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US Approves First American Factory in Cuba in 5 Decades

  • Ken Bredemeier

A Feb. 12, 2016, photo shows Saul Berenthal, partner in a tractor company, in his office in Raleigh, N.C.

A Feb. 12, 2016, photo shows Saul Berenthal, partner in a tractor company, in his office in Raleigh, N.C.

The U.S. has approved construction of the first American factory in Cuba in more than 50 years, a two-man business that hopes to hire Cuban workers to assemble as many as 1,000 small tractors a year to sell to private farmers in Cuba.

Cuban officials have already endorsed the $5 million to $10 million project, to be located in an economic zone near Havana, the Cuban capital.

It is the first significant American business investment in the communist nation since 1959, when long-time Cuban dictator Fidel Castro seized power and nationalized billions of dollars' worth of U.S. corporate and private property.

FILE - People sit outside the building which used to house a Coca-Cola bottling plant before the 1959 revolution in Havana.

FILE - People sit outside the building which used to house a Coca-Cola bottling plant before the 1959 revolution in Havana.

The new investment comes in the aftermath of the renewal of U.S. and Cuba diplomatic relations and the gradual opening of economic links. The U.S. still maintains a trade embargo against Cuba, but President Barack Obama has been making exceptions to it through executive orders.

On Tuesday, Cuban and American officials expect to sign an agreement that will open airline flights between the countries for first time since 1959. Last weekend, Cuba returned a U.S. Hellfire missile that it said was mistakenly shipped to Havana from Paris in 2014.

The U.S. flag waves outside the newly opened U.S. Embassy, overlooking Havana's seaside boulevard, the Malecon in Cuba, Aug. 14, 2015.

The U.S. flag waves outside the newly opened U.S. Embassy, overlooking Havana's seaside boulevard, the Malecon in Cuba, Aug. 14, 2015.

Business partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal of the Cleber company in the southern U.S. state of Alabama said they plan to have the tractor factory in operation a year from now.

"Everybody wants to go to Cuba to sell something and that's not what we're trying to do," Clemmons said. "We're looking at the problem and how do we help Cuba solve the problems that they consider are the most important problems for them to solve. It's our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries."

Berenthal said being the first company to open in Cuba "is great. But for certain, we should not be the only ones. We're hoping and expecting many more will follow."

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