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US-Cuba Business Outlook and Overview – Part Three

Cuba's FIHAV, 2017. Photo: Sue Ashdown

This article is the third in a series from Sue Ashdown, Founder and President of IcarusCuba, a consulting firm with its head office in Havana. Ms Ashdown also writes on the realities of life in Cuba for her own blog, “Cuba Reality Check.”

Cuba’s detailed approach to foreign investment

Every year at FIHAV, Cuba presents its foreign investment portfolio. It is quite expansive and relatively detailed, reminding us of a comment from former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: “The Cubans know exactly what they want.”

All of the projects in the portfolio have been closely studied to determine their feasibility and affordability, and in some cases, projections for return on investment. There are projects still on the drawing board, awaiting feasibility study completion, but Cuba is also open to additional investment ideas it has not considered. The projects included in the annual portfolio are simply the ones set for the fast-track.

Any business in Cuba will need to be undertaken with a Cuban partner, but some of the projects in the portfolio are seeking 100% foreign financing and presumably the foreign partner’s profits and ownership would be negotiable. Others are to be jointly funded.

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Some of the most interesting projects in this year’s portfolio include:


Two waterparks, one in Havana, another in Varadero. Both are standard waterparks with lazy rivers, waterslides and other attractions. The estimated costs are $25 million each with an estimated 8 year return on investment.

Marriott (Starwood) does not own either of the hotels it runs in Havana – it simply has a management contract. There are scores of additional management contracts available throughout the country for other hotel properties, some with additional renovation investment possibilities, and presumably additional profits. Building opportunities have been defined as well, with higher price tags, naturally. Detailed analysis is available for each project, including occupancy rates and expected financial returns.

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A combination shopping mall/conference center in the center of the Varadero peninsula, probably Cuba’s biggest tourist draw in terms of sheer numbers, is greatly in need of restoration and the estimated cost is relatively low: $4 million, with an estimated recovery period of three years.


All pharmaceutical & biotech investment projects are slated for buildout at Mariel, currently and buy accutane online with prescription senselessly off limits to American companies who would need OFAC license exceptions in order to operate there. These include:

Production of vaccines for cancer treatment: $60 million
Production of therapeutic antibodies: $75 million
Production of cephalosprines, injectable carbapenemas and oral penicillin: $120 million
Production of cytostatics: $60 million
Production of oral contraceptives and hormones: $25 million
Joint enterprise dedicated to certification and validation of clean & sterile rooms for biopharma, hospitals and laboratories: $20 million

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Cuba views telecom as strategic, so much of this sector is off limits, however there are investment opportunities for software development, scientific/tech centers, tech support and call centers, as well as international certification.

Postal services are grouped within this sector and investment is badly needed to update (or actually, introduce) technologies for the processing of domestic and international mail and packages, express messenger services and postal graphics.


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Nickel in Cuba is largely dominated by Canada and China, but there are a wealth of other mineral possibilities. Cuba has studied and identified five regions in addition to the Isle of Youth, and has identified 45 projects for prospecting/exploration. The minerals include gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc and chrome. There are another eight prospects for wolfram and technical minerals like mica and kaoline. Cuba is looking to sign 5-year International Economic Partnerships for risk exploration, at which point the foreign partner could move on to a Joint Enterprise agreement, or not. The minerals are intended primarily for foreign export, with acquisition priority granted to the investor.


Cuba is still looking to develop its agriculture on almost every conceivable level, from aquaculture to dairy products. Plants to produce pasta, sauces, dressings, cereals, fruit juices, spices and condiments will all be fast tracked, and with the exception of relatively expensive wheat milling and soy processing plants, the costs are much more affordable, in the $5 to $20 million range.

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