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Cuba open for Cambodian tourism and investment

Gareth Johnson

Cuba is vaccinated, open for tourism as well as direct foreign investment, according to Cuban ambassador to the Kingdom H.E. Liurka Rodriguez Barrios in a meeting held at the embassy with Cambodia Investment Review.

The working lunch at the embassy included talks on the potential for Cambodian tourism to Cuba, as well as areas in which bilateral trade could be increased.

Ambassador Liurka Rodriguez Barrios said that Cuba had reopened to tourism on November 15th and was ready to welcome international visitors. Prior to the pandemic she stated that there had been a lot of interest from Cambodian travel agents in bringing groups tours to Cuba, but that Covid-19 had frustrated these efforts.

The embassy is planning an event in January that will showcase tourist opportunities for Cambodians in Cuba. For all intents and purposes Cuba is one of the few “visa free” nations for Cambodian passport holders, with visitors merely needing a tourist card, which can be arranged either by the travel agent, or directly through the embassy at a cost of just $20.

Cuba open for Cambodian investment

Tourism was not the only subject of cooperation though, with the ambassador also highlighting the many areas that Cuba is actively seeking direct foreign investment.

Despite its reputation as a bastion of communism Cuba underwent the biggest shakeup in its economy in 2021, when President Miguel Díaz-Canel initiated a number of economic reforms, comparable to those that occurred in Cambodia in the late 1980’s. These reforms not only legalize a number of private enterprises, but also allow for direct foreign investment, as well as wholly-owned foreign enterprises.

As to areas with which she felt the country’s could collaborate where in pharmaceuticals, which Cuba is major global player in, particularly with regards to the developing world, but also infrastructure, tobacco, and the garment industry, a major source of exports for Cambodia.

Cuba open for Cambodian
Meeting held at the Cuban Embassy in Phnom Penh with Cambodia Investment Review

Cambodia imported around $75,000 worth of goods from Cuba in 2019, while exporting around $112,000 during the same period. This makes neither party major trading partners with each other, with Ambassador Liurka Rodriguez Barrios stating that the US embargo on Cuba was he main obstacle in trade between the two countries.

The embargo, which was first imposed in the early 1960’s after Cuba moved into the Soviet sphere of influence prevents US businesses or businesses with commercial activities in the US from dealing with Cuba. It was imposed after the Cuban government nationalized a number of US-owned businesses.

The embargo is regularly criticized during Unified Nations (UN) sessions, with Prime-Minister Hun Sen stating at the 75th plenary session of the UNGA in September 2020 “The voices of reason are stifled by the arbitrary practice of unilateral sanctions and other coercive political, economic and financial measures, all because the strongest country upholds  interests above everything else.”

Economic ties could be improved

The ambassador further stressed that while economic ties between the two countries could be improved relations between the two nations not only had a strong historical background, but were generally very good.

Cuba was one of a handful of states, mostly from the Eastern Bloc who recognized the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea under Hun Sen, rather than the UN backed Khmer Rouge government during the civil war of the 1980’s.

The two nations also enjoy extremely good cultural relations, with Cuba offering poorer Cambodians a number of fully paid scholarships to study things such as medicine in Cuba, as well as a number of Cuban nationals working in Cambodia, particularly in the entertainment industry.

Whether Cuba will see hordes of tourists and investment from Cambodia is yet to be seen, but the Cuban embassy in Phnom Penh are certainly playing their part in trying to make it happen.

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