Friday 24 September 2021

Costa Rica’s Former Ambassador In Havana Sees It Difficult to Do Business With Cuba

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At age 69, Rodrigo Carreras, decided to hang up his diplomatic life resigning as ambassador to Cuba, partly due to “internal decisions by the Foreign Ministry” and part due to President Luis Guillermo Solis’ handling of foreign relations.

Q COSTA RICA / Rodrigo Carreras, who up to December 31 (2016) was the Costa Rica’s Ambassador to Cuba, in an interview with La Nacion said it will be difficult for Costa Rican investors to do business with the island nation, at least for now.

Carreras who decided to take early retirement from his post, claims that “bureaucratic procedures and permits” required by the Cuban government stall the process, as well as the fact that any business can be established only in partnership with the State.

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According to Carreras, none of the 50 entrepreneurs who traveled to Cuba in December 2015, together with President Luis Guillermo Solís, managed to establish any business in Cuba.

Nor does the former ambassador consider Cuba a strong competitor for Costa Rica, except in tourism.

Costa Rica reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba during the second term of Oscar Arias Sanchez (2006-2010). However, for many years there were “very constant political meetings” especially with the recently deceased Fidel Castro, according to the former ambassador.

Carreras asserts that he left his post in Havana because of “internal decisions by the Foreign Ministry” and to the way the government of Luis Guillermo Solis handles foreign relations. For Carreras, the one thing on top of a lot of other things was Solis’ snub of his Brazilian counterpart, Michel Temer (Brazil’s 37th and current President).

The now former ambassador spent only two years in Cuba. Before that, under President Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014) he was the top diplomat in Israel, where he had been posted for two years during the Miguel Angel Rodriguez Echeverría (1998-2002) administration. Carreras has also served as ambassador to Nicaragua, Brazil and Turkey.

In October 1996, Carreras was vice-chancellor. In the photo he seen next to then President  José María Figueres Olsen (who is on the phone).  Photo from La Nacion archives.

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At 69 years of age, Carreras has been a lifetime staunch member of Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), but says he is a not a ‘liberationist’, despite being an ally of former president José María Figueres Olsen (1994-1998) – who is now seeking presidential re-election, and faithful follower of Figueres’ father, Jose Maria Figueres Ferrer, who  served as President of Costa Rica on three occasions: 1948–1949, 1953–1958, and 1970–1974, who created the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), and considered to be the most important political figure in Costa Rica’s history. Carreras was also vice-chancellor in the Figueres Olsen administration.

In the interview, Carreras says the diplomatic relations between Costa Rica and Cuba “have been interesting” in the sense that for many years it was interrupted, starting during the government of Mario Echandi Jiménez (1958 – 1962), following the executions by firing squad in Cuba.

“However, we were always able to maintain a communication with the Cuban government through our diplomats at the United Nations and in the different multilateral organizations. That always allowed us to be informed,” said Carreras. “Different contacts were always maintained. We started to maintain a more intense trade, which for a few years worked quite well because we had in the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica and the Banco Nacional de Cuba a clearing house that allowed the flow of payments of the different things we sold to one another”.

Carreras explained that during the Figueres Olsen administration, when he was vice-chancellor, Costa Rica maintained an “office of business interest”, which somewhat more than a ‘consulate but less than an embassy’.

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Cuba is home to 129 countries that have accredited embassies, resulting in ‘a very intensive’ diplomatic life, in which constant meetings between diplomat and ambassadors keep each other apprised of what is going on, explained the former ambassador.

“In a typical week in Cuba, there is a visit form a prime minister, a president, and usually many foreign ministers are visiting Cuba,” said Carreras.

The rest of the interview deals with subjects such as, is Costa Rica’s current relations with correct are correct? and rumours of the Figueres family has business in Cuba, selling prefabricated houses.

In describing how business is done in Cuba, the former ambassador makes it clear, “in Cuba you cannot open a business overnight, you have to go through a whole series of paperwork, permits, authorizations…in the Cuban legal system, the only form of private enterprise is what they call ‘paladares’, in the gastronomic industry, a paladar is defined as something a family obtains its subsistence working in a restaurant”.

I always like to quote a phrase I saw in a very beautiful film: ‘There are infinites greater than infinities.’ Those infinities bigger than others…is that I have seen some paladares with people working two shifts, that consist of eight waitresses, six cooks, and a cashier.

Private business in Cuba are with a partnership with the government. The former ambassador, he rhetorically asks, how can an entrepreneur invest US$5 million dollars in a contract (partnership) with the government for only a 10 year period?

Read the full interview (in Spanish) in La Nacion.

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