By Mike Sweet
The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This week the administration authorized two retired U.S. software engineers to build the first industrial plant in Cuba since the 1959 revolution.
This week the Obama overrode Congress and completed yet another pact with Cuba. This one will let the former enemies operate as many as 110 daily commercial flights between the two countries. That’s the sort of peaceful, productive progress anticipated when Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro reestablished diplomatic ties two years ago.
A less dramatic but equally important event also occurred this week. The administration authorized for two retired U.S. software engineers — one a Cuba native — to build the first industrial plant in Cuba since the 1959 revolution led the U.S. to impose a 55-year-long economic embargo of the island nation.
Former IBM software engineers and startup entrepreneurs Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons formed an implement company called Clebber to build small tractors. They will be assembled by Cubans in Cuba to be sold to Cuba’s emerging ranks of private farmers. They hope eventually to small farmers across Latin America and the Caribbean and expand into small excavators and earth movers.
Their tiny tractor is designed for small produce farms, not the massive grain-growing farms common in the U.S. and around the world.
Under the philosophy all things old are new again, their tractor is a descendant of the old Allis Chalmers G model, a rear-engined machine made for small farms between 1947 and 1954. It doesn’t tow most implements. Plow and disc blades, cultivators and other tillage equipment hangs from the machine’s belly.
The new tractor is named Oggun, after the spirit of metal working in the African-based Santeria religion many Cubans practice.
Initially the parts for about 1,000 tractors will be made in the U.S., shipped to Cuba and assembled by as many as 300 Cuban workers in a new plant Berenthal and Clemmons will build in a special economic zone. Cuba, which has been trapped in an economic time warp, has a lot of catching up to do.
The hope is a factory to build parts will eventually be built in Cuba.
The American entrepreneurs deserve credit for boldly going where no American has gone in half a century.
But they will not be without Competition. American and foreign tractor makers are also pushing for business in Cuba. The Caterpillars, John Deeres, Case New Hollands and Mahindras won’t be far behind.
But where Berenthal and Clemmons hope to excel is by focusing on a small plot farmers who cannot afford more than $10,000 for a tractor.
It’s ironic too that a tiny tractor built for small farms in the U.S. after a catastrophic world war, and well before corporate farming took hold, is exactly what Cuba needs in 2016.