Two businessmen are attempting to become the first Americans to set up a manufacturing operation in Cuba in over half a century. They have ambitious plans to build inexpensive tractors on the island to sell to local farmers.
Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal, former IBM engineers and longtime business partners, stated that they have been working with officials in Cuba and regulators in Washington D.C. to turn their seemingly farfetched business plan into a groundbreaking pilot project to commence a new era of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Cleber LLC, their Alabama-based company, is seeking to construct a small assembly plant in the Mariel Special Economic Zone with a new $1 billion deep-water port terminal where the Cuban government is looking to attract foreign investment. Cleber LLC is believed to be the first U.S. company to apply.
"I believe we can pull it off," said Clemmons, "and it'll be good for everyone."
Clemmons and Berenthal have never made tractors before, they're merely working on their first prototypes. However, that may be the least of their problems.
The U.S. trade embargo on Cuba remains steadfast, even as the two countries are working to restore diplomatic relations that were sundered by the U.S. in 1961. It's still a bureaucratic minefield for even the most basic forms of commerce, such as charter flights or shipments of frozen chicken. That is why many are dubious concerning something as complicated as a tractor assembly operation.
Officials from the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments have told the men that their plan could possibly be approved "as long as we comply with the spirit of the law," said Berenthal. "They're cooperating with us."
The tractor-making plan would take advantage of multiple loopholes in the trade sanctions that allow for agricultural exports and farm equipment. As long as the end-users of those products are private farmers and non-government cooperatives, they should be fine. The tractor parts will come from Alabama, but eventually the company would like to source parts from Cuba.
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Using loopholes, two elderly businessmen may very well succeed in instituting tractor assembly operations between the U.S. and Cuba.