Miami Herald

U.S. exports to Cuba are up, driven by private businesses on the island and Miami firms

- BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES ngameztorr­es@elnuevoher­ Nora Gámez Torres: 305-376-2169, @ngameztorr­es

In a surprising developmen­t given Cuba’s worsening economy, exports of food and other goods from the United States were up last year thanks to an explosion of trade involving private small and medium enterprise­s on the island.

According to data gathered by the New York-based U.S. Cuba-Trade and Economic Council, which tracks business with Cuba, U.S. companies, many based in Miami and Hialeah, exported food and agricultur­al products worth $342.6 million. That’s a 12.4% increase from 2021, when private enterprise­s, known as pymes, were first authorized, and exports to Cuba reached $304.7 million.

Exports in December also jumped 58% from November, to $45.2 million from $28.6 million.

The export data for 2023 “is remarkable not only by the U.S. dollar value, but the substantia­l increase in the number of companies, primarily located in South Florida, who are exporting products from the United States to Cuba specifical­ly in support of the reemerging private sector in Cuba,” said John Kavulich, the council’s president. “This data legitimize­s these are real businesses, that there is commercial activity, and it is expanding.”

Cuba has been under a U.S. trade and financial embargo since the early 1960s, but there are several exceptions that allow for the export of food, agricultur­al products, medical supplies, humanitari­an donations and several other categories of goods if they are to be used by the private sector and not the government.

Kavulich said exports other than agricultur­al products, medicines and donations, which are authorized under specific licenses and policies implemente­d by the Obama and Biden administra­tions, were approximat­ely $24 million. Those include car sales of more than $5 million, in addition to trucks, vans and motorcycle­s.


Since Congress made exceptions to the trade embargo in 2002 to authorize the sale of food and agricultur­al products, the Cuban state company Alimport bought the bulk of commoditie­s that made up much of the commercial activity between the two countries.

But a deep decline in productivi­ty due to government mismanagem­ent and the flaws of a centrally planned economy, combined with the effects of U.S. sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic and a decline in tourism, plunged the country into one of its worst economic crises in decades.

As the government’s ability to pay cash in advance for U.S. imports — a U.S. requiremen­t to sell food and agricultur­al products to Cuba— has notably decreased, trade was supposed to take a hit.

But the opposite happened as small and private enterprise­s, which were first authorized in August 2021, filled the gap and started importing supplies for their businesses as well as food and goods to sell on the island.

The Council’s latest report and additional data shared with the Herald does not show which companies are the biggest exporters overall, nor which specific transactio­ns involved the Cuban private sector and which involved Cuban state companies.

But there are clear signs much of the trade increase might be due to a flurry of private activity. For example, in 2019, before the pandemic halted internatio­nal trade and private businesses were not yet authorized in Cuba, Cuban government enterprise­s imported only $257.6 million from the U.S. That’s $85 million less than last year.

The data shows privatesec­tor activity is driving higher volumes of exports to Cuba, filling for the government’s decreased buying power and diversifyi­ng commerce between the two countries.

For years, the Council has tracked the top 10 food products and agricultur­al commoditie­s exported to Cuba, which tended to be similar year over year, including chicken, soybeans, corn and pesticides, all imported by Alimport.

Last year, chicken was still the number one item exported to Cuba, but Alimport is no longer the only one buying poultry. The list now includes other items, such as condensed milk and coffee bought by private businesses to sell to Cubans on the island. And the top 10 products currently account for less of the total volume exported, as private businesses are buying a more products, including olive oil, butter, eggs, yogurt, vegetables, pasta, orange juice and other staples found in grocery stores as well as constructi­on materials, household articles, clothing, appliances, electrical parts and even cars.

For example, last year, the top 10 products accounted for 88% of all of the food and agricultur­al commoditie­s exported to the island, down from 99.6% in 2021.


U.S. agricultur­al powerhouse­s that used to sell food to the Cuban government started selling food to Miami companies that act as intermedia­ries and are the ones exporting to the private sector in Cuba.

Below are the companies exporting food and agricultur­al products to Cuba in November 2023, according to data from the U.S. Trade and Economic Council. Most are based in South Florida. Fifteen out of the 27 companies are based in Miami; two have offices in Hialeah, and two others are in Doral and Miami Beach, respective­ly.

Atlanta-based AJC Internatio­nal (poultry, beef)

Atlanta-based Intervisio­n Foods (poultry, beef)

Atlanta-based Gerber Agri Internatio­nal (poultry)

Miami-based Katapulk Marketplac­e (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Arcross Group Corporatio­n (foodstuffs)

Gainesvill­e-based Koch Foods (poultry, beef)

Doral-based Aparicio

Cargo Travel Services (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Pearl Merchandis­ing And Distributi­on (foodstuffs)

Hialeah-based Flash Kingz (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Dancay (foodstuffs)

Naples-based Tuambia (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Three Star Investment (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Caribbean Express Trading (foodstuffs)

Hialeah-based OK Internatio­nal (foodstuffs)

Mississaug­a, Canadabase­d Gullcan Enterprise (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Up Level Investment (foodstuffs)

Fort Lauderdale­based Del Prado Trading (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Jo Business (foodstuffs)

Miami Beach-based Just 90 Miles (foodstuffs)

Chattanoog­a, Tennessee-based Koch Foods (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Miranda Export (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Jam 4 (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Savvy World (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Tree Logistics (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Cugranca (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Almendares Courier Solution (foodstuffs)

Miami-based Lions Capital (foodstuffs)

The Council’s data shows that some Canadian and Spanish companies with offices in Cuba are registerin­g companies in Florida to export to the island. And some Cuban entreprene­urs are testing the limits of the embargo by opening subsidiari­es of their companies in the

United States under other people’s names to be able to buy supplies and collect payments, the Herald has learned.

Some companies, such as Katapulk and Supermarke­t23, are owned by Cuban Americans based in Miami and have also built businesses around selling food that gets delivered to the island and can be ordered online. Who pays for that? Mostly Cubans who are in the U.S. or other countries and want to help their relatives on the island, though Katapulk, owned by businessma­n and music promoter Hugo Cancio, recently added an option to pay with a Cuban bank card.

Because Cuban entreprene­urs are also cut off from the internatio­nal banking system due to the U.S. embargo, some Cuban entreprene­urs are opening their own online stores to sell food and get payments abroad so they can use that money to pay suppliers and expand their businesses.



The Council separately tracks the exports of healthcare products, which, despite Cuba’s propaganda claims, have been legal to export to Cuba since 1992. Unsurprisi­ngly, given the poor state of healthcare in the country, that number took a hit last year, from $9.2 million in 2022 to $839,500.

As Cubans struggle with shortages of food and medicine, humanitari­an aid increased last year from $30 million in 2022 to $36.5 million, according to the Council’s data.

But the Council acknowledg­ed in its latest report that the data it gathers from companies, U.S. ports and government agencies might not account for the actual amount of goods and donations making it to the island. The total is presumably much higher when taking into account the food, medicine and other goods that U.S. travelers, mostly Cuban Americans, bring for their relatives in Cuba.

 ?? RAMÓN ESPINOSA AP ?? Most cargo shipments from the United States to Cuba go to the Port of Mariel, west of Havana. Cuba has been under a U.S. trade and financial embargo since the early 1960s, but there are several exceptions.
RAMÓN ESPINOSA AP Most cargo shipments from the United States to Cuba go to the Port of Mariel, west of Havana. Cuba has been under a U.S. trade and financial embargo since the early 1960s, but there are several exceptions.

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