By Pilar Montes
HAVANA TIMES — Four developments and a survey conducted by a public US radio station this week revealed that, despite the embargo (still in place), bilateral relations between the United States and Cuba are making progress.
- The first US company has decided to invest in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), setting up a plant for the production of a thousand small tractors every year, to operate under an OFAC license granted to Cleber LLC, based in Alabama.
Cleber was founded a year ago by Cuban-born entrepreneur Saul Berenthal and US businessman Horace Clemmons.
Cleber assembles pieces for the manufacture of 25-horse-power, durable and easy-to-maintain tractors, to be sold under US $ 10,000 in Cuba, where the country’s agriculture is in dire need of such equipment.
At the last Havana International Fair, Clemmons presented Cleber’s Oggun (or “iron horse”) tractors, aimed primarily at small and mid-scale producers.
- Waiting for a number of hurdles to be cleared, the US Company Caterpillar has already designated a company in Puerto Rico to distribute its products in Cuba. When a Caterpillar executive was asked whether the company was getting ahead of developments, he replied, confident, that it was better to be well positioned than to lose a business opportunity.
- On February 16, Cuban and US officials convened at Havana’s Hotel Nacional to sign a memorandum of understanding authorizing commercial flights to the island, in addition to charter services already in operation. These operations would involve twenty daily flights to Havana and ten daily flights to other airports around the island.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox stated that “today is a historic day in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. This morning, with the signing of the MOU, we are signaling that for the first time in more than five decades the Unites States and Cuba will allow scheduled air service between our two nations.”
Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo, Assistant US Secretary of State Charles Rivkin and the Chair of the Cuban Civil Aviation Institute Alfredo Cordero also signed the memorandum.
Yzquierdo explained that, in addition to reestablishing regular flight service, the instrument also authorized airline companies in both countries to enter into commercial agreements, such as shared codes and airliner lease contracts.
To facilitate commercial flights, the US government will make flights to and from Cuba subject to the same legal requirements applied to all other international flights, a National Security Agency communiqué announced.
According to announcements, the bidding process through which US airline companies will be able to submit their applications to the Department of Transportation for the routes they would like to fly has already just begun.
This process, however, excludes Cubana de Aviacion, which, according to press reports, has pending litigations in the United States and could see its assets confiscated if it entered the United States.
- Seven US congress people who agree on the need to lift the US blockade are also visiting the island these days. These include Florida Democrat Kathy Castor, who said they will work to have Congress remove this obstacle.
Another rumor being divulged by US newspapers is that President Obama may visit the island before the Florida primaries to be held on March 15.
To conclude, we cannot fail to mention a survey conducted by Gallup and published by NPR, which reveals that, for the first time in more than fifty years, a majority of US citizens has a favorable opinion of Cuba: 73 percent of democrats and 53 of independents, against 34 percent of Republicans.