Latest Posts

FocusOn Cubanear

HAVANA: Although the US trade embargo on Cuba still exists, a new report from Kantar Millward Brown advises international brands to take a serious look at the opportunities the country presents.

WPP’s global research agency, which produces the respected BrandZ studies, has now released a BrandZ Spotlight on Cuba report, which highlights the potential for local and international brands to grow in this market of 11m educated consumers.

Focusing on 43 brands in four key categories – covering coffee, spirits, beer and tobacco – the report found that Cuba has one of the highest rates in the world for brands dubbed “clean slates”.

Kantar Millward Brown said these “clean slates” are brands that most people don’t know exist, or people recognise the name but don’t know what the name stands for.

The proportion of “clean slates” stands at 38% in Cuba, compared to a global average of 14%, and the report said “this gap represents a huge opportunity for brands in Cuba”.

Furthermore, the report’s personality analysis revealed that Cuba hosts a high proportion of brands which are perceived to be “sexy”, “desirable” and “rebellious”.

Elsewhere, Havana Club rum is seen as the most innovative brand in Cuba, while Cristal beer is the most loved brand, closely followed by Heineken and Café Serrano coffee.

Havana Club also tops the BrandZ measure of Brand Power, which assesses how meaningfully different and well known a brand is.

“Cuba is an island paradox and a market like no other in the world. A standard ‘fast-growing markets’ strategy just won’t work here,” said David Roth, CEO of The Store WPP, EMEA and Asia.

“Negotiating the nuances of working and building brands in this country – and navigating apparent contradictions – requires local insight and a lot of patience, but now’s the time to invest that energy and those resources,” he added.

“As Cuba continues to transform, there is a clear opportunity for local and international brands to play a part in the development of its economy – and grow their business in the process.”

Data sourced from Kantar Millward Brown; additional content by Warc staff

[American Airlines, Jet Blue, Silver Airways, Frontier Airlines: “Market conditions have failed to materialize]

By FRANCES ROBLES,The Miami Herald

Just six months after being the first airline to sell seats on regularly scheduled flights to CubaSilver Airways, a regional carrier based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that specializes in smaller markets, will scrap its service to the island next month. It is the latest industry move to underscore that fewer Americans are traveling to Cuba than originally anticipated.

Citing low demand and competition from major airlines, Silver said it would cease its operations in Cuba effective April 22. The move follows other reductions by American Airlines and JetBlue, which in recent weeks either switched to smaller aircraft or cut back on the number of flights. Experts say the changes in the young market illustrate not so much a lack of passengers, but the rush of airlines into new territory with an abundance of seats the market could not possibly fill.

“Other airlines continue to serve this market with too many flights and oversized aircraft, which has led to an increase in capacity of approximately 300 percent between the U.S. and Cuba,” said Misty Pinson, the director of communications for Silver. “It is not in the best interest of Silver and its team members to behave in the same irrational manner as other airlines.”

On Monday, Denver-based Frontier Airlines said that it would cease its daily flight to Havana from Miami on June 4. The airline said costs in Havana significantly exceeded initial assumptions, “market conditions failed to materialize” and too much capacity had been allocated between Florida and Cuba.

By Nick Miroff

Cuban migrants take a photo in front of a U.S flag after arriving in Mexico as part of their journey to the U.S. in May 2016. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

President Obama’s move to rescind certain immigration privileges for Cubans arriving in the United States has rolled up the cushy welcome mat that for two decades essentially allowed any islander to stay if they reach American soil.

Symbolically, it’s a big deal, nudging the United States and Cuba further along the “normalization” path Obama and Cuba’s Raúl Castro announced in December 2014. But as a practical matter, it’s unclear to what extent it can slow Cuban migration to the United States, which has more than doubled in the past two years.

Whether as auto mechanics or would-be migrants, Cubans are world-renowned for their resourcefulness, determination and ability to wring lemonade from desperate circumstances. They will now face the U.S. immigration court system, which has been swamped in recent years by border-crossers seeking asylum.

