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Corner Office from Marketplace

Cuba: not quite open for business

Amy Scott Apr 13, 2015
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President Barack Obama met with Cuban President Raúl Castro on Saturday, at a regional summit in Panama. It was the first face-to-face meeting between leaders of the United States and Cuba in almost 60 years. The two presidents announced in December that they would work to restore full diplomatic relations.

Some trade with Cuba is already legal. U.S. companies have made $5 billion shipping agricultural products like corn, wheat and soy beans to the country during the last 14 years, says John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. But he expects business relations to thaw slowly.

“This isn’t a Niagara Falls of water,” he says. “This is a Niagara Falls of molasses.”

If and when sanctions are lifted, Raul Moas expects Cubans to welcome more U.S. investment. Moas is a Cuban-American, and executive director of Roots of Hope, a group that helps connect young people in Cuba with technology and entrepreneurial skills.

“There’s very much the desire to keep Cuba Cuban,” Moas says. “I think for the average Cuban, the chance to work at a foreign company represents access to a better life.” 

Still, it will take time for attitudes towards capitalism to change in Cuba. One example of limits on private enterprise: right now, a restaurant can have no more than 50 chairs.

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