Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fidel Castro Resigns: What’s Next For Cuba?

Finally, the news that everyone has been waiting for: Fidel Castro officially resigned this morning (I know many people were, and still are, hoping for his death, but I’m not going to go there). Castro has been in power for the past 49 years in Cuba, and has by most measurements destroyed the country. Cuba is a land full of potential and promise, but it needs access to U.S. investors, tourists, and trade to fully realize it. Unfortunately, that relationship has not been able to materialize due to various political issues.

With Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. and natural appeal, it should have been an investor’s dream location. It might someday become just that, but some big questions remain: How will Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul Castro, run the country? Will Raul refuse to make any major changes while Fidel is still alive? Even after Fidel is dead will Raul (or Raul’s successor) continue on with Fidel’s policies?

Unfortunately for U.S. investors, many prime opportunities have already been taken by foreign investors, especially Europeans, but even the Europeans have had a tough go with all the regulations imposed by Castro. If Cuba decides to open up the country to foreign investment it can be certain that there will be countless opportunities for investors. The U.S. should be Cuba’s number one source for trade and tourism, and once trade and travel are allowed between the two countries, Cuba’s economy and property values will jump by leaps and bounds.

Investing in a newly opened Cuba would not be without risk though. Cuba has been a dictatorship for the last 49 years, and its government has not respected investors’ rights. There is a precedent and a possibility that another dictator along the lines of Fidel Castro could come along and seize property, or impose unfair regulations. Until Cuba’s government shows stability for an extended period of time, that concern will be at the front of every investor’s mind. Whether the potential reward possibilities are worth the risk is a decision every investor will need to make for themselves.

Cuba has always been intriguing to me: Great food, a vibrant culture, great location and climate, but off-limits. I hope that this new administration takes Cuba in a new direction, and that I’ll be visiting sooner rather than later.

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