American travel to Cuba has soared since President Obama's announcement that he's restoring diplomatic ties to the nation, with a 36 percent jump in visitors since January. Among those flocking to Havana? Billionaire Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
The real estate developer confirmed yesterday that he visited the island, telling CNBC that he quite enjoyed the art and the classic cars. But will he be rushing to invest in the Castro regime, now that it’s opening for business? Not so fast.
"You need a government that really wants change, that really wants business, and really wants to see growth, and you don't really have any of that feeling [in Cuba] at all," Ross said Tuesday on CNBC. “It was like going back in time.”
Ever since Obama’s historic December announcement, U.S. companies have been eyeing the island, eager to gauge potential business opportunities there. Last week, the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of terrorist nations, which further opened the way for re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries and international loans.
But Ross said entrepreneurs and investors should slow their roll and temper expectations.
"You hear a lot about Cuba. You hear a lot about what opportunities there might be in Cuba. I didn't find there were lot of great opportunities," Ross said.
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Ross, who’s worth an estimated $6.5 billion and is the 216th-richest man in the world, chuckled as he told CNBC that the highest earning people in Cuba are artists. He said a lack of opportunities makes young people more compelled to become cab drivers than to go to school.
Ross is certainly not the first to raise red flags about doing business with Cuba. Last weekend, Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer wrote that we’re all making too big a “fuss” over a very small economy.
Though it’s nearly impossible to measure, Cuba’s gross national income per capita is estimated by the World Bank at $5,800 a year.
“U.S. investors, lawyers and entrepreneurs [are] flocking to the island,” Oppenheimer wrote. “But I’m afraid most of them will lose their shirts there.”