American businesses flood Cuban trade fair

Published by USA Today on November 2, 2015. Written by Alan Gomez.

Part of the promise of this week’s trade show is to teach American business owners how to work with Cuba, starting with something as simple as getting there.

Alex Procopio, a San Diego-based businessman who has sold food products to Cuba for more than a decade, said he had lined up eight U.S. companies to travel with him to the trade fair. After they struggled to book flights through a complicated charter process and reserve hotel rooms in a country that doesn’t accept U.S.-issued credit cards, he said seven companies dropped out.

“Cuba is still the forbidden fruit, it’s still that hard-to-get-to island,” Procopio said. “That’s part of its charm.”

Scott Gilbert said the fair is also an opportunity for U.S. companies to meet Cuban government officials.

Gilbert is the attorney who helped broker the release of contractor Alan Gross, who was freed after five years in a Cuban prison as part of last year’s deal to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. Gilbert is now advising companies about dealing with the Cubans.

“Americans who are used to coming into a country and moving things very quickly, they are being fairly assertive and aggressive and finding that doesn’t work well,” he said. “You’ve got to understand their situation, understand the dynamic and try to work within it to do the best that you can.”

Part of that learning process is finding out what the Cubans want.

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