Big change is afoot in the area of Cuba investments. Normally, this is an area relegated to non-Cubans or foreign investors who are unemotionally linked to the Cuban Revolution.
Early February, Sugar Baron tycoon Alfonso Fanjul (no relation to this blog) is the first major Cuban businessman (US Resident with a Spain passport) to stand up and speak out about his desire — and willingness — to consider investing in Cuba. This is akin to a Cuban “coming out of the closet” metaphorically. It is something many Cuban-Americans have considered, but have not had the courage to speak aloud. Of course this has caused an earthquake with the more conservative Cuban bretheren who refuse to engage in any island activity until both Castro’s are gone and the nation has transformed into fully democracy.
What made this old-school cat change his beliefs 100% from his previously unprogressive manner of thinking? A healthy visit to Cuba awoke the sleeping giant. Alfonso, also known as “Alfy” took a trip to Cuba in April 2012, then another in Feb 2013. He was so touched and taken aback after an approximate 50 year absence, that he chatted with everyday folks on the streets of Havana, and eventually all the way up to Cuba’s foreign minister. He also toured state run farms and checked out a sugar mill. In essence, he feels that if every other country in the world is checking out Cuba for future investments, then why shouldn’t his family, who had previously lived in in Cuba for 150 years pre-revolution. How can one argue that sentiment? I’m certainly not mad at him.
Here’s the statement that got him into hot water with the conservative right…
“Now, would we consider an investment at some later date?” says Fanjul to the Washington Post. “If there’s an arrangement within Cuba and the United States, and legally it can be done and there’s a proper framework set up and in place, then we will look at that possibility. We have an open mind.”
The reason I believe hardliners are angry is because Alfonso could be a “game-changer” to shift popular opinion, both with US Policy makers and within the Cuban-American power circles. Everyone follows a leader, and Alfonso is one of the kings in the scene. Before this change of heart, he was known as a major funder of Anti-Castro movements. He’s also close to members of Congress and the Clintons. Of course this is a swamp of moral issues considering the lack of human rights on the island, the restrictions of freedom of the internet, the lack of free assembly, and many more injustices that the caribbean nation must answer to before dealmaking. It seems, however, that Alfonso has found himself a seat at the negotiation table, and will be an interesting chess piece in the game of Cuba/US policy. It’s the role of a lifetime, and he is grabbing his seat at the table with grace.
Alfy’s narrative harks back to his youth, beginning with the emotional journey of a young boy who fled Cuba after having his family’s Sugar Cane fields taken from the family. He spent a lifetime rebuilding the sugar empire in a new country. Last year, he finally returned to the motherland at the age of 76 years to face all his old demons, only to embark on this profound healing process in the 3rd Act of his life. Above that, let’s not forget, Fanjul is a businessman. The lure of Havana’s gradually opening market poses challenges in this new world. It is also a chance to visualize bringing his family’s flag back to the native soil. It is this mission that lights up this mans heart with high voltage. I look forward to discovering what projects this soul-searching individual has cooked up within the next few years in Cuba, despite all the slings and arrows he will receive from Cuban conservatives. He is part of a growing consciousness of elder Cuban-Americans contributing to the solution, not the problem.
“Do I have a soft spot in my heart?” he says to Washington Post. “Yes, that’s my country. My interest is finding a way to unite the Cuban family. When you talk with people and hear them, it humanizes. Talking is the first step.” We’ll be watching, Alfy.