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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Published by Mother Jones in October 2015. Written by Peter Kornbluh and William M. Leogrande.

When Gross’ terminally ill, 92-year-old mother, Evelyn, took a severe turn for the worse in late May, negotiations became urgent. Meeting in Ottawa in early June, the Cubans pushed for a quick prisoner trade, expressing their fear that Gross would kill himself when his mother passed away. US officials, meanwhile, worried that if Gross died in a Cuban prison, a change in US policy would become politically impossible.

Kerry reached out to Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez and proposed a “furlough” to the United States—Gross would wear an electronic bracelet to allow the Cubans to monitor his movements, and he would return to prison after his mother’s death. “Alan promised unequivocally that he would return to incarceration in Cuba after visiting his mother at the hospital in Texas,” his lawyer Scott Gilbert recalls, “and I offered to take his place until he returned. That is how important this was.”

But the Cubans considered the plan too risky. After Evelyn Gross died on June 18, 2014, Kerry warned Rodrí­guez that if any harm came to Gross while in Cuba’s custody, the opportunity for better relations would be lost.

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Cuba needs capital investment to fuel emerging industries and to help build competitive infrastructures. The embargo’s continuing restrictions on partnerships with Cuban entities in many sectors impede such investment and frustrate U.S. policy goals rather than advance them.

Will the Obama Administration’s new rules open the floodgates to Cuba for American business next month or even next year? No. Full and fair free trade with Cuba won’t happen until Congress finally repeals Helms-Burton, the myopic and failed U.S. trade embargo.

To be sure, the new regulatory amendments put forth this month are an important and necessary step in the right direction. Building on the Administration’s historic first round of amendments relaxing embargo restrictions in January, the September changes create the most significant opening in decades for Americans seeking to do business in Cuba.

American business executives contemplating opportunities in the Cuban marketplace would do well to study the regulations in the wake of these revisions. They should understand the full potential breadth of the regulatory windows that have been created, as well as identify for themselves and U.S. policymakers and regulators those issues ripe for further regulatory change.

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Published by The New York Times on August 13, 2015. Written by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Peter Baker.

Mr. Gross’s lawyer, Scott D. Gilbert, told the White House that if his client died, Mr. Obama would shoulder the blame. “We’re now at the point where we’re bringing my client out on the plank,” Mr. Gilbert told Mr. Zuniga during a tense meeting at the White House. “If you don’t deliver on this, Alan is going to die, and this whole thing will blow up in your face.”

Mr. Gilbert threatened to sue Mr. Obama on the eve of the 2014 midterm elections for failing to uphold the Hostage Act of 1868, which requires the president to take all action short of war to free an American captive held unjustly by a foreign government.

Mr. Kerry sent a handwritten note of encouragement to Mr. Gross, followed by the president’s letter. Mr. Gilbert delivered them in separate trips to the military hospital in Havana where he was held. He also brought cryptic updates for Mr. Gross on efforts to win his release, typed into the body of routine legal memos to avoid detection.

Restoring Relations

By then, the talks had moved beyond Mr. Gross into details about restoring diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. In September, Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Zuniga arrived at the Vatican to present the entire package to senior advisers to the pope’s advisers.

“At that point, you’re on the hook to the pope,” Mr. Rhodes recalled. “When we walked out of the Vatican, we knew this was over. That was the moment when I kind of exhaled.”

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Ironically, while the long-overdue thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has encouraged and even accelerated foreign investment in Cuba, the vast majority of U.S. businesses, still shackled by the embargo on Cuba, cannot compete in that marketplace.  This is not about leveling the playing field for American companies; it is about just letting them onto the field.

The embargo is a vestige of an archaic foreign policy. Arguably, it was a failed policy from the get-go, accomplishing nothing except to deepen the suffering of average Cubans who themselves had little or no participation in the political activities that rankled the U.S. for six decades.

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Published by Forbes on May 8, 2015. Written by Richard Levick.

I love this item.

On May 29, Corban University, an evangelical college in Salem, Oregon, will send its baseball team to Cuba on a religious mission and to play a little ball. “I think it’s awesome how…we can use a sport that both countries love to go and tell people about Jesus,” said a Corban player. “Even though we won’t be able to do that publicly because of the laws there, we will be able to speak in the underground churches…which is really cool.”

Nothing like announcing a covert operation in the newspapers one month in advance! Yet reportedly, it was Cuban officials who suggested the team could come on a religious visa, implying at least some overt complicity on their end. And that’s important for reasons that have much less to do with baseball or religion.

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