By the end of 1995, the private jet hangar at José Martí International Airport in Havana was already booked well into 1996, and most of the reservations belonged to one of Cuba's rare clienteles: American corporations. Chief executives on familiarization trips and technical analysts on fact-finding missions have been scouting for numerous prominent and curious firms, including General Motors, Sears Roebuck, Avis, Hyatt, ITT Sheraton, Bank of Boston, Gillette, and Radisson Hotels. Increasingly, these firms like what they see of the Cuban economy and grouse openly at what they are being denied by the U.S. embargo. "The embargo is a waste of taxpayer dollars and time," said James E. Perrella, CEO of construction giant Ingersoll-Rand, after a November meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro. Perrella, recently named chairman of the 500-corporate-member National Foreign Trade Council, is echoed by a growing number of Fortune 500 companies. Dwayne O. Andreas, chairman of Archer Daniels Midland, claims not to "know a corporate CEO who thinks excluding U.S. business is a good idea, particularly when all of Western Europe is down there. Corporate leaders are lobbying the president and his advisers, as well as key members of Congress, every chance they get." The question is whether American business will be able to organize well enough to go beyond the quiet lobbying efforts of individual corporate leaders and loosen or end the embargo.
A TAJ MAHAL FOR HAVANA
Even owners of some of the largest hotels and resorts in Florida, which is home to many fervently anti-Castro Cuban exiles, are calling for change. Peter Blyth, president of the Radisson Hotel chain, which has more than 4,000 travel agencies worldwide including southern Florida, is ready to invest and frustrated at being blocked. "We've got three hotel sites chosen, a TGI Friday's location in Havana picked, and cruise ships waiting for the green light. There is pent-up demand because [Cuba] is a substantial market for American businesses, and most of our colleagues on Wall Street feel the same way." Perrella,
Loading, please wait...