Without even touching Cuba soil, tractors manufactured by the U.S. company Cleber LLC are already making their mark on international public opinion and relations between Washington and Havana.
This small company founded last year by a businessman of Cuban origin, Saul Berenthal, and Horace Clemmons, are looking to lead the way across the Straits of Florida, to set up shop in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), Cuba’s most important investment site at this time.
Just recently, Cleber LLC, with headquarters in the state of Alabama, took a step forward, drawing closer to its objective.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), one of the entities which tightly controls U.S. trade with Cuba, awarded the company an unprecedented license to erect a manufacturing plant in the country, to produce up to 1,000 small-sized tractors annually.
Cleber had previously obtained a permit from the Commerce Department, which along with the Treasury are responsible for the implementing executive decisions made by President Obama to modify the application of the blockade, which remains in full force.
Last year, Cleber submitted preliminary documentation on the project to the ZEDM’s central office, where it was well-received.
After waiting almost nine months for an answer from U.S. authorities, the company can now begin the formal process of establishing itself in the Development Zone, joining companies from Mexico, Brazil and Spain which are well on their way toward launching operations, as well as hundreds of others from around the world which have submitted applications.
One thing that Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal are not lacking, in their race against U.S. industrial giants, is willpower.
According to Associated Press, the founders of Cleber met when they worked together at IBM in the 1970s. The two left the company to establish a successful cash register software business which earned 30 million dollars a year, until they sold it in 1995.
Their current project involves assembling commercially available parts to manufacture a low maintenance, long-life, 25 horsepower tractor, which will sell for less than 10,000 dollars, according to Clemmons and Berenthal.
“Everybody wants to go to Cuba to sell something and that's not what we're trying to do. We're looking at the problem and how do we help Cuba solve the problems that they consider are the most important problems for them to solve,” Clemmons told AP, after receiving the OFAC license.
Cleber brought a working model of its “Oggún” tractor, to last year’s Havana International Trade Fair, an economical but powerful machine which they hope will meet the needs of small and medium-sized farms in Cuba.
At that time, standing with the Oggún, Clemmons explained to Granma that the tractor was an updated version of a model manufactured from 1948 to 1955, with which many U.S. farmers made the transition to modern farming techniques, and which should be very useful under current conditions in Cuban agriculture.
The company has an open conception of intellectual property and is interested in working with Cuban specialists to improve the tractor, and design new farm implements which could be mounted on the same frame. They intend to publish all their plans on internet to allow Cuban clients, and those in other places, to repair and maintain their tractors more easily.
One day Cleber’s “iron horse” may be common in Cuban fields, but regardless, its story is one that sheds light on opportunities emerging as relations between Cuba and the U.S. improve, and on obstacles created by the blockade which remain in place.