Returning to Cuba to Invest

By José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas  (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES — While many Cubans still base their life hopes on permanent emigration, a growing number of compatriots are returning to their homeland.

Some, not few, do so to invest their small capital in private enterprises, in the context of the “updating” of the economic model that the Cuban government is carrying out.

Two thousand is the latest figure of repatriated Cuban emigrants, a possibility that the immigration reform law taking effect in 2013 took into consideration.

Idalberto Ramírez, owner of the restaurant El Campesino, shows off his identity card.

Idalberto Ramírez, owner of the restaurant El Campesino in the city of Cienfuegos, began his life as an emigrant in 2005 in the United States, where he drove parcel delivery trucks. Unsatisfied with his reality, he tried his luck at being a restaurateur in Mexico, but didn’t find what he was looking for.

“I had always wanted to own a restaurant and that was very difficult to achieve as an emigrant, a Latino, without anyone offering me the capital necessary to start something like that abroad,” he says. “I left with the intention of trying my luck and, because the results were not good, I returned to my homeland and my family.”

The El Campesino restaurant.

The savings he accumulated in the U.S. and Mexico were not sufficient to start a business there, but apparently they were enough for Cuba. On 2010, Ramírez obtained his license as a “cuentapropista” [self-employed entrepreneur] and three years later started “collecting capital.”

“Some called me crazy but some of those who criticized me today acknowledge that I was right. I know several people who are tired of working so hard and so far [from Cuba] and are thinking about returning or have already returned,” says the independent restaurateur, as he welcomes to his establishment another restaurant owner who also chose to repatriate himself.

Ana Maria Salas and Toqui.

Return and contribute

The transformations in Cuban society open a space so that the savings of emigrants returning to the country can go into very diverse projects, including those of community and social benefit.

Such is the story of Ana María Salas, a restless artist who, while living in Ecuador, created the children’s character — and doll — named Toqui, a figure that remains in the childhood memories of many Cubans and Latin Americans who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s.

Salas makes it clear that she never left Cuba, because every time she had enough money to buy a plane ticket, she returned. The fact is that, for the past three decades, the artist has spent in Ecuador much of her professional and business life.

“Because art never was enough to make a living, I set up a restaurant, a bar and a hotel in Quito,” she says. Thanks to the income from La Bodeguita de Cuba, the Varadero bar, and the Vieja Cuba Hotel (the venue for her band, El Ciclón del Caribe), she has been able to rebuild a theater in Cienfuegos she calls La Casona de Toqui.

Enthusiastically, she tours that property, which covers an area hundreds of square yards in size, and points to the advances in the reconstruction of the main building, a beautiful wooden structure.

La casona de toqui before.

Ten years ago, when Salas started the project — a combination greenhouse and artistic stage — many looked at her with skepticism. They had little influence on her. One should not live without a challenging project, she says.

“I have to return to the earth what the earth gave to me,” she says, thanking the Cuban political system for the opportunities for education it provided in her youth.

The Casona de Toqui is not just a charity project. “My idea is to produce television programs here, beginning with four cartoon and puppet series that I have already written,” she says. “I’m looking ahead to an international market that I know can be profitable.”

The theater will present chamber music concerts and small format plays. “And if all those who come here to be creative want to plant lettuce and boniatos (a type of sweet potato), well, they can eat them, too,” Salas adds.

Clearing the road that leads home

La Casona de Toqui hoy.

The normalization of relations between the Cuban government and the country’s emigrants is one of the priorities on the agenda of reforms that began in 2008.

The 2012 immigration reform introduced new dynamics but remains open to expansion, formulas that will allow the State to coexist without prejudice with the émigrés and to regulate in Cuba what is a common practice worldwide — the so-called “circular emigration.”

Many, inside and outside Cuba, would like to see greater participation in the national economy on the part of the émigrés, a situation that the newly passed Law on Foreign Investment does not forbid, even if the official discourse only cracks the door open.

In most of these repatriations, the return is accompanied by spiritual satisfaction for the émigré and prosperity for the family and the social environment where the returnee settles. By itself, the combination favors and promotes.

9 thoughts on “Returning to Cuba to Invest

  • For an interesting article on this phenomenon which is now taking place in Mexico, read “Good Pilgrims: Why Mexican immigrants are moving back home,” by Sarah Menkedick in the current (July, 2014, Vol.329, No. 1970) issue of HARPER’S MAGAZINE.
    Between 2005 and 2010, 1.4 million Mexican migrants to the U.S. have returned to Mexico, and the net migration to the U.S. from Mexico has now dropped to zero for the first time in four decades. (Most of the illegal migrants now flooding into the U.S. are from Central America, from such countries as Honduras, where violence and repression are out-of-control.)
    The article describes the dynamism (new businesses being opened, new houses being constructed, an infusion of capital by returnees for constructing public buildings, such as schools, town- and social-halls, reconstruction and expansion of zocalos, etc.) now taking place in just one small town, San Pedro Cajonos, in the mountains north of Oaxaca. Besides the economic capital they are infusing into their communities, many of the returnees are also taking active political roles in their communities. The author of this article is married to a local, speaks Spanish, and has lived most of her post-college life in Mexico.

