Cuban Embassy representative says the Caribbean nation is bracing for an onslaught of American business with open arms — even though it may not be fully prepared.
A half-century of bitter Cold War rivalry made Cuba a forbidden island for U.S. tourists and companies. But now, in the midst of a historic but slow-moving thaw that has prompted Alaska Airlines and even Victoria Clipper to set a course for the island, a Cuban diplomat visiting Seattle says the Caribbean nation is bracing for an onslaught of American business with open arms — even though it may not be fully prepared.
“I am the first Cuban diplomat from the Cuban Embassy here in 50 years,” Miguel Fraga, the first secretary of the recently opened Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., said at a meeting organized Thursday evening by Pinchot University in Pioneer Square. It was also his first personal visit to Seattle, a city he says is famous in Cuba “because of ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ ”
He was here to talk business — essentially, how Cuba is opening to U.S. investment as its longtime Communist regime evolves to deal with new realities.
“I’m trying, after 50 years, to figure out what opportunities there are” for business, he said in an interview. “The will from Cuba is there.”
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The session took place a day after eight airlines, including Alaska, announced they applied to connect U.S. and Cuban cities now that the countries have agreed to re-establish scheduled flights.
Americans are still severely limited in travel opportunities there — under current U.S. law, only those in certain categories, such as journalists, people with family in Cuba, or voyagers with humanitarian and cultural purposes can go freely.
But trips by Americans to the island could skyrocket — and observers point out that the country’s tourism sector lacks the infrastructure to handle the influx.
Fraga said the flood of U.S. visitors “is going to be better than the Bay of Pigs invasion, for sure.” But he acknowledged that “we don’t have the infrastructure for that.”
“It’s a good opportunity for business,” he said.
But establishing that business connection is still quite difficult. A trade embargo is still in place. U.S. banks are being really cautious with Cuba, Fraga says, which makes operations by U.S. companies there difficult as well. And Cuban purchases in the U.S. are difficult due to lack of access to credit, he said.
The Cuban government is also moving with extreme caution. Several ferry companies, for example, have obtained authorization from the U.S. to connect Cuba with Florida, but are still awaiting permits from the Cuban government. Fraga acknowledged that the Cuban government is looking carefully at proposals sent its way.
“We’re trying to be very careful in every business we approve,” he said.
Fraga declined to talk about any specific business meetings or potential deals. He said he’d visited with health experts at University of Washington, and was scheduled to meet Seattle University officials Thursday and UW President Ana Mari Cauce, who was born in Cuba, on Friday.