American Tractor Company Looks to Build 1st US Factory in Cuba in Over 50 Years

The partners hope to build up to 1,000 small tractors a year.

ByABC News
February 16, 2016, 3:35 PM

— -- The Obama administration has given its approval to the first American factory in Cuba in more than 50 years, and the move appears to have gained the support of the Cuban government as well.

The Treasury and Commerce departments told Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal several days ago that the two were approved to build a tractor factory in Cuba, Berenthal told ABC News Monday.

Paperwork addressed to the company from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control and Licensing Division was dated Feb. 8. A Treasury Department spokesperson told ABC News Monday that is does not comment on the existence or status of specific license requests.

"We are now going through the process of finalizing all the negotiations with Cuba," Berenthal told ABC News Monday. Once the paperwork is finalized, they can start construction of the plant, he said.

Cuban officials have publicly endorsed the project and the minister for foreign trade said that the business is allowed to start negotiations.

If the factory goes into production, it would be the first major U.S. business investment in Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959, nationalizing billions of dollars of U.S. corporate and private property, and leading to a U.S. embargo on Cuba that prohibited most commerce between the countries.

In 2014, Obama and Raul Castro declared that they would restore diplomatic relations and move to normalize trade.

The company, "Cleber LLC," is based in Alabama and was established in 2015. According to the company website, their goal is to "provide simple, cost effective tractors to Cuban farmers."

The plant could build up to 1,000 small tractors a year, Berenthal said. The hope is to focus first on Cuba and later work on exporting to other countries in Central and South America, he said.

They hope to build the plant, estimated to cost $5 million to $10 million, at the end of 2016 and start production in 2017. They plan to begin with agriculture -- making tractors -- and eventually move to other products, like construction equipment.

Agriculture and construction are "very much needed in Cuba at this point," Berenthal said.

Berenthal is Cuban, and Clemmons was raised as a farmer, said Berenthal, making them the perfect match for this project.

Berenthal said he considers himself a capitalist and believes doing business is the best way to get the U.S. and Cuba to work together.

When the Obama administration "decided it was time for us to be able to open up the discussion to have commerce," said Berenthal, "We thought it'd be a good idea if we put our brains together and came up with a way in participating in bringing the two countries and two peoples together."

"And we believe that through commerce and trade is the best way to do so," he said.