14ymedio, Havana, 29 November 2023 — “The rules do not apply to Hugo. Hugo insists, Hugo arrives, Hugo persists.” It was one of the numerous mantras that the Cuban-American businessman Hugo Cancio repeated during the interview he gave this Tuesday to his own newspaper, OnCuba. Two hours of conversation with the media’s director, Milena Recio, helped him draw his self-portrait: he does not define himself as a “communist,” the regime has not given him “privileges” and he has “plans” – many – for the future of the Island.
OnCuba , which had announced the interview for this Tuesday morning with great fanfare, ended up publishing it five hours late without giving any explanations. Cancio had been ignoring media requests for statements for more than ten years, but Recio’s insistence, he explains, led him to leave his “comfort zone.”
There were no surprises. Cancio recalled how little Cubans know about him, his exile during the Mariel exodus – he was 16 years old – his return as a successful businessman to produce the film dedicated to the vocal group Los Zafiros, of which his father and uncle were members, and the creation of several businesses, “children of necessity” on the Island, such as the Katapulk digital market.
If he exposes himself to the cameras it is because, he argues, Cuba is going through a “key” moment “of transformation”
If he exposes himself to the cameras it is because, he argues, Cuba is going through a “key” moment, “of transformation,” where he and the rest of the emigrated businessmen play “a leading role.” However, he affirms, despite the attempts at rapprochement between both shores, he believes it is necessary to “expose the things that are happening in our country.”
Cancio does not feel any stigma for being a “marielito” and the money he has put into Cuba frees him from any doubt. The return, he summarizes, “gave a 180 degree turn” in his life and he understood that, by pressing the right buttons – for him it was financing independent cinema – the regime was willing to create “links” with people like him.
His career has not been free of friction with the Government, he laments. During the demonstrations of 11 July 2021 he took to the streets and wrote an article criticizing Miguel Díaz-Canel’s reaction to the protest. “I have seen confusion in the leadership,” was his attack against the leaders at that time.
The same thing, he stated, happens to him in Miami, where he is “misunderstood.” He has had times of “constant threats,” some of death, he insisted, from the most radical exiles in their anti-Castroism.
Recio asked if he had “specific facilities” in Cuba. Cancio denied it. “I have gone through a lot of work to achieve things and open doors in Cuba, it has not been easy.” The example is Katapulk, whose management has had to learn to “separate Government, ideology and country,” and which operates in the midst of the “hemorrhage of online stores” that operate in Cuba.
In Cuba I’m doing well now, I’m not complaining. We are not where we want to be because there is still no business environment
Does Cancio have privileges in Washington, where he was granted a permit to export cars to the Island? “Absolutely false,” she concluded. “There are 25 years of work with both Administrations and I have earned the space, but not because there is any privilege.”
“I’m doing well in Cuba now, I’m not complaining. We are not where we want to be because there is still no business environment, a business ecosystem that many of us who live abroad for a long time are used to but we have had our ups and downs,” he admitted.
Fuego Enterprises, the parent company of all Cancio’s projects, tried to register in Cuba and was rejected by the authorities, who asked it to find an intermediary who did not have US nationality. “That offended me enormously. How am I going to need a front man to have a company in the country where I was born, where I grew up, being Cuban,” he stated.
Shortly after, in 2021 – after several letters to Díaz-Canel and senior officials on the Island – they approved a branch for Fuego and any other Cuban-American company that wanted to carry out a similar management. “Hugo claims his rights, which are those of everyone and are open to everyone,” he added.
Katapulk works with that “need” that emigrants have to help their relatives on the Island
For his part, he acknowledged that Katapulk “sells very expensive,” but if its prices are compared with those of the rest of the platforms, he believes, there are advantages. Cuba is “a risky market,” and his company has to do business with a country subject to “very real sanctions.” Their clients: the 2.5 million Cubans who, according to various estimates, reside abroad. Katapulk works with that “need” that emigrants have to help their relatives on the Island.
Regarding investments, the Government cannot expect everything to be rosy with emigrants, he declared. When the authorities informed him that they would open the possibility of allowing business in Cuba, he said: “That’s good, but are you really convinced that this is going to happen? Because you have to be really convinced. Don’t think that we are going to come to “Cuba with a check, with an idea and a suitcase full of money to invest. With that check and that suitcase come our political criteria.”
So much for his “frustrations” with the Cuban Government. If anything became clear, after two hours of playing with the bell without referring to the cat, it is that, for Cancio, the best time to do business in Cuba – with the right friends and a clear agenda – is now.
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