HAVANA – The Havana International Fair (FIHAV), Cuba’s largest multisector business fair, opened on Monday, drawing business leaders from more than 55 countries as the island hopes to attract foreign investment amid difficult economic times.
The 37th FIHAV, which runs until Friday, is taking place at a time when Cuba is dealing with shortages of hard currencies and fuel, and tougher trade sanctions imposed by the United States.
In his opening address, Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca used terms like “difficult situation” and “complex circumstances” to describe the island’s economy.
Representatives of foreign corporations, Cuban officials and other participants will be exploring investment opportunities at Expocuba, a venue located about 25 kilometers (some 16 miles) southeast of the capital.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel joined Malmierca and other high-level officials at the business fair’s opening ceremony, but the head of state did not address the audience.
Diaz-Canel also did not speak at the 2018 FIHAV.
Malmierca thanked the more than 4,000 people attending the business fair, the majority of them foreign executives, for having “confidence” in the island and taking an interest in the “potential” of the Cuban economy.
Cuba offers investors an opportunity to do business despite having “limited financial resources,” the foreign trade and foreign investment minister said.
Malmierca said the island’s financial constraints “have caused delays” in paying suppliers – Spanish companies alone are owed some $333.8 million (300 million euros – but he promised that like last year, the government was “determined” to fulfill its obligations.
Cuba has been dealing with fuel shortages for more than a month and the government implemented an emergency plan to prevent currency outflows and retain hard currencies.
Malmierca blamed the Cuban economy’s problems on the United States, which has imposed tougher financial and trade restrictions on the island under President Donald Trump.
In the past year, Trump has imposed a series of sanctions on Cuba, such as banning visits by cruise ships and allowing lawsuits to be filed over properties seized following the 1959 Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.
In April, the Trump administration decided to activate Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, a 1996 law that tightened the long-standing US embargo on Cuba.
Trump allowed waivers to Title III of Helms-Burton to expire in May as part of efforts to bring about political change on the Communist-ruled island.
Title III, which allows US citizens (mainly Cuban-Americans) and corporations to sue entities that have been “trafficking” in property that was seized by the Castro government on or after Jan. 1, 1959, had not gone into effect until May 2 due to rolling six-month waivers.
That provision of Helms-Burton had not been enforced because Trump’s predecessors wanted to avoid a diplomatic outcry from foreign countries whose companies would be the target of lawsuits.
Malmierca told potential investors that the government would “guarantee” that their capital and properties in Cuba would not be affected by Washington’s actions.