Cuba as the Next China?

Cuba investment laws

Of course it’s not, but having just returned from ten days there, I figured I needed to write about it and since this is the China Law Blog (and not the Cuba Law Blog, which url my firm owns!), I figured I would need to get “China” somewhere in the title.

But Cuba does have a lot of similarities to China, at least China two decades ago. I went to Cuba in large part because my firm has an office in Barcelona, Spain, and to our Spanish clients, going into Cuba just is not all that exotic. One quick side note. I went to Barcelona immediately before heading to Cuba to meet with our Spain lawyers there and to give a speech on protecting your IP from China. I probably told a dozen people of how I would be heading to Cuba right from Spain and probably a half dozen of them said something along the lines of how they were worried about how “the Americans are going to spoil it.” After getting back, I share their concerns.

But without further ado, here are my random thoughts on Cuba.

  1. I spent 90 percent of my time in Havana, at an AirBnb in Nuevo Vedado, with a host who spoke maybe ten words of English, but who actually seemed to enjoy speaking with me despite my less than perfect Spanish. This host let me know that though most people in Cuba rely on either God or the government, he — being an engineer — had learned to rely on his own intellect. I also went to Viñales and to Miramar (which is really just a Havana suburb).
  2. I was surprised at how often I was approached on the street by people who simply wanted to use their English and who wanted me to know that “the United States is the best country in the world.”
  3. Pretty much everybody also wanted me to know that they thought Trump was either “crazy” or “interested in just the money.” I heard both of these things so many times that I began to wonder whether the press was saying this.
  4. Speaking of the press, every single person I asked (of all skin colors) insisted that racism had been “eradicated” in Cuba. I wish that were true, but know that it is not, but based on my observations alone (and the huge number of interracial couples and friendships), the situation appears impressive.
  5. Cuba is an incredibly safe city. Every person (including those I trusted) said violent crime is virtually non-existent. Many warned me of pick-pockets as though they were everywhere, but I saw no evidence of that. Nobody seems to hesitate to walk alone at night, anywhere.
  6. The food was much better than I expected. I would describe it as very good, but not amazing. The two best restaurants were Atelier (where President Obama went) and La Guarida (where every celebrity goes. As evidence of their standing, these were the only two restaurants that had Diet Coke.
  7. You cannot use your American credit cards anywhere, and I suspect this is because no American bank will run them through. Yet.
  8. The Internet is terrible in Cuba. Terrible. It literally went out for a day, pretty much everywhere in Havana, including the airport. The only fast Internet I found was in the business center at the Hotel Nacional. Second best was at the Melia Hotels.
  9. The grocery stores are not well stacked. At all.
  10. Many small businesses are springing up.
  11. Some of the people with whom I spoke had nothing but good things to say about Cuba. Some told me that 75-80 percent of the people eat pretty much nothing but rice and beans and eggs and bread, all of which are really really cheap, but most every other sort of food is not.
  12. Most of the foreign investment in Cuba is from Spanish companies, but Canadian, Mexican and other Latin American companies are there as well, with China seeming to be accelerating its investments too, especially in building new hotels.
  13. Things do not happen on American time. We wanted to go to Trinidad one day and the taxi driver with whom I had made the arrangements and confirmed multiple times showed up 45 minutes late and with a different car, one that was way way way too small. So we had to adapt. There is a lot of that in Cuba. I can remember only one meal where the restaurant had everything we ordered off the menu.
  14. Jose Marti Airport has five terminals, spread throughout the city. At least two are international terminals, so know before you go.
  15. Cuba’s foreign investment regime makes China’s seem like a can of corn (figured I had to get in a baseball reference somewhere).

The question everyone asks me is whether they should go to Cuba and, if so, when. My answer is as follows:

Most emphatically yes. The people are great. The scenery is great. The buildings are great. The cars are great. The food is good. The place is safe and great for walking. But do not go there expecting Paris because you will be disappointed. And I cannot stress enough how you have to be prepared for no internet and no credit cards. Bring a lot of money and bring a guidebook. Multiple times people would see us with our guidebook and plaintively ask us where we got it, and then when we told them the U.S. they would ask to take pictures of certain pages. Oh, and go now before the Americans spoil it.

This article was written by Dan Harris and published on China Law Blog. Original Post: http://www.chinalawblog.com/2016/12/cuba-as-the-next-china.html      

View the original article here.

Dan Harris

Dan Harris is internationally regarded as a leading authority on legal matters related to doing business in China and in other emerging economies in Asia. Forbes Magazine, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, BBC News, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Economist, CNBC, The New York Times, and many other major media players, have looked to him for his perspective on international law issues.

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