other projects in the Mariel pipeline—cigarettes, cosmetics,
WEINSTEIN HAD A GOOD TRADE show. He didn’t arrive until late on the first day— after the delay at customs, and an errant cab ride to the wrong fair- ground—but he hit the ground running. Within an hour, every bottled-water peddler in the building had a Witzco
meatpacking, none of them U.S. backed—were obvious ways to
achieve that goal. Here he was, trying to persuade higher-ups
who opposed a simple, practical idea that somehow threat-
ened them. He had flashbacks to his time at IBM. “Everybody
is acting in their own best interests,” says Berenthal. “IBM
wanted to protect the proprietary lab where they were build-
ing the proprietary technology and not accept change, because
that would mean loss of power or prestige or even their jobs.”
In late October, Berenthal drove to Mariel for a meeting
with development zone officials. “They were very cordial,”
Berenthal says. Then they proceeded to tell him that after
much consideration, they had decided not to approve Cleber’s
proposal after all.
bumper sticker on his cooler, and most were wearing Witzco
baseball caps. He made no actual sales to actual Cubans, of
course. The embargo forbade him, which he knew going in.
But he met a lot of people there, and went home happy at
the end of the week with a long list of proposals to prepare for
buyers from Canada, Panama, Mexico, Belgium, and Spain.
Then history happened. Days after the trade show ended,
Donald Trump was unexpectedly elected president. Then
Fidel Castro died. Suddenly American entrepreneurs with
dreams of doing business in Cuba were forced to reevaluate
When it comes to Cuba, Trump the politician appears to
90 - INC. - FEBRUARY 2017
have a different mind than Trump the entrepreneur. At least
twice since the late ’90s, emissaries associated with Trump
companies have visited Cuba to scope out investment oppor-
tunities for hotels and golf courses—acts that may well have
violated the embargo. Since the election, however, Trump’s
been all bluster and ill will. When the news broke of the
former dictator’s passing, he tweeted gleefully: “Fidel Castro
is dead!” He soon followed up with, “If Cuba is unwilling to
make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American
people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”
In reality, Trump’s tough talk is off base. As attorney Muse
points out, there is no Obama-era “deal” between the nations.
Only a “series of rolling measures” issued from various realms
of the federal government that would be next to impossible
to untangle one by one, and which few Americans object to
anyway. But what Trump could do, says Muse, is “go big and
go unilateral,” in a way that plays to his strength. That is, he
could leapfrog Obama’s measured steps toward normalization
by announcing his willingness to negotiate America’s
$1.9 billion in outstanding property claims against the Cuban
government as a “necessary predicate” to ending the embargo
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