Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Despite Ban, Cuba Pushes Trade Diplomat Finding Interest in U.S

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Despite Ban, Cuba Pushes Trade Diplomat Finding Interest in U.S

Article excerpt

How does a diplomat run a trade mission to a country that bans trade with his nation?

When asked the question, Ismael Sene Alegret laughed and said, "I don't sign deals; I just ask business people to come to Cuba and to see for themselves."

Sene runs the U.S. division of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Investment and Economic Development. He was in St. Louis recently talking to local businesses.

A veteran of Fidel Castro's revolution against the Batista dictatorship, Sene spent 34 years in the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

"When they appointed me to the U.S. (trade) division in April of last year, my first reaction was, `But I will have nothing to do,' " Sene said. "Now I'm averaging a meeting with an American company every 36 hours."

Sene said U.S. firms expressing interest in Cuba range from small firms to Fortune 500 corporations. "These American companies are interested in three or four branches of our economy," Sene said. "The first is our pharmaceutical industry . . . and the second is our tourism industry."

Under the Castro regime, expanding free medical care and free public education were top priorities. They represent some of the few success stories for the 36-year-old communist government.

As part of its medical improvement, Sene said, Cuba has developed a first-rate pharmaceutical industry.

"All the biggest American drug companies have been to Cuba," Sene said. "We have developed a pill that will lower cholesterol . . . and a vaccine for hepatitis."

Joint ventures in the marketing of Cuban drugs could be the first major break in the three-decade-old ban on U.S.-Cuban trade. U.S. law allows trade in pharmaceuticals, but import and export permits have yet to be issued, Sene said.

Tourism and building or expanding the infrastructure for tourism - roads, hotels, water and sewer lines, airports and ports - are also growth areas, Sene said.

"We have about 10,000 hotel rooms in Cuba today," Sene said. "We are now building 200,000 hotel rooms (for Canadian and European tourists) and we need to build 1 million rooms by 1998."

Sene said U.S. businesses also are interested in offshore oil drilling, autos, telecommunications, highway construction, food products, consumer goods - and, of course, cigars.

The mere fact that Sene is in the United States for a month-long trade mission is itself a measure of the coming sea change in Cuban-American relations, said Louis F. Desloge III.

Desloge's international marketing consulting firm, L.F. Desloge Co., co-sponored Sene's visit to St. Louis, along with the St. Louis World Affairs Council. Desloge is also the vice-president of the U. …

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