Cuba: Doing business & staying in touch

Doing business in Cuba

The international business community has realised the potential of the Cuban market and new suitors and old beaux have been courted at increasingly successful trade fairs over the last few years. However, work practices can still be stuck in a paternalistic, top-down rut, where there is rarely anybody to take initiative (ie responsibility) or make decisions.

The laid back attitude to timekeeping found in some parts of Latin America doesn't predominate in Cuba, but transportation, communication and other every-day problems often translate into inefficiency and absenteeism in the workplace - issues government is working hard to address. Initial approaches from international businesses are usually met with great optimism and indications that anything is possible, but this is followed by total inactivity once the visitors return to their home country.

Business attire in Cuba is usually professional casual, with men forsaking jacket and tie for the dress shirt known as a guayabera, even for the most formal occasions. Courtesy is expected and hospitality should not be lavish, being offered to groups rather than individuals.

Offices are generally open Monday to Friday 0830-1230 and 1330-1630 with some opening on Saturdays. It's always best to deal with business affairs in the morning, if possible. The best months for business visits in Cuba are November to April.

Office hours

Mon-Fri 0830-1230 and 1330-1630. Some offices also open on alternate Saturdays from 0800-1700.

Economy

In response to the recent global economic downturn and domestic inefficiencies, Cuba began a dramatic economic readjustment process in 2010 which is projected to last a minimum of 5 years. Import substitution, stimulating private enterprise and foreign investment, slashing 1 million state jobs, plus cutting state subsidies of food, stimulating the formation of cooperatives, and collecting taxes were among the sweeping reforms proposed. Additionally, over 170 types of private businesses were approved for licensing - an opportunity more than 200,000 Cubans have taken advantage of since the announcement in October. Unifying the country's two currencies was outlined as a longer term goal.

Following nationwide debates on the proposed economic changes, the Cuban Communist Party approved the new legislation during its historic 6th Party Congress held in April, 2011.

In spite of the blockade, tourism continues to grow, and is a key source of hard currency. Cuban doctors, teachers, and other professionals working abroad in return for raw materials such as oil are significant contributors to the country's continued survival.



GDP

57.49 billion (2010).

Main exports

Sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, citrus, coffee and medical technology.

Main imports

Food, petroleum, chemicals, machinery and equipment.

Main trading partners

Venezuela, China, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain.

Keeping in Touch in Cuba

Telephone

Etecsa phonecards for both internal and external calls are readily available from shops and kiosks. Some calls must be made through the international operator, and may be subject to delays.

Mobile phone

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. The mobile network Cubacel is administered by ETECSA (www.etecsa.cu), which offers prepaid cell service via phone cards available at Cubacel offices. GSM telephones operating on 900MHz enjoy national coverage, those on 800MHz have coverage in Havana, Varadero, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo only. Phone rental in Cuba can be unreliable; if you must have cellular service, bringing your own handset with roaming activated is advised.

Internet

Available at hotels and many principal Etecsa offices internet cafes. Some websites are censored by the Cuban government, while others cannot be accessed due to the US embargo.

Post

Correos de Cuba post offices are located throughout the country. Sending a letter to the USA or Europe costs CUC$0.65. It typically takes two weeks or more for mail sent from Cuba to arrive at its destination. Negotiations between the United States and Cuba regarding postal service are ongoing: as of April 2011, only 'light mail' (letters weighing up to 18 ounces) would be accepted by Correos de Cuba for posting to the USA.

Post office hours

Mon-Fri 0800-1500. Many luxury hotels have small post offices on site, or can sell stamps and post letters out of hours.

Media

Expect to be starved of printed information in Cuba. All media is state-controlled and Western newspapers are not available. CNN, BBC World and their ilk are available in most hotels. International news websites can be accessed in Cuba and blogs from the island are proliferating rapidly. Journalists must be accredited by the Centro de Prensa Internacional in Havana and operate within the confines of laws against anti-government propaganda. The insulting of officials carries penalties of up to three years in prison. Private ownership of electronic media is prohibited by the constitution, and foreign news agencies must hire local journalists only through government offices.

Papers are in Spanish, although the Communist Party daily newspaper, Granma, publishes a weekly edition, called Granma International, in English, Italian, German, Portuguese and French. TV channels include Cubavisión, Tele Rebelde, Canal Educativo, and Canal Habana. Radio Habana Cuba is an external broadcaster broadcasting in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese.

Edited by Jane Duru
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