Cubans can potentially still benefit from the privileges afforded to them by the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which only Congress has the power to lift. Any Cuban “inspected and admitted or paroled” into the United States is eligible for permanent residency after 366 days.

The tens of thousands of Cubans who enter the United States with professional, tourist or other nonimmigrant visas will also likely continue to have an easy path to permanent residency under the terms of the Adjustment Act, having been legally “admitted” into the country. In recent years the U.S. consulate in Havana has issued as many as 41,000 such visas annually.

But immigration attorneys say Cubans who enter the United States without a visa, seeking asylum, would not be considered legally “admitted,” so they would not be eligible for residency through the Adjustment Act.

“You would need a legal entry into the United States,” said Wilfredo Allen, a Miami immigration attorney who handles asylum cases.

What the Obama administration eliminated was the policy of granting Cubans legal entry into the United States simply for setting foot in the United States. This ends the so-called wet-foot/dry-foot policy that dates back to the Cuban rafter crisis of 1994-1995, when the United States began sending back any Cuban intercepted at sea (wet) while allowing those who arrived on U.S. territory to stay (dry).

Yet that’s not how the vast majority of Cuban migrants reach the United States today. The number who arrive in rickety boats and rafts is dwarfed by the amount who walk right in through U.S. ports of entry along the Mexican border.

Last year more than 50,000 did so, many citing a fear that U.S.-Cuba normalization had started the clock ticking for the expiration of their immigration perks.

Despite assurances by  U.S. officials to the contrary, they were right. As of last night, Cubans can no longer walk across the border bridge and receive automatic “parole.”

Instead, they will probably do what tens of thousands of Central American migrants do now: wade across the Rio Grande, wait for the Border Patrol vans to arrive, and ask for asylum, citing a fear of persecution if sent home.

Unlike migrants from Mexico, the U.S. can’t quickly turn them back. They must be detained, processed and have their claims adjudicated. In theory, this should happen quickly. In reality, it often takes years.

Central Americans migrants, in particular, have swamped the federal immigration court system with asylum claims since 2014, telling U.S. authorities that they face mortal danger from rampant violence back home. Most of their petitions are ultimately rejected. But Central Americans have also figured out that the process allows them to remain in the United States temporarily, and they can go underground and stay illegally if judges deny their request for “relief,” i.e., asylum.

Now those same immigration courts will take on the cases of Cubans.

“There’s not going to be a separate queue for Cubans,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Benjamin Rhodes, who negotiated the normalization deal with Cuba, told reporters Thursday. “So just like any other migrant who reaches our border, they have certain claims that they can pursue, but they’ll be treated as other individuals from other countries are.”

Cuba isn’t a hyper-violent, gang-plagued country like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where vulnerable migrants may be at risk of being murdered if they’re sent back. But the United States government continues to view Cuba’s one-party system as a repressive one that punishes its citizens for exercising democratic rights. Making the case for a fear of persecution may not be difficult for a Cuban seeking to delay or avoid deportation.

“This takes us back to the old policy,” said Allen, the immigration attorney. “Every Cuban will have to apply for political asylum.”

Allen said that while the credible fear standard is “low,” most asylum requests are ultimately rejected. The federal immigration court system could adjudicate a Cuban asylum request, deny it, and send that person back to the island. But the backlog of asylum cases is so large that such a process often takes years.

A recent New York Times dispatch from the federal immigration courts in Arlington, Va. — which have a reputation for being among the nation’s most efficient — says that it has eight judges and a backlog of 30,000 cases, with some hearings not scheduled until 2022.

The incoming Trump administration could reverse Obama’s orders and reinstate the policies. The Obama administration also eliminated a program — despised by the Cuban government — that made it easier for Cuban medical professionals to defect while serving on foreign “missions.”

