British companies could be among the first foreigners to
buy land in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s
revolution in 1959, following a delegation to the communist state next weekend.
Up to 25 British companies are aiming to strike deals
that could allow them to develop hotels, golf courses and renewable energy
Law firm Eversheds, Esencia Hotels and Havana Energy are
among the firms that will meet Cuban government officials, who are trying to
attract foreign capital to boost the country’s shrinking economy.
“Cuba is open and prepared to receive foreign
capital and to develop mixed projects along with the Cuban government,”
said Igor Caballero, a Cuban embassy spokesman in London.
The present government, led by Raúl Castro, has promised
economic reforms and last month approved a law allowing foreign investors
99-year land leases. Cuba already has commercial relationships with Russia and
China, although their distance makes tourism and other trade deals expensive.
The British trip, organised by the independent Cuba Initiative, takes place
between 26 September and 3 October and may lead to the first purchase of Cuban
land by a foreign investor since 1959.
“We are optimistic of a positive outcome to the
visit in terms of UK investment. There are significant opportunities in a
limited number of sectors,” said David Jessop, director of Cuba
Initiative. The organisation is co-chaired by Cuba’s foreign trade minister
Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz.
Some projects, such as Esencia Hotels’ luxury resorts,
could be worth up to $400m (£256m). The government could be prepared to sell 10
golf course sites, and other projects include a $40m development using a
sugar-cane by-product to produce renewable energy, to be sold to the Cuban
More than 170,000 Britons visit Cuba every year, a number
beaten only by Canada, but Spanish companies such as the Sol Meliá hotel chain
have bigger investments there.
Investing in Cuba is a
challenge, because of the US embargo on the island, which limits
banks’ ability to lend funds directed to Cuban projects. Cuba, which still has
miles of virgin coast, does not have the resources to develop its own tourism
infrastructure. The country’s economy is worth $60bn and its total electricity
capacity is only slightly more than that produced by Britain’s Drax power