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Amid UN's condemnation of embargo, U.S. businesses find ways to do business in Cuba

United Nations continues to condemn U.S. economic embargo against Cuba

NEW YORK – Some entrepreneurs are finding ways to defy the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. Some are getting licenses from the U.S. Commerce Department instead of trying to get approval from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the embargo.

Most recently, Cuba and two U.S. companies signed a deal that will allow for artisanal charcoal from Cuba to be sold at local supermarkets in South Florida. Craig Litherland, president of Coabana Holdings, said he thinks these type of deals benefit everyone. 

The Cuban government also recently approved a deal to allow Rimco, a Puerto Rican company, to open a Caterpillar dealership at the Port of Mariel's special development zone next year. The military-controlled Almacenes Universales runs the port's special development zone. 

"Cuba has a lot of potential," Rimco Vice President Caroline McConnie said. 

The business deals were signed before the United Nations condemned the U.S. economic embargo on Wednesday. The United States and Israel were the only two countries of the 193-member General Assembly to vote against the resolution

The resolution, which sends a strong message to U.S. lawmakers, is unenforceable. The blockade happened after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, nationalized U.S. businesses in Cuba without compensation in 1960 and declared his allegiance to the Soviets as a Marxist-Leninist in 1961. 

Last year was the first time the U.S. abstained from voting. This year there was a change in policy under President Donald Trump. 

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday the U.S. was going to continue to oppose the resolution "as long as the Cuban people continue to be deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms" and "as long as the proceeds from trade with Cuba go to prop up the dictatorial regime responsible for denying those rights."

The UN has been calling for the end of the blockade every year since 1991. The U.S. response after the first resolution passed was to strengthen the blockade with The Helms-Burton Act, which punished the countries trading with Cuba. In 2001, after Hurricane Michelle, the U.S. agreed to start selling food to Cuba.  

In 2006, President Raul Castro, 86, took power from Fidel Castro. Three years later, President Barack Obama announced that he was lifting restrictions on remittances and travel for those who still had family on the island. He also allowed telecommunications companies to do business in Cuba. 

Trump was elected a few weeks before Fidel Castro's death last year. In June, Trump ordered a ban on deals with the Cuban military, which controls oil exploration, the ports and the tourism industry. 

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Haley was speaking on behalf of "an imperialist power behind the majority of those wars being waged today." Rodriguez also said Trump "will be one more president implementing a policy that means a return to the past."

Before the Wednesday vote, a group of 10 Senate Democrats asked Trump to abstain from voting on the UN resolution. They all signed a letter to Trump saying a dissenting vote would not "reflect the will of the American people, nor would it represent the voices of hundreds of U.S. companies."

U.S. and Cuban diplomats continue to disagree about an ongoing investigation into "sonic attacks" that the U.S. reported left Americans in Havana injured. 


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