-- Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --
LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - "Practically everyone who follows Latin American events agrees that Castro's end is near." Thus one Laurence W Tuller, writing in 1994 in his manual on high-risk, high-reward investing. Defaulted Cuban government bonds had jumped on hopes of a settlement to allow the country back into the international capital markets.
Today, former leader Fidel Castro's end is 15 years nearer, but he's still there, albeit in semi-retirement, and holders of these pre-Castro bonds with a face value of around $200 billion are still waiting. Castro's regime kept good records, but have paid no interest, and ignored redemption dates since his revolution half a century ago.
Few Americans can remember why their administration has been so beastly to Cuba for so long.
Those who can mostly live in Florida, a key swing state, and many risked everything to get out of Cuba. They do not want to see their investment devalued by hordes of their former compatriots simply walking off the Delta Airlines flight from Havana.
Last week U.S. President Barack Obama eased the squeeze somewhat. Americans can now visit Cuba, but only if they have relatives there.
This gesture has re-ignited the bondholders' old hopes. Past settlements of defaulted sovereign bonds have tended to pay about half the total of accrued interest plus principal, so the buyers see plenty of upside.
Exotix, a specialist trader in "frontier markets", says its price for a typical Cuban bond instrument has risen from around 9 cents on the dollar at the start of this month to 14 cents on April 23.
Mind you, the spread is wide, the market thin and as events crowd in on the President, he might feel there are more pressing problems than to risk upsetting those key-voting Floridian Cubans.