  • Or, as in the case of the Castro regime, it goose-steps like a fascist duck.

  • Vahe Demirjian!! Where in my comment did I said “Castrofascist” dear? But now that you mention it, lets look at the definition and other words that might describe the Castro family who has been in power for over 54 years dear!

    FASCISM: a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

    DICTATORSHIP: 1. a country, government, or the form of government in which absolute power is exercised by a dictator. 2. absolute, imperious, or overbearing power or control. 3. the office or position held by a dictator.

    OLIGARCHY: meaning “to rule or to command”)[1][2][3] is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.

    “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck”

  • Anti-CASTRO fanatics por favor. There is a difference.

  • Fidel and Raul conquered everything and everybody in Cuba. They now have an army in Venezuela propping up their puppet Maduro. Cuba may not have been Fascist before but that is where they are heading with Raul’s economic reforms.

    A single party state, dominated by the military, the economy run by state-corporate monopolies, labor unions subordinated to the all powerful state. That’s text book fascism.

  • It is a beginning but as you state, very small and not significant for the average Cuban. Perhaps an opening for others to make a dent in a terrible system that needs to be altered. I know you realize that there are still Cubans who still admire the independence that the regime has
    maintained but those are rapidly dwindling. I continue to advocate a complete end to the embargo and the rights for all US citizens to travel
    without any conditions that could lightening bolt change. I can tell you I’ve had that experience in Czechoslovakia and Romania when I was 21 years old (1971). I have been blessed having more than enough to live and if I had the opportunity to travel and spend freely in Cuba, I would infuse quite a bit of funds to assist those who would like to be entrepreneurs. Respect your opinions as you have the DNA to prove it.

  • Now for your statement:

    “In addition, the “government” needs to unify the two currencies!”

    The currency unification has already begun (albeit in a gradual fashion), judging from decrees published in the state media.

    You refer to Fidel and Raul Castro and their ilk as “Castrofascists”, yet the Castros in no way meet the definition of fascist because they have never had an appetite for conquest. Your claim that the raulista generals are nothing but oligarchs fails to take into account that none of the FAR generals are bonafide entrepreneurs, and Raul Castro wants to prevent a concentration of wealth among a few, as happened in post-Soviet Russia. Only when Miguel Diaz-Canel replaces the generals with civilians as heads of the major state-owned companies in Cuba after he succeeds Raul will anti-Cuba fanatics stop deriding the political leadership in Cuba as a military oligarchy.

  • Until the Castro “government” “allows” the Cuban citizens to freely practice all types of businesses, including the professionals who are not allowed, then the Cuba economy can see some growth! In addition, the “government” needs to unify the two currencies! Right now the Castro Clan is ripping off the workers!

    BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: The New Cuban Economy: What Roles for Foreign Investment? – By: Richard Feinberg
    The most unusual characteristic of the Cuban FDI regime is the labor contract system . FDI firms are not generally allowed to directly hire labor . Rather, a state employment agency—typically a dependency of the relevant sectoral ministry (e .g ., tourism, light industry)—hires, fires, settles labor disputes, establishes wage scales, and pays the wages directly to the workers . The FDI pays the wage bill to the state employment agency which in turn pays the workers . But there is a very special twist to the Cuban system: the FDI pays wages to the employment agency in hard currency and the employment agency turns around and compensates the workers in local currency, an effective devaluation or tax of 24-to-1 .
    Thus, if the firm pays the employment agency $500 a month and the employment agency pays the workers 500 pesos, over 90 percent of the wage payment disappears in the currency conversion; the effective compensation is instantly deflated to $21 per month . This could be the world’s heaviest labor tax . It provoked one Cuban worker to remark to the author: “In Cuba, it’s a great myth that we live off the state . In fact, it’s the state that lives off of us .”

    This labor system, which also authorizes only one national union (the Confederation of Cuban Workers, which is closely allied with the Communist Party), violates many principles of the International Labor Organization, of which Cuba is a charter member . It also freezes Cuba into a low-wage, low-productivity trap .


  • First, let’s maintain the proper perspective. Although it’s unclear in this post, the 2000 repatriated Cubans is likely the total number of Cubans since 2008 who have decided to return to their homeland for a variety of reasons. The majority of whom are returning retirees who have understandably chosen to live on their fixed income in their golden years among family. This would correspond to similar statistics published by Cuba’s ONE office. By comparison, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Cubans have permanently left Cuba every year over the same period. Not exactly a revolving door. Secondly, while restaurants, small hotels and theaters provide a few jobs to family members and close friends, this is not the path to the billions of dollars of foreign capital that will save the moribund Cuban economy. What Cuba needs is the equivalent of a Marshall Plan or large-scale capital investment in infrastructure systems. Cuba needs manufacturing jobs which will generate exports or at the very least minimize foreign imports. Still, this is a start. After 55 years of decay, maybe too little too late.

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