NEW YORK - President Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba are producing a wave of enthusiasm from U.S. firms eager to do business there, but that passion is bumping up against stubborn realities of Cuba's limited economic capacity and uncertainty about what is permitted under both U.S. and Cuban law.
More than 200 business people and policymakers who gathered at the Nasdaq MarketSite on Wednesday for a daylong conference on business opportunities in Cuba heard encouraging forecasts about the island's long-term potential, tempered by sober warnings not to expect too much too soon.
"We are embarking on a process that is complicated," said Stefan Selig, the Commerce Department's undersecretary for international trade. "We should remember Cuba is a small country, and a poor country."
Still, there has been a flurry of business activity since mid-December, when Obama announced the most dramatic shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba in the 55 years since the United States imposed an economic embargo against the Communist nation.
The Obama administration is in the final stages of a review that is likely to result in Cuba being removed from a list of countries considered to be state sponsors of terrorism, which would offer more freedom for banks to operate there. "That will happen in the near term," Selig predicted.
A recent poll found that more than half of Cuban-Americans — 51 percent — agree with Obama's move to normalize relations with Cuba.