US-Cuba Business Relations with Harry Alford of NBCC

“It’s about money, and it’s about economics and the quality of life. And Cuba has … something to offer.”

President Obama eased a variety of long-standing travel and commerce restrictions applicable to Cuba. And while only Congress can fully lift the embargo, American businesses see promises for future trade. A discussion on US-Cuba Business Relations with Harry C. Alford, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

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Read a full transcript of this interview below:

Traynham: Earlier this year, President Obama eased a variety of long-standing travel and commerce restrictions applicable to Cuba. And while only Congress can fully lift the embargo, American businesses see promises for future trade. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham, and joining me is Harry C. Alford, the President and CEOof the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Harry, welcome to the program.

Alford: Good to be back. Thank you.

Traynham: It is good to see you. We know that President Kennedy obviously put the embargo into Cuba back in — I guess that was in the 1960s at some point. And so for a very long time, it has been very, very prohibitive to travel to Cuba for obvious reasons. As I mentioned a few moments ago, President Obama has eased those restrictions. What does that mean for American businesses?

Alford: Oh. My mentor, Dr. Arthur Fletcher, said, “Harry, one day Cuba is gonna be known as the Hong Kong of the Caribbean. They have technology. They have medical-delivery systems. They have the best educational system probably in the Western Hemisphere. We need to go and find out what’s going on because they’re ready for us.” And during the Bush administration, the clamps came down. Clinton opened them up to where we were able to go twice. When Bush came in, George W. Bush came in, they closed back the doors. And we had met businesses to do joint ventures with — engineering firms, medical-delivery systems. And our members were ready to joint-venture and go out and conquer the world with them.

Traynham: I would assume, Harry, that former President Bush 43 probably — to use your words — clamped down a little bit because, after all, it is a Communist country. Does that hinder businesses in terms of trading commerce back and forth? –

Alford: With the United States. –

Traynham: Yes.

Alford: But they do business all over the world. You know, France, England. You go anywhere in the world, you’ll see a Cuban presence. And the travel business is very booming in Cuba.

Traynham: In fact — you mentioned travel businesses — my understanding is, is 13 airlines, American airlines, have applied for a government waiver to fly to and from Cuba. My understanding is hotels, cruise lines that are American-based obviously see enormous, enormous potential here not only for Cuban businesses, but, as I mentioned, for American businesses, as well. Specifically for black-owned businesses, what does this mean?

Alford: It means a heck of a lot in terms of the market. The pricing in Cuba versus elsewhere is a bargain. And last time we went to Cuba, one of our engineers, a board member who has a civil-engineering firm, signed an MOU with the Cubans for doing a five-start hotel in Singapore. And so he’s all excited and happy and he comes up to D.C. and he says, “All I need is this approved.” -Rejected! –

Traynham: Sure.

Alford: Yeah. So, today that would not be rejected.

Traynham: Harry, are you optimistic that, in our lifetime, commerce will flow freely between the United States and Cuba unhindered, similar to Canada, similar to Mexico?

Alford: Within two years. –

Traynham: Within two years? –

Alford: Yes, sir.

Traynham: You believe that by the end of this decade, by 2020, that commerce will be flowing back and forth.

Alford: We’ll be going back and forth to Cuba like we go back and forth to anywhere else in the world.

Traynham: Do you think that the Communist “regime,” for lack of a better term — do you think that’s gonna be a hindrance in any way, shape, or form?

Alford: It’s not Comm– It’s like China. You know, China’s a Communist country. But we do a heck of a lot of trade with China. It’s about money, and it’s about economics and the quality of life. And Cuba has a concern with that, and they have something to offer.

Traynham: We know that the average Cuban makes about $25 a month. That’s government-supplied salary, if you will. One could make the argument that, based on their salary, they wouldn’t be able to purchase a lot of American goods. Is that a myth or misnomer? –

Alford: That’s a myth. –

Traynham: It is?

Alford: That’s their official salary. Everyone has three or four different jobs in Cuba. And they have the best educational system in the Caribbean. They’re very well-educated, and they use those skill sets to work with the foreigners as they come in — not the United States foreigners, but with other foreigners.

Traynham: Harry Alford, you broke some news by saying that you believe that there is going to be enormous commerce between the United States and Cuba by the end of 2020. We look forward to having you back on to talk about that.

Alford: Yeah, and may I say we go there October the 31st for four days. And just look at our website, and it’ll tell you how to come and go with us.

Traynham: And your website is?


Traynham: Harry C. Alford, thank you very much for joining us. -Really appreciate it. –

Alford: Thank you.

Traynham: And thank you for joining us for this edition of “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. Have a great day. We’ll see you next time. Bye-bye.

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