Cubans say the changes to their country’s socialist economic model will happen sin prisa, pero sin pausa – without hurry, but without pausing. That may be a good – or perhaps necessary – political strategy. But if Cuba is going to compete for investment with the rest of the world, it must seize business opportunities when they present themselves. Right now, Cuba is having its moment in the spotlight. If the Cuban government moves without enough prisa, it will risk losing the attention of those investors who today are enamored with the idea of doing business on the island.
Cuba could not have asked for a better time to be reintroduced to the world economic stage. In the rest of Latin America, economies are suffering through currency devaluations, competition for investment has declined, and local companies are looking to diversify beyond their home countries. Brazil, so large that it was once impossible for smaller economies in Latin America to compete for investor attention, has been battered by a massive corruption scandal and an ensuing economic slowdown. At the same time, U.S. agribusinesses are anxiously looking for new markets, and they have not been afraid to deliver that message to members of the U.S. Congress.
Enter Cuba, a forbidden fruit for the past 50-plus years. Suddenly, the U.S. has an embassy in Havana and the presidents of Cuba and the U.S. are sharing photo opportunities. Now, Cuba is saying it needs US$8 billion in foreign direct investment. Optimism is running high, even if the reality of doing business in Cuba is more complicated.