INSIGHT-Cuba Inc. open to foreign capitalists, but within limits

Mon Jun 8, 2015 8:00am EDT
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By Daniel Trotta and Marc Frank

HAVANA, June 8 (Reuters) - Communist Cuba's newfound interest in foreign capital has its limits, as Philippe Pouletty found out.

A French doctor, venture capitalist and founder of biotech company Abivax, Pouletty is working with Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology to develop a therapeutic vaccine to treat chronic Hepatitis B that could be on the Asian market in two years and in Europe after that.

But when he pitched the idea of floating a company on the pan-European stock market Euronext with the Cuban state as a shareholder, that was clearly too much, too soon.

"I told him in a half serious, half joking mode, that I had a capitalist proposal," Pouletty said of his conversation with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro's eldest son, Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, a science advisor to the government.

"His response after more than 30 seconds was 'That's indeed very intriguing, but if you want us to reach an agreement quickly, that's not the fastest route. It's a few years too soon.'"

Instead, Abivax agreed to buy vaccines at a predetermined price and pay royalties to Cuba when the product is on the market.

Pouletty's story offers a peek into the mindset of Cuba Inc.

Convinced their country needs capital, Cuba's leaders are welcoming businesses under a foreign investment law passed a year ago, but they want tight control over the pace of change.   Continued...