger, an American hamburger.

He says there’s five decades of pent-up consumer demand ready to be unleashed on the island. Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer wrote the book “Castro’s Final Hour.” He agrees.

ANDRES OPPEHEIMER: There’s such a thing as the law of the pendulum. You keep a country for 50 years on one side of the pendulum, and don’t allow it to move at all, the laws of physics will move it to exactly the extreme opposite the very minute the pendulum is allowed to move.

And there’s no shortage of business ideas. Sociologist Dario Moreno is an expert on Miami Cubans. He says there are legitimate ideas in tourism, construction and agriculture. And he’s heard some more creative ideas such as exporting the island’s iconic vintage cars.

DARIO MORENO: When there’s an opening up, there’s going to be a lot of hair-brained schemes, con men, and at the end of the day the people who are in position to make money in Cuba, unfortunately, are people who have a lot of money in the United States and Miami.

Moreno says there also is a danger that in a free market Cuba, exiled Cubans will take advantage of those who stayed behind. But this is all speculation. Castro still appears to be alive. His brother is now in power. And Cuba Libre is still just a cocktail.

In Miami, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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