On 18 January, two days before Donald Trump is sworn in as president, a shipment of 40 tons of coal made from marabú (marabou, or sicklebush) is slated to arrive, the first Cuban export to the country in more than five decades.
The sale is possible thanks to the Obama Administration's authorization of the import of some Cuban products, as long as it is demonstrated that they come from the private sector, part of a strategy to "empower" entrepreneurs.
According to the information disseminated by the official press, the charcoal that will reach the United States is produced in an artisanal manner by cooperatives that harvest and process the marabou. Nevertheless, the Government has not clarified what these cooperatives are, their numbers, characteristics, or locations on the Island.
Neither have official sources revealed the identity of the company that buys the marabou from the cooperatives and processes it for its commercialization. The only thing that is clear is that the state entity CubaExport will be shipping it.
Those in charge of CubaExport are giddy about the sale. Director Isabel O'Reilly told Cubadebate that she hopes their relations with the American company that has bought the coal last many years, and extend to other products, like honey and coffee.
O'Reilly signed the agreement with Scott Gilbert, president of Reneo Consulting LLC, the US subsidiary Coabana Trading LLC, and a lawyer for the former contractor of the American Government and ex-prisoner of the Cuban regime Alan Gross.
Gilbert has striven to forge economic ties between the countries since Gross was freed, according to the AP.
The value of Cuban coal on the international market normally ranges from 340 to 380 dollars per ton, but Gilbert's company will pay 420 for it, the highest price obtained by CubaExport in the more than one decade of it has marketed the product, noted O'Reilly.
As an import allowed by the regulations of the Obama Administration, it does not require a license from the departments of the Treasury and Commerce, but Gilbert's company will have to provide US Customs and Border authorities with proof that the charcoal was produced by "independent Cuban entrepreneurs," indicated the Cuba/US Economic and Commercial Council. According to the Council, charcoal from Cuban marabou will be sold at restaurants and on the Internet for $45.95 per 33-pound bag, under the brand Fogo, by the company of Hialeah (Florida), or Fogo Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal. Gross revenue from the sales will come to about 122,778 dollars.
Fogo is already accepting orders on its Internet site.
In Cuba the commercial operation will generate some 16,800 dollars, "but we have a lot [of marabou] available," said O'Reilly. The civil servant stated that the local packer and CubaExport will earn a commission of 1% to 2%.
Marabou, also known as sicklebush, is an invasive plant that has taken over thousands of hectares of fallow land in recent decades.
In addition to CubaExport, Cimex, Cítricos Caribes and Alcona sell charcoal made from the plant.
Exports range from 40,000 to 80,000 tons annually, mainly to Europe, according to the official newspaper Granma.
Spain's Ibérica y Combustibles Sólidos (Ibecosol S.L) got involved in the sale of charcoal from the Island in 2007.
Ibecosol operates charcoal processing plants in Ciego de Ávila, Granma and Jobabo, Las Tunas, the country's largest.
Part of the marabou charcoal that it processes is produced by the State company Empresa de Flora y Fauna, headed up by the commander of the Revolution Guillermo García Frías.