The United States and Cuba are separated by a mere 90 miles of water. But the gap between the two countries might as well be that of Earth and Mars. The United States sanctions against Cuba (in Cuba el bloqueo) begun in October 1960 have amounted to a commercial, economic, and financial embargo. The results have been significant.
As the U.S. has progressed, Cuba has been left in the dust, a virtual time capsule in which its population has largely missed out on all the advances in the modern world. Cuba’s long stagnation and isolation from the global economy has created a once-in-a-lifetime potential trade opportunity for those who position themselves in the fray.
Now, finally, much of what was status quo for decades in Cuba is about to change. After 53 years of U.S. restrictions on trade and remittances, including the use of U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, the door to our southern neighbor will swing open.
Currently, more than two million Cubans and Americans of Cuban descent live in the United States, the vast majority in south Florida. I grew up in Miami Beach, Florida, a city that is home to thousands of Cuban immigrants and refugees.
Many of my friends when I was a kid came from Cuban families. They spoke Spanish at home with their parents and English in school with their friends.
I knew firsthand how Florida Cubans felt about Fidel Castro and how his dictatorship had harmed the families they left behind and the beautiful country they’d once proudly called home.
In the summer of 1980, I saw firsthand the Cuban flotilla, also known as the Mariel boatlift, when over 125,000 Cubans fled to south Florida through the Port of Mariel, Cuba.
I saw many families that had been separated from each other for decades finally reunited on American soil, as Castro allowed passage of its citizens who had been left behind when the door first slammed shut.
Many people thought the boatlift would be the end of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. But as time went on, it became clear that the relationship between the two countries would not be normalized.
In January 2015 President Barack Obama announced his plan to remove economic sanctions and lift the 53-year U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, saying it’s time to move on and change a policy from the 1960s that is no longer working. Cuba has said that the economic damage of the U.S. embargo has topped $1 trillion in its five decade history.
Both countries will work on restoring diplomatic relations, aiming to reach agreement on the opening of embassies in each other’s countries. The U.S. will ease travel restrictions, making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and do business there.
U.S. and Cuban banks will be allowed to start building relationships. American travelers will be able to use their credit and debit cards when visiting. They’ll be allowed to return to the U.S. with up to $400 in Cuban goods, a quarter of which can be spent on alcohol and tobacco. Can you say Cuban cigars?
While the diplomats hammer out their agreements, U.S. companies are clamoring to do business in the new Cuban market. PepsiCo wants in. So do Caterpillar and Home Depot.
Airlines like JetBlue, United Airlines and Delta say they will begin offering flights to Cuba as soon as an air service agreement between the two countries can be worked out.
American hotel companies like Marriott International, shut out for decades, are quickly assessing the opportunities in Cuba. Shippers, bankers and telecom manufacturers are eager to open a new market for their products. Plenty of small to mid-sized companies will also benefit.
According to Jim Pyburn, director of business development for Port Everglades, the nation’s leading port for exporting goods to Cuba, “A lot of folks are looking at potential opportunities. Everyone’s sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see what’s going to happen,” he said. “We are poised to take advantage. They need everything down there: building materials, groceries. You name it, it’s going to need to go down there.”
Cuba says it will welcome them all with open arms if they provide goods or services that support Cuba’s population and economy.
If your company offers a product or service that could have appeal to the Cuban market, I encourage you to begin targeted marketing. Build a website, or at least write a page on your existing website that speaks directly to the needs of Cubans.
Reach out to this nation’s 11 million citizens who have long awaited the day when they’d have access to western goods. Explain how your product or service provides a much-needed solution.
This is a unique marketing opportunity, the likes of which we will probably never see again in our lifetime. Pent-up demand is a powerful thing.
The desire for a more positive future for Cubans is strong. U.S. businesses that move quickly will see the most success. If you need assistance in creating a website or writing copy that speaks to the market in Cuba and allows you to be a part of this historic opportunity, let’s talk.