Mar­riott work­ing on Cuba deals ahead of Obama visit

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

At least three ma­jor U.S. com­pa­nies, AT&T Inc, Star­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts World­wide Inc and Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional Inc, are seek­ing to com­plete deals in Cuba as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pre­pares to visit Ha­vana, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions said on Fri­day.

The flurry of deal-mak­ing could help Obama use his his­toric March 20-22 trip to show­case what he sees as the ben­e­fits of Wash­ing­ton's diplo­matic open­ing with the for­mer Cold War foe af­ter decades of hos­til­ity. It will be the first visit to Cuba by a U.S. pres­i­dent in nearly 90 years. But even as Obama pre­pares to un­veil fur­ther mea­sures next week to chip away at decades-old re­stric­tions on trade and travel to Cuba, the long­stand­ing U.S. eco­nomic em­bargo strictly lim­its ef­forts by Amer­i­can com­pa­nies to do busi­ness on the com­mu­nist-ruled is­land.

AT&T is try­ing to com­plete a mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tions agree­ment with Cuba's state tele­coms mo­nop­oly Etecsa, while Star­wood is also weigh­ing an an­nounce­ment, ac­cord­ing to the source, who was briefed by ad­min­is­tra­tion and com­pany of­fi­cials. A source fa­mil­iar with AT&T's ne­go­ti­a­tions said: "While there are dis­cus­sions with Etecsa, there is no agree­ment in place."

Star­wood said it "has ap­plied for au­tho­riza­tion from the U.S. Trea­sury Depart­ment to op­er­ate ho­tels in Cuba."

"We see many op­por­tu­ni­ties for the ex­pan­sion of our brands into Cuba at this in­flec­tion point, and look for­ward to build­ing long-term re­la­tion­ships and wel­com­ing trav­el­ers into our ho­tels in this dy­namic mar­ket."

Mar­riott spokesman Thomas Marder said: "We are op­ti­mistic that we are go­ing to get a green light soon from the U.S. govern­ment to have ho­tels un­der the Mar­riott flag in Cuba."

The three com­pa­nies were first iden­ti­fied by the Wall Street Jour­nal. Other deals may also be in the works timed for Obama's visit. Ma­jor League Base­ball is con­sid­er­ing an an­nounce­ment, ac­cord­ing to the per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions. No de­tails were im­me­di­ately avail­able.

MLB has had dis­cus­sions with the U.S. and Cuban gov­ern­ments look­ing for ways to al­low big-league teams to sign Cuban play­ers with­out them hav­ing to de­fect.

White House of­fi­cials were not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment. While many U.S. com­pa­nies are in­ter­ested in the Cuban mar­ket, most have been slow to take ad­van­tage of the U.S. open­ing to Ha­vana. They re­main hemmed in by the more than half-cen­tury old em­bargo and wary of the Cuban govern­ment's fail­ure to en­act sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic re­forms.

U.S. air­lines have rushed to ap­ply for routes to the is­land but the em­bargo still bans gen­eral tourism as well as many other kinds of busi­ness deal­ings.

Obama has called for lift­ing the em­bargo but that can only be done by Congress, and Repub­li­cans who con­trol both cham­bers have made clear they will not act.

Obama's Repub­li­can crit­ics have ac­cused him of giv­ing up too much for too lit­tle from the Cuban govern­ment and of play­ing down hu­man rights con­cerns to pur­sue rap­proche­ment with Cuba, which be­gan in De­cem­ber 2014 and is now seen as a ma­jor piece of his for­eign pol­icy legacy.

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