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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Smooth Sailing in Cuba Despite U.S. Embargo

HAVANA -- Angelo, an Italian businessman and self-described computer pirate, has an in-your-face message for backers of tougher U.S. sanctions against Cuba: Sue Me.


Even as the U.S. Senate passed a measure Tuesday that would tighten sanctions on Cuba so stringently that foreign companies doing business there could face lawsuits in U.S. courts, Angelo was at an international computer exhibition in Havana, pitching new and used Apple Macintosh computers, laptops and software.


He's setting up a joint venture with Cuba's Communist government and hopes to make a killing, with the help of U.S. sanctions that prevent U.S. companies from doing business here.


"If that's the way the Americans want to play it, if they want to take themselves for a ride, so be it," said Angelo, who didn't want his last name used. "This embargo is crap."


Angelo's business name is as brazen as his attitude: Capitan Mac, or Captain Mac. His black-and-white logo, displayed at a stand at the Informatica computer exposition, resembles a skull-and-crossbones pirate flag, but with the familiar-looking apple in place of the skull.


Other U.S. brands were featured at the exhibition, including Hewlett-Packard printers. But the dozens of firms present were European, Latin American, South Korean and Canadian, all relishing the opportunity to gain a foothold in Cuba's largely untapped computer market.


Elsewhere in Havana, deals were being closed and foreign investment projects announced as Cuba's government deplored the new U.S. sanctions -- and pursued more foreign cash.


"This policy of threats does put some weak companies or nations under pressure," said Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban parliament. "However, experience shows that this policy is unable to undermine our nation. In fact, what we have been seeing in recent years is that the U.S. embargo is breaking up."


Germany's ambassador to Cuba, Hans Kruger, on Tuesday opened the first German-owned establishment in Cuba, a franchise of the jewelry chain Irina.


Olivetti, the Italian computer giant, has four sales outlets in Cuba and plans to open more, the firm's director in Cuba, Dipiazza Franco, said Tuesday.


Large television screens showed the Rolling Stones in concert and Beatles music blasted from speakers as curious Cubans -- including Interior Ministry and armed forces officers in uniform -- strolled among the dozens of stands at the trade fair.


One of the biggest attractions, however, was Capitan Mac.


Wearing a fine Italian suit, Angelo spoke animatedly with prospective customers and was more than willing to explain his business strategy. A computer at his stand featured Windows 95 software.


Capitan Mac is an affiliate of a Rome-based company -- which Angelo refused to identify -- that will have a sales and service network for Apple products.


The joint venture with the state will open a training school and offer its customers an extended two-year service warranty, Angelo said. Some of the equipment for sale may be dated by rapidly developing technology, but will be unused.


"We're going to beat the embargo and take an Apple-certified technician and set up our network here," he said. "We believe we have found a situation like Apple had in 1984. Apple is a cult object in Cuba."


Angelo had no qualms about the possibility of facing legal action. "It's the Caribbean. It's a pirate tradition," he said. "We are not under U.S. jurisdiction. They want to sue us? It would be stupid."


And if the U.S. embargo ends someday?


"When it happens, and it will happen eventually, then Apple and Macintosh will find themselves with a network set up here," he said. "They should send me a case of champagne."