Cuban entrepreneurs get enterprise coaching from the US, and hope that Biden lifts sanctions

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) — Musicians Ana María Torres and María Carla Puga began making bracelets and necklaces at house in Cuba throughout the pandemic, they usually now have a flourishing enterprise. On an island that for many years prohibited non-public enterprise, they’ve had an unlikely adviser: the U.S. Embassy.

Torres and Puga are a part of a small group of entrepreneurs that benefited from a enterprise coaching program the embassy lately provided in Cuba, the place many younger entrepreneurs are much less cautious of the American authorities than these in earlier generations.

“We see it as a terrific alternative,” says Torres, 25, who co-founded a retailer and workshop named Ama, which has a cafeteria and employs 12 folks.

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Ama is considered one of nearly 8,000 small- and medium-sized firms that had been legally licensed to function in Cuba over the previous 12 months and a half.

The embassy coaching featured weekly on-line conferences overlaying every thing from advertising and marketing instruments and model administration to fundamental funds and the creation of net pages. The homeowners of Ama had been amongst 30 entrepreneurs the embassy chosen from 500 candidates.

Torres and Puga recall the look of worry — and shock — in an older driver’s face when, on their method to exhibit a few of their merchandise, they requested him to drop them on the U.S. Embassy. The driving force steered he drop them off one block away as a substitute.

“Our technology doesn’t actually have a lot limitation with respect to daring to participate in these sorts of issues with the U.S. embassy, as a result of the context is completely different,” says Puga, 29. “We all know there are some conflicts, however we additionally know there’s a lot that’s being tried, particularly with Cuban entrepreneurs, and we’re actually not afraid.”

In 1968, the Cuban authorities shut down the few remaining non-public companies that had been left on the island after the 1959 revolution.

In 2010, nevertheless, then-President Raúl Castro initiated a reform to spice up the native financial system and allowed impartial employees to work in actions like rental homes, eating places and transportation. These had been additional developed amid a 2014 rapprochement with the U.S. throughout the administration of President Barack Obama. Sanctions additionally had been eased throughout that interval.

Coverage in the direction of the island hardened throughout the administration of President Donald Trump, and the financial system has but to recuperate from its 11% contraction in 2020. In tourism alone — a mainstay for nationwide revenue — the island welcomed simply 1.7 million guests final 12 months, lower than half the quantity of 2018.

Cubans have been feeling the consequences of yet one more disaster, mirrored by lengthy strains to get gas, shortages of fundamental items, blackouts, inflation and document emigration.

In September 2021, Cuba legalized the creation of small- and medium-sized companies to assist an financial system in disaster, a call that Cubans and observers of the nation’s politics considered as historic.

Since then, 7,842 small- and medium-size firms had been created, together with 65 non-agricultural cooperatives, producing some 212,000 jobs mixed.

Nonetheless, many years dwelling in a state-dominated financial system led to the lack of enterprise know-how, together with monetary administration, advertising and marketing methods, publicity and buyer relations.

“I’m very pleased with the renewed willingness of the USA embassy to pave the best way for us by way of data… that’s one thing we had been missing,” mentioned Adriana Heredia, a 30-year-old associate of Past Roots, a non-public enterprise that features a clothes retailer, a magnificence salon specializing in afro hair and numerous different cultural tasks.

Cuban entrepreneurs mentioned they appreciated efforts just like the U.S. embassy’s enterprise coaching program, however additionally they expressed concern in regards to the damaging impression the U.S.-imposed sanctions have had on their financial system.

“There’s a damaging impression (of the sanctions) that’s evident,” economist Ricardo Torres, a researcher on the Heart for Latin American Research on the American College in Washington, instructed the AP. “America is the dominant market, the dominant financial system. So all of the monetary and industrial restrictions that… weigh on entities which can be based mostly in Cuba will negatively have an effect on entrepreneurs.”

Final month, representatives of 300 small- and medium-sized companies despatched a letter to President Joe Biden requesting, amongst different issues, facilitation of monetary transactions, the institution of some kind of allow for U.S. businessmen to put money into Cuba and commerce with non-public firms, In addition they requested removing of the island from U.S. record of nations that sponsor terrorism.

Cuban entrepreneurs really feel they’re caught between two forces: U.S. sanctions and limitations inside Cuba itself comparable to excessive taxes, a scarcity of financing and state management over imports and exports. The island additionally lacks permits for professionals to ascertain themselves as impartial employees.

“Sadly, Cuba’s non-public enterprises find yourself being subjected to a kind of crossfire,” Torres mentioned.

The Biden administration has promised a number of occasions to reverse some measures affecting the island and its fledgling entrepreneurs, however the Cuban authorities says Washington has but to ship.

Benjamin Ziff, cost d’affairs on the U.S. embassy in Cuba, dismisses claims that the administration has applied few modifications. He pointed to the resumption of some flights and the sending of remittances, in addition to a slew of instructional and spiritual exchanges between each nations. The embassy’s enterprise coaching lessons, whereas a small measure to spice up the non-public sector, was considered one of them.

“Cuba’s future lies in its non-public sector and those that say it’s a essential evil are utterly unsuitable,” Ziff mentioned in an interview. “It’s an more and more essential good for the well-being of the folks.”