ganda, declared one of the ofcials. Where is your approval?
A discussion ensued. Weinstein turned on his charm. Maybe
a little bit of money changed hands. “It’s the cost of doing
business,” Weinstein says. “I’m OK with it.”
And the Witzco delegation was in. W HEN PRESIDENT OBAMA few to Havana last March, it marked the frst visit o Cuba by a sitting American presi- dent since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. His posse numbered more than 1,000. Among them: Brian Chesky, founder of Airbnb, Dan Schulman,
CEO of PayPal, and Fubu founder and Shark Tank judge
Daymond John. The president drove straight to the Meliá
Habana Hotel, where he addressed the staf of what used to
be the United States Interests Section of the Embassy of
Switzerland in Havana (it’s a long story) but is now a full-fedged U.S. embassy. There he spoke of his desire to “forge
new agreements and commercial deals” with Cuba, in line
with the main thrust of U.S. policy as of December 2014,
when the current wave of reforms began.
A lot’s happened since then, including the death of Fidel
Castro; the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state spon-
sors of terrorism; the restoration of full diplomatic relations;
the resumption of regularly scheduled fights by U.S. airlines,
including American, Delta, United, and JetBlue; authoriza-
tion for U.S. hoteliers Marriott and Starwood to pursue Cuba
deals; service agreements involving U.S. cell-phone providers;
and glory, hallelujah, the granting of permission for American
visitors to bring home Cuban rum and cigars.
But that doesn’t mean Cuba is open for business. There’s
still the nettlesome matter of the embargo—a dense web of
constraints, restrictions, and outright prohibitions, some in
place since 1960, that, despite the recent thaw, prevents anything approaching normal business relations. Most commerce
between the United States and Cuba is banned outright.
Everything else is a hassle. For instance, while U.S. companies
have been permitted to sell food and medicine to Cuba since
the Clinton administration, the U.S. government often
requires Cuban customers to pay the full amount up front.
(That, in a nutshell, is why Cuba buys nearly all its rice from
Vietnam, rather than from nearby U.S. growers.) And if you’re
an American trying to do anything in Cuba, you had better
bring plenty of cash, which is all anyone accepts. Unless you
BET TING AGAINST THE EMBARGO
Josh Weinstein, the third-generation president of Witzco Challenger, a Sarasota, Florida–based company hit
by the Great Recession, is hoping to rebound by riding the anticipated tourism boom in Cuba.