Cuban American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he would like to see that policy restored. But he was less categorical about the wet-foot/dry-foot rules, which he and other Cuban American leaders say has been abused by migrants, ostensibly seeking refuge, who obtain U.S. residency and then travel back and forth frequently to the island.

Editor Remembers: Desperation creates Invention ..

By Elaine Diaz

After more than half a century’s absence, Hollywood returned to Cuba in 2013, though in a slightly roundabout way. “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba,” a film about the American writer, was shot on the island as a Cuban-Canadian-U.S. co-production, requiring elaborate permissions from both Washington and Havana.

But thawing relations meant that Universal could land with a bang in Cuba this year with “The Fate of the Furious,” the latest in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. The mega-production created more than 300 jobs for six months — producers, personal assistants, drivers — and generated an unprecedented amount of money for the state-run Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), though the official figure has not been made public. The new “Transformers” film also shot in Havana this year, and more interest from Hollywood is sure to follow. As Frank Cabrera, the Cuban producer on “The Fate of the Furious,” puts it: “Cuba is an aphrodisiac. The island is a natural market for the U.S. film industry.”

What affect Fidel Castro’s death Nov. 25 will have remains unclear, but as a shooting location, Cabrera says, “it is very easy to film in Cuba.” ICAIC supports up to 15 foreign productions every year, and independent producers — though not legally recognized by the government — also offer their services for international projects. Productions are scrutinized and approved by the institute on a case-by-case basis. And if you have the budget for it, you can get official authorization to import more than 40 trucks full of technological equipment, fly a noisy helicopter over Havana, or even close main streets for 12 days, all of which “The Fate of the Furious” did.

Favorite shooting sites are Old Havana and Centro Havana, districts where history and the feeling that everything is about to collapse create a unique ambience – but also perpetuate a stereotype. Old cars and pre-Revolution buildings give the idea that Cuba is still stuck in the 1950s. Prices certainly aren’t. “Although Cuba is not a cheap location anymore and hotel prices are high, Cuban people are good hosts, socially skillful, and technical personnel are very well-prepared,” Cabrera says.

Claudia Calviño, an independent producer and filmmaker at production company Quinta Avenida, recently worked on “Buena Vista Social Club: Adios,” a sequel to Wim Wenders’ 1999 “Buena Vista Social Club.” (“Adios” is being directed by Oscar-nominated British documentarian Lucy Walker.) “It is good to have big productions coming to Cuba. It creates jobs; it enriches the industry,” says Calviño, who is now working on a project with Colombian filmmakers. “But we need the money that comes out of that to support the Cuban film industry,” instead of just going into government coffers via ICAIC.

There was a time when Cuba occupied a leading role on the Latin American film scene. But that time has faded, with the domestic movie sector now the virtual monopoly of the state. Independent producers like Calviño say that changing the law to recognize them as legitimate players would energize Cuba’s movie industry and elevate its status. “We need to start thinking of our relations with the U.S. industry as more of a partnership, in which both parts are equally important, and not as the American industry hiring Cuba’s cheap labor force,” Calviño says.

For Hollywood, as long as it sticks to politically inoffensive themes – whether Hemingway or Autobots and Decepticons – moviemaking in Cuba should go smoothly. But President-elect Donald Trump’s warning that he might turn back the clock on improving U.S.-Cuba ties could hobble a Hollywood-Havana rapprochement. And if American filmmakers try to dig deeper into Cuban reality, the ideological hostility that kept Cuba and the U.S. apart for more than 50 years is likely to rear its ugly head.

Right now, Havana is hosting its annual International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, which runs from Dec. 8 to 18. But don’t expect to see “Santa & Andres,” an independent co-production between Cuba, Colombia, and France that had its world premiere in Toronto. Centering on the unlikely relationship between a gay, dissident Cuban novelist and his government-appointed minder, the movie is about tolerance. But its release has not been authorized in Cuba. Even after Castro’s death, the full social and cultural effects of which remain to be seen, Cuba is not ready for tolerance just yet — on the streets or on screen.