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American Income Life Insurance Company BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer uba’s leaders are pushing. Govern hat brings 0,prtel and .its as stockholders, e business investors artners. Call it an ex el we put on the process, it saw a shipyard, a citrus plantation, and attractive out through this novel mechanism. l talkeOtlength rcia, the cabinet minister charged with alosing overnment. His official title: Minister of For mic Cooperation. of necessity. The basic concept, and the rgies that have gone into promoting it, grew out of the stark ization six years ago that something new must be tried. Cuba’s amy was in a tailspin. But this amazing economic hybrid had its in Cuba’s history and its peculiar blend of resources, as well as su ffering. uba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and its eleven million be represent a third of all those who inhabit the twenty-five sena , ountries, many tiny, that dot the Sea. The island, about the size of ennsylvania, lies astride the seaward approach to the continental landmass like a giant salamander sunning itself in the warm Caribbean breeze. It’s little wonder that the spacious natural harbor snuggled into the curving northwest shoreline at what is now Havana would attract European explorers. Old Spanish forts with lookout turrets on either side of the harbor’s narrow mouth -today historic tourist attractions –once made the city a defensible refuge from pirates and buccaneers. That was great for Spanish settlers, but not necessarily for Cubans. Beginning with the systematized annihilation of native Arawak Indians by the followers of Columbus almost five hundred years ago, Cuba’s inhabitants have been at the mercy of foreigners. Only briefly has the land been free of some form of external domination. It was the last of Spain’s dominions to be relinquished after fifty years of intermittent popular rebellions and, finally, the U.S. intervention in 1898. Following the Spanish-American War, Cuba fretted restlessly under U.S. proprietorship for the first three decades of this century. The hated Platt Amendment ceded us the right to intervene militarily at will in Cuba’s internal affairs. That fact then rankled Cubans, and it still does. A playground and watering hole for wealthy North Americans in the 1940s and ’50s, Havana’s glamorous hotel row with its gambling casinos fell hostage to mob figures like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. After the overthrow of Cuban strongman Fulgencio Bati Castro’s confiscati9ri of tog properties, the abortive Bay of attempt, and the abhipit rmination of tatgns with the early 1961, Cuba became ec viet Union. Russia bought Cuban sugarand supplied Sovie t , c [finery at concessionarypribes. en the Soviet bloc began its swi integration in 1989, “we lost 80 to 85 percent of our market overni lb daz told me. n fled by Russia and spurned by tle ~~t economy declined a punishing 35 percn duringl, e n Life, always ause the typicalCu became even out established ma k 4G its goons or sources of forei With0 gasoline for its vel ides or Russian replacements fo chinery, Cuba was in an economic freefall. Andres Oppenheimer, winning writer for the Miami Herald, was sure he saw the end. In Jan 1992, he foretold it in his ambitious book, Castro’s Final Hour, The prophecy, however, was premature. In 1994, Cuba began to slow its desPerate downturn. The economy that year eked out a meager 1 patopt growth. With the vigorous prom tion of foreign investments, Cuba’s economy was growing at a rate of 7 percent by 1996. “Then came the Helms -Burton Act, El Nifio, and the fi nancial collapse of markets in Asia,” says Ferraciaz. Each of these was a blow of hurricane proportions, according to the trade minister. Cuba’s recovery strategy has been to promote tourism, negotiate joint ventures with foreign investors, and find new foreign markets for Cuba’s goods. The three-pronged approach appears to be paying off. Nobody is starving. Cuba is surviving, though hardly yet thriving. Life is hard for the average Cuban, very hard by U.S. standards. But progress is visible. The Helms-Burton law, passed by Congress in 1996, not only tightened the embargo against U.S. trade with Cuba but sought to intimidate foreign investors through threat of lawsuit. It also forbade any foreign ship from docking at a U.S. port for 180 days after visiting Cuba. This has, no doubt, retarded Cuba’s growth in trade, but it hasn’t stopped it. For the past several years, Cuba has cultivated the world like an aggressive Chamber of Commerce, scouring internationally for business prospects. Castro himself has resembled a traveling salesman, constantly promoting good will. He maintained a grueling schedule through the spring and summer, to Europe, Africa, Latin America, patching up old enmities and making new friends. Ferradaz and his ministry have been busy closing deals. Now, he tells me he believes his country has turned the corner. Cuba has adapted a creative version of state-sponsored capitalism. To carry out joint ventures with foreign investors, it created a business 0 FEBRUARY 19, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23