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Protections for Foreign Investors: Interview with Déborah Rivas, VM, MINCEX

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Vice Minister of MINCEX, Déborah Rivas at the VUINEX offices in Havana in May of 2022.

In this interview, we take a look what Cuba offers in the way of protections for foreign investors. It is the second interview I had with Déborah Rivas Saavedra, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (MINCEX) of Cuba. Our first interview took place in April 2021. We met in Havana in May of this year for an update to our original conversation.

Minister Rivas holds a degree in International Economic Relations from the University of Havana. Over the years, she continued studies in development cooperation, project management, investment, and multilateral negotiations in Sweden, Chile, Peru, Spain, and Italy.

Her early career history includes a research position at Cubazucar and she was president of the Panamericana Corporation, Inc. She has also served in diplomatic positions at the Embassies of Cuba in Mexico and Peru.

Ms. Rivas began her career at MINCEX as the Director of Promotion and Evaluation of Joint Business in 1998.

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In 2010, she became the Director of the Foreign Investment Division. Three years later, Ms. Rivas was promoted to Director-General.

She was appointed Deputy Minister of MINCEX in 2020. In this capacity, she leads Cuban delegations in trade negotiations and is active in the promotion of foreign investment in Cuba.

The Minister is currently finishing a PhD in Economic Development at the University of Havana.

What follows is an excerpt from an update to the original interview of 2021. The full interview will be included in an upcoming book on foreign investment and economic development in Cuba.

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Hernández: We last communicated in 2021. What has evolved in the foreign investment scenario in Cuba over the last year?

Vice Minister Rivas: Now, with the end of the pandemic in sight, new investors are visiting Cuba again, and connecting with Cuban partners. New businesses are starting up.

The blockade is still a hindrance to development.

We Cubans are very optimistic about FDI in Cuba. The business is coming back.
We have many opportunities in difference sectors, and now we have the private sector, the Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). The MSMEs can associate with foreign investors because they are enterprises under Cuban investment law. They have the possibility to associate with foreign capital. There are now many more independent businesses. It is a tremendous change. These small businesses will contribute a percentage to increase Cuban GDP.

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The U.S. blockade constitutes the main obstacle to doing business under normal international terms in Cuba. Our legislation protects the foreign investors from U.S. sanctions and responds to the unilateral measures of the U.S. The legislation would be different if it did not exist. This is difficult for foreigners to understand. For example, over 100 banks ceased operations with Cuba because of the measures of the Trump administration.

An investor in Cuba has to adopt different business policies and practices to protect his project compared to other countries. Anyhow, the opportunities are here, and the business people come to take advantages of them.

Is Cuba moving forward to present a more business-friendly climate?

Minister Rivas: Cuba’s latest Portfolio of Investment Opportunities 2021-2022 is no longer in PDF format but on a new website at inviertaencuba.mincex.gob.cu. An investor can now search by sector, province, dollar amounts for the investment, view the legal framework, public policies, FAQ section and sign up to the VUINEX system. There is also a direct link to the ZED Mariel website.

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VUINEX has made the entire application process quicker and easier for investors. From the original application to investment completion now takes approximately six months when before, it could often take as long as two years. We have trained specialists in the VUINEX office that provide information to their specific portfolio of sectors. These specialists are there to help investors with the process. There are also three large meeting rooms equipped with audiovisual equipment where the investor can hold meetings.

Click here to view Cuba’s new Portfolio of Investment Opportunities.

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