Caterpillar Inc., the heavy equipment manufacturer based in Peoria, Illinois, said Wednesday that it has named a Puerto Rican company to be its Cat dealer in Cuba in preparation for the day when the embargo is lifted.
“Think of it as a track meet. This puts us in the starting block and lets policymakers know we’re ready to go as soon as the embargo is lifted,” said Matt Lavoie, the company’s global government and corporate affairs officer.
Caterpillar named Rimco, a private company that is already the Cat dealer in Puerto Rico and the Eastern Caribbean, as its Cuba distributor.
The Obama administration eased some restrictions on commerce with Cuba last month, allowing financing of authorized exports and re-exports to Cuba, but Lavoie said the new rules don’t really apply to the type of equipment made by Caterpillar. Its product lines include construction and mining equipment, power systems, and marine and industrial engines.
But in the future, Caterpillar sees good opportunity in Cuba, which needs a massive overhaul of its highway system and other aging infrastructure.
“Cuba needs access to the types of products that Caterpillar makes and, upon easing of trade restrictions, we look forward to providing the equipment needed to contribute to the building of Cuba’s infrastructure,” said Philip Kelliher, a Caterpillar vice president who oversees distribution in the Americas and Europe.
Richard F. McConnie, president of Rimco, said the Puerto Rican company has a 34-year relationship with Caterpillar and looks forward to serving the Cuban market. “There is great affinity between Cuba and Puerto Rico as a result of our shared language, culture and traditions,” he said.
Lavoie said that Caterpillar has been “the absolute leader in the business community” since 1998 in pushing for lifting the embargo. Caterpillar lobbyists, talking with legislators on both sides of the aisle in Congress about legislation to lift the embargo, “have not been hearing significant opposition to the idea,” he said. “They are hearing from their constituents, farmers and businesses that they want to go to Cuba.”
The electoral cycle, he said, might present a timing issue in terms of taking up a bill to lift the embargo, “but there’s certainly hope that this could happen this year.”