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    In Cuban Piñata, Military Picks Up Five-Star Hotels

    In Cuban Piñata, Military Picks Up Five-Star Hotels / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

    14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 9 November 2016 – The control exercised
    by the Cuban military over a sector as critical as tourism was common
    knowledge. However, the recent International Fair of Havana (FIHAV 2016)
    uncovered that the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) is not satisfied
    with a piece of the cake, they want the whole thing.

    In contracts for hotel administration and marketing alone, of the 80
    proposals Cuba presented in the last week as a part of the Portfolio of
    opportunities for foreign investment, 41 belong to the Gaviota SA group,
    owned by the FAR. But it is not only in numbers that the military takes
    most of the market, it is also in quality: 37 of the Gaviota proposals
    are 5-star hotels located on the most desirable plots on the island, in
    the midst of the greatest tourist boom in decades.

    In total, Gaviota, which belongs to the Armed Forces Business
    Administration Group (GAE), is offering 18,768 rooms, the majority of
    them with a five-star or five-star-plus rating, compared to the 5,782
    for Gran Caribe and 3,838 for Islazul, which depend on the Ministry of
    Tourism. A single night in one of Gaviota’s five star hotels ranges from
    100 to 140 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in dollars).

    In the last two years the number of rooms and hotels with five-star
    ratings that Gaviota manages has not stopped growing.

    “We are witnessing a slow-motion piñata that the Obama Administration is
    encouraging,” says Sebastian Arcos, a professor at the Cuban Research
    Institute of Florida International University (FIU).

    For Arcos, the trade fair has made clear that the interest of Raul
    Castro’s government is not to solve the nation’s need for growth, “but
    its own oligarchic interests.”

    “The Cuban economy has been militarized since the eighties and this fair
    confirms it,” he adds.

    The International Fair of Havana is held every year in November. Since
    2014 the Cuban government has been presenting a portfolio of
    opportunities to convince investors to do business with the island. This
    year the proposals have been on the order of 9.5 billion dollars.

    The latest portfolio offers 395 projects gathered in 14 economic lines,
    among which Cuba prioritizes tourism, agri-food and energy. The document
    has 69 more initiatives than in 2015 and 149 more than in 2014.

    Everleny Perez, one of the defenders in Cuba of the Raulista reforms,
    who was expelled from the Center for Studies of the Cuban Economy last
    April, says that basically the Fair was “more of the same.”

    “Where are the 325 Cuban products exhibited? Where are they sold?” asked
    the doctor of economics who also questioned Cuba’s capacity to produce
    for a foreign importer, taking into account the difficulties in
    accessing raw materials in the Cuban market.

    For Pérez, the absence of a real liquidity capacity on the part of Cuban
    companies hinders the negotiation process. “Foreigners exhibit products,
    but Cubans have no cash to buy them,” he says.

    Cuban companies receive allocations in dollars from the Government for
    their transactions. These do not necessarily correspond to the profits
    of the company and limit its ability to buy.

    Another important element, the economist says, is the number of
    proposals that have passed from one year to the next without finding

    The system of employment, whereby foreign companies contract directly
    with Cuban government employment agencies for workers, not with the
    workers themselves, is one of the brakes. The system discourages
    investors because they have to pay a high cost for labor, only about a
    third of which is paid to the workers with two-thirds retained by the
    Cuban government.

    Despite three years since the appearance of the first portfolio of
    opportunities, projects such as a light car factory in Mariel, which
    would allow the manufacture of “a minimum” of 10,000 units, fail to pass
    from desire to reality.

    “There are several obstacles to investment in Cuba, one of them is the
    slow pace of negotiations, which requires approval of the Council of
    Ministers or the State Council. How is it possible that a year later
    they have only laid the cornerstones of two factories in Mariel,” Perez
    asks, referring to the Mariel Special Development Zone and the Brascuba
    project of 100 million dollars as well as the Unilever project of 35

    Since the 2014 Law on Foreign Investment came into force, Cuba has
    approved 83 projects of around 1.3 billion dollars, a very distant
    figure from the 2.5 billion annually that the country needs to emerge
    from its economic coma; this year the country is not expected to reach a
    1% growth rate in gross domestic product.

    In the Mariel Special Development Zone just 19 projects are approved, of
    which only seven are in operation and none represents the large
    investments that were expected.

    To Everleny Perez, “the country needs to return to the economic dynamics
    of changes that supposedly led to the coming to power of Raul Castro.”

    For Sebastian Arcos, meanwhile, tomorrow will come to the Cuban economy
    through integration with the United States.

    “That Cuba is less than an hour’s flight from the US cannot be changed
    by anyone, not even Fidel Castro. In the recognition of this natural
    market is the future of the island,” said Arcos.

    Source: In Cuban Piñata, Military Picks Up Five-Star Hotels / 14ymedio,
    Mario Penton – Translating Cuba –