Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Americans thinking of investing in Cuba: A word of caution

Don't say you weren't warned...

Western business men investing in Cuba have seen Cuban prisons up close (Photo: BBC)
The Alabama-based company Cleber LLC was cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)to do business under new regulations issued by the Obama administration that expand commerce with Cuba. They expect, once they have finalized an agreement with the Castro regime, to initially hire 30 Cubans and manufacture 1,000 tractors a year. The Obama administration is circumventing U.S. law using executive authority to gut the economic sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship.

Under the U.S. embargo American companies made $5.2 billion dollars in cash and carry trade with Cuba while at the same time with normal relations and financial institutions providing credits, France lost $4 billion to Cuba. Overall debt owed to several countries according to the Paris Club is $15 billion. Under the Obama administration trade between Cuba and the United States has steadily collapsed. The high point of trade between the two countries was the last year of the Bush administration (2008) when it peaked at 711.5 million dollars. Trade between the United States and Cuba in 2015 totaled 180.3 million dollars the lowest figure since 2002.

The Obama Treasury Department effective January 27, 2016 joined France and the rest of the world in legalizing financing of transactions between U.S. companies and the Castro regime.  The Cuba policy the Obama administration is abandoning has protected U.S. taxpayers. In the future in real terms trade between U.S. companies and the Cuban dictatorship will be negative, as it has been for the French, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Russians, the Canadians and many others.

American investors should also consider what has happened to their Canadian and British counterparts who have been falsely imprisoned in Cuba so that the dictatorship would avoid having to pay what is owed them.

For example, Canadian automobile executive Cy Tokmakjian spent three years unjustly imprisoned in Cuba after being subjected to a show trial on September 28, 2014  when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Castro regime seized about $100 million worth of company assets including bank accounts, inventory and office supplies, a ruling the company was challenging in international arbitration. (He is not the only Western executive to undergo the experience). 

British investor, Stephen Purvis, who was jailed for 15 months and who the Castro regime confiscated 17.3 million dollars of his company's assets in an August 2013 letter to The Economist explained what may be behind the arrests of Western foreign investors:

I spent time with a number of foreign businessmen arrested during 2011 and 2012 from a variety of countries, although representatives from Brazil, Venezuela and China were conspicuous in the absence. Very few of my fellow sufferers have been reported in the press and there are many more in the system than is widely known. As they are all still either waiting for charges, trial or sentencing they will certainly not be talking to the press. Whilst a few of them are being charged with corruption many are not and the accusations range from sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity. It is absolutely clear that the war against corruption may be a convenient political banner to hide behind and one that foreign governments and press will support.
American businessmen thinking of investing in Cuba under the Castro dictatorship don't say that you were not warned when things take an unexpected turn and you find yourself in a Cuba prison with your assets seized. Taxpayers may bail out your losses, but years in a Cuban prison are years that you can never get back.


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