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Starbucks? OK. Lattes? No! Cuba business rules still complex after U.S. changes

Sept 18 (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp can move to Cuba, but it still cannot sell lattes there.

The Obama administration on Friday tore down barriers to U.S. companies doing business on the Communist-ruled island just south of Miami, but plenty of regulatory and legal roadblocks remain on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Airlines and cruise ships will see less meddling with their schedules, although the new rules approved by President Barack Obama will not lead to a significant boost in visitors, as U.S. law still prohibits most Americans from traveling there.

But Starbucks can still not sell prepared drinks like a latte or a cappuccino, only packaged coffee, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc.

The new rules of engagement have opened the door for Internet companies, but a Cuba government-owned company has the local monopoly on Web services. The prospects for retailers and restaurants are murky. Cuba's mostly poor population of 11 million has limited spending power and remaining U.S. law tightly restricts what can be sold to the former Cold War foe.

And then there is the biggest wild card of all: the Cuban government, which will have the final say on who is licensed to do what.

"You don't just go down to Cuba and hang up your shingles. That's not how it operates," said Kirby Jones, head of Alamar Associates, which has advised companies on business in Cuba since the 1970s. Starbucks, for one, said it had no plans to enter Cuba.

To be sure, executives described the relaxing of U.S...