The Florida Bar is sending its first ever delegation of lawyers to Cuba this week to explore emerging new business opportunities as prospects heat up for closer political and commercial relations between the United States and the Communist-run island.
Some big law firms with Miami offices, often staffed by Cuban-American exiles, are already beefing up their Cuba-related practices in response to queries from U.S. companies on issues ranging from telecommunications to banking, amid signs the longstanding U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is eroding.
Pedro Freyre, a Cuban-born attorney who heads the international practice at Akerman, said his phones started ringing within minutes of the December announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that they had agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties severed some 54 years ago, and to work toward normalizing relations.
“These are exciting times,” said Freyre. “Our U.S. clients, some who are Fortune 100 companies, want to know can foreigners own land in Cuba … what is the power and water supply like, what are the work force rules?”
Since the December agreement, the two countries have held several meetings on restoring diplomatic relations and opening embassies. After two days of talks in Washington, Cuba and the United States said on Friday they had made progress and would continue negotiations in the coming weeks.
Early on a recent Friday morning, four entrepreneurs visited the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce to give a briefing on their business journeys. But the chamber breakfast in Miami, capital of Cuban exiles, was a bit unusual: All four were from Cuba, members of the island’s growing private business class.
One entrepreneur — Vanessa Pino, whose family business is selling brightly packaged sweets — even laid out a tray of her shortbread cookies among the breakfast offerings.
The visit was a first for the Miami chamber, said Barry Johnson, chamber president and chief executive.
Earlier that week, Guillermo Santa Cruz — a vice president with IMG, the global sports, management and media company — told an audience of tech entrepreneurs at the eMerge Americas conference in Miami Beach: “If you’re in business, you need a Cuba plan in the next six to 12 months. It will move that fast.”
The next few years will be challenging as the United States and Cuba work on re-establishing diplomatic relations and re-opening embassies in each country, Miami attorney Peter Quinter said Friday.
However, he’s optimistic that it will happen and that business between the two countries will improve.
On Friday, talks between the U.S. and Cuba did not result in an agreement between the countries. However, negotiations are expected to continue over the next few weeks.
Quinter, former legal counsel for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service in Miami, compared Cuba to China 30 years ago. Now, China is one of the top trading partners of the U.S.
“I hope the 11 million people in Cuba will also understand benefits of a free government, democracy, capitalism and trade with us,” he said in an interview with CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”
This past month, after a lengthy process of drafting, editing, revising, and finalizing, my firm’s article, “Sovereign Immunity for Public Airport Operators” has been published under the auspices of the Airport Cooperative Research Program through the National Academy of Sciences, Transportation Research Board. My co-authors are John Adams Hodge, Hodge & Associates, Columbia, SC and Kyle Seay, Engles, Ketcham, Olson & Keith, Omaha, NE.
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