The Cuban Regime Seeks Its Salvation in the Investments of Emigrants
Those who for decades were called “worms,” “traitors” and “counterrevolutionaries” have become the great hope of the Cuban regime to save the disastrous economy. A main objective seems to guide the Government of Cuba at the conference it is holding with emigrants this weekend in Havana: to attract them to invest in the Island and legalize a process that has already begun stealthily with small entrepreneurs from the diaspora.
Despite Cuban law and the U.S. “embargo” that prohibit it for the time being, several exiles have opened businesses in Cuba using the names of residents on the Island and, in some cases, in association with local authorities. Among them are the private restaurants La Carreta, Antojos and some others in Havana, in addition to the Diplomarket shopping center, all controlled by U.S. residents, with the approval or participation of the regime.
Although he did not allude to the current situation, the director general of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, Ernesto Soberón, spoke openly in an interview with Juventud Rebelde last Sunday.
Similarly, Reuters confirmed it by quoting a “senior official” of the Foreign Relations Ministry: “Cuba wants to take advantage of its growing population abroad in search of new investments that boost the economy.”
In the Nation and Emigration Conference, the first in 19 years, more than 400 people are participating, many of whom — no less than 40%, according to Soberón — have double residence, in Cuba and abroad. (According to the EFE agency, most of the participants whose identities transcend national boundaries are people linked to solidarity with Cuba groups abroad). “This did not happen before, which is the result of the modification of the Constitution that now recognizes effective citizenship, and there can be several,” the official insisted, talking about the 2013 constitutional reform.
Soberón added to this the measures taken last July – the extension of the validity of ordinary passports from six to ten years, the elimination of the mandatory extension every two years and the reduction of the price to apply for it – as part of the same strategy of approaching Cubans abroad. He did not name another one, which many consider as an extension of the penalty applied to most nationals who left the country: the requirement to show the Cuban passport for exiles before 1971, who were exempted from the perpetual control exercised by the political police over the emigrants).
The authorities now publicly insist that Cubans abroad must invest in their country of origin, but the truth is that it has been happening stealthily for years.
Most have set up hotels, restaurants and other shops, many of them with remarkable success. One of them is Frank Cuspinera Medina, vice president of Las Américas TCC Corporation, based in Miami, a group to which Diplomarket belongs, called, sarcastically, the “Cuban Costco.”
Cuspinera Medina is domiciled in Florida but also in El Vedado. His name appears in a letter that several Cuban entrepreneurs sent in 2021 to U.S. President Joe Biden, asking him to lift the sanctions against the Government of the Island, which harmed their businesses. In the letter he did not appear as a member of Las Américas, but of Iderod Servicios Constructivos, based in Cuba.
This last firm is not on the list of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) of the regime, but it is a company with his name, Cuspinera SURL LVI, dedicated to “providing e-commerce platform services,” the same as a branch of Las Américas TCC.
Reinaldo Rivero is another Cuban resident in the U.S. with a tentacle in Havana: although his business is registered in the name of his mother, he is the real owner, with a foreign partner, of the busy Antojos restaurant and bar and a security agency that serves the establishments of the Espada Alley, on Peña Pobre Street in Old Havana.
A third name, with a dazzling triumph, is Obel Martínez, owner of La Carreta. Remodeled and with a rich gastronomic offer, the emblematic restaurant of El Vedado reopened in private hands last June and immediately became a place among the habananeros for the emerging middle class.
By then, Martínez had opened another business, Mojito-Mojito, in the heart of Old Havana, praised on travel pages for the owner’s enthusiasm and kindness.
His signature is in place 5,639 of the registration of MSMEs with the name Mojito Martínez and was approved in the last quarter of 2022. Precisely in December of that same year, Cuban Obel Martínez was granted U.S. nationality. In fact, according to a close source who requests anonymity, he continues to retain his residence in Miami, Florida.
“Obel fled from Castroism and now lives from it, enjoying at the same time all the benefits and opportunities of the American dream: he plays at capitalism from Havana, with the support of the local authorities,” says the same source, who echoes the discomfort created by this situation in some sectors of the regime itself, particularly within the Communist Party of Cuba, where there is a debate about the privileges granted to this new class of businessmen.
As a local development project, the source adds, Obel received a loan of 10 million pesos from the municipal government, specifically at the 250 branch of the Metropolitan Bank, located on Línea Street in El Vedado. As confirmed by official television in a report last September, La Carreta “was restored thanks to the collaboration with the government of the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución.”
The governor of the municipality, Rolando López Jiménez, explains that “he assumed the responsibility for rescuing the facility to provide a better service,” in addition to facilitating the hiring of employees and rehabilitating the apartments located above the establishment.
Obel Martínez does not appear in the report, but 14ymedio has verified that he is the one who receives the clientele of both La Carreta and Mojito-Mojito, presenting himself as the owner.
Cuban law does not allow a U.S. citizen to own a company on the Island, although the words of Ernesto Soberón in Juventud Rebelde suggest that this is about to change. However, there is another greater inconvenience, if possible: according to the embargo laws, as a U.S. resident a person is also banned from doing business in Cuba, unless they have a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
So far, the only American who has OFAC’s permission to establish a company in Cuba is John Kavulich, and he keeps his business secret, in addition to Hugo Cancio, from the online shopping site Katapulk, who has obtained a license to export vehicles from the United States.
As U.S. Treasury officials explained, following a meeting of Cuban businessmen in Miami last September, several conditions must be met in order not to break the law. Entrepreneurs residing in Cuba cannot create companies in the U.S. to sell their products or buy goods directly from U.S. companies. Similarly, Cuban-Americans cannot establish businesses on the Island unless they achieve permanent residence in the country through repatriation.
Cuba has been hoping for months that the U.S. will approve measures to help the MSMEs on the Island that, far from materializing, do not cease to provoke controversy.
Without going any further, on November 8, Senator Marco Rubio questioned the Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, about the fact that Cubans who arrive in the U.S. and seek refuge end up living between the two countries.
“You’re supposed to be fleeing political persecution, so you are automatically a candidate to receive money for being a refugee, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid,” said Rubio, who compared the privilege of Cubans who can obtain these benefits after one year to the situation of refugees from other countries who have to wait five years.
“Some return to Cuba for three months at a time, and they have only been here for a year. How, if you are fleeing persecution, can it be that a year later you spend the summers in Cuba? How can it be that you travel between six and eight times a year to Cuba? I have never heard that people who flee persecution return to that place repeatedly. There’s a problem here, isn’t there?” said the Republican senator.
Perhaps Cuba will take immediate measures to regularize the situation of its businessmen with dual nationality. It is less clear that the U.S. will do so with respect to the embargo restrictions. What is a fact is that the owners of these companies continue to operate without problems.
Translated by Regina Anavy