How much is Mexico’s economic relationship with Cuba worth?

How much is Cuba worth to Mexico? Historians could tell us about everything this relationship has meant since colonial times. Diplomacy experts will have an idea of ​​what the Cuban regime represents and its role as a bargaining chip in relations with the United States, especially since the triumph of the Revolution and the establishment of the Castro dictatorship. From the cultural exchange it is clear that there is no way to put a price on the immense pleasures produced by the danzón, the music of Pérez Prado or the novels of Leonardo Padura. When I say pleasure, I don’t mention Silvio and Pablo, because I don’t mess with sadomasochism.

Economics is something else. His assessment can be cruel, because it is stripped of sentimentality. Here it must be said bluntly: the Mexico-Cuba relationship is notable for its insignificance. The volume of bilateral trade with jobs reaches 400 million dollars a year and has been in the doldrums since the pandemic began. Our main exports to Cuba are cattle feed, some aluminum products and powdered milk. We have a giant surplus, because we buy less than $30 million a year from them. Predictably, the list of Mexican purchases from Cuba is headed by rum and followed by cigars.

Where is the tourism? In the imagination of many people, Mexico is very connected to Cuba through tourism. In reality, the numbers indicate that Mexican tourists are not as relevant to the island’s activity. In 2022, 120,000 Mexican travelers are expected to travel to Cuba, out of a total of 4 million. Above Mexico, as an issuer of tourists to that destination are Canada, Spain and Italy, among others. The projected 120,000 can be compared to the 131,000 Mexican men and women who were there in 2016. That indicates that the number has stagnated. Before the pandemic, 18 million Mexican tourists traveled to the United States each year. That was the number in 2019.

A bilateral relationship that does not reach 500 million dollars a year must be looked for with a magnifying glass in the statistical tables of a country, such as Mexico, which has one of the largest foreign trade machinery in the world. With exports of 494,225 million dollars in 2021 and imports for a slightly lower amount. For reference only, the volume of our trade with Guatemala is six times greater than that with Cuba. Mexico’s relationship with each and every one of the Central American countries is more relevant, by volume, than the one we have with the most famous island in the Caribbean. I said everyone, sorry: Trade with Cuba is greater than the one we develop with Belize. With this neighboring country, the volume of legal trade does not reach 200 million dollars.

We cannot blame the meager economic exchange between Mexico and Cuba on the US embargo (it is not a blockade). Nor would it be fair to point the accusing finger at the “Neoliberals”. In fact, the Peña Nieto government in 2013 launched an unprecedented series of efforts to increase trade and investment. A team led by Idelfonso Guajardo then negotiated an ACE economic complementation agreement and achieved the release of 3,625 tariff items. With that agreement signed, it was said in 2015 that the economic relationship could grow by 1,000 million dollars annually.

Nine years later, we can confirm that trade did not grow, nor did Mexican investments in Cuba explode. It did not happen, among other things, because of the ineffectiveness of the Cuban economic system. Without romanticism, we must be aware that it is a country of 11.3 million inhabitants, which has low rates of economic growth, with little purchasing power and overregulated. In attracting investments, Cuba has achieved, on average, less than 100 million dollars per year between 2018 and 2020. The Dominican Republic is in the range of 2,700 million in that period.

It should be clarified that Cuban statistics are complicated to interpret, but the numbers are there. With these data, could you explain to us what we are looking for in Cuba? Is that so valuable that it justifies the provocation of the Biden government?

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Luis Miguel Gonzalez

General Editorial Director of El Economista

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Degree in Economics from the University of Guadalajara. He studied the Master of Journalism in El País, at the Autonomous University of Madrid in 1994, and a specialization in economic journalism at Columbia University in New York. He has been a reporter, business editor and editorial director of the Guadalajara newspaper PÚBLICO, and has worked for the newspapers Siglo 21 and Milenio.

He has specialized in economic journalism and investigative journalism, and has carried out professional stays at Cinco Días in Madrid and San Antonio Express News, in San Antonio, Texas.

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