Elena Maribona, the Cuban-born entrepreneur credited with encouraging the Mexican plastics industry to present a united front to the world through the Plastimagen expo, says she's finished with the trade show industry and will dedicate the coming years to social work.
``I will never go back into the exhibition business,'' said Maribona, who this summer sold three Mexican trade shows, including Plastimagen, to separate U.S. companies, after selling her house in Mexico City and moving to Miami in January.
Maribona's company, Mexico City-based Oprex SA de CV, which she founded with her late husband, Ricardo Bernal, who died nine years ago, organized and produced Plastimagen 14 times. The first Plastimagen was held in 1987. The event gradually has become one of the top two plastics industry trade shows in Latin America.
The achievement earned Maribona the gratitude of Mexico's National Association of Plastic Industries, known as Anipac, which recently made her the guest of honor at its annual convention, held Nov. 15-18 in Puerto Vallarta.
``The Mexican plastic industry owes a great deal to Elena Maribona,'' said Anipac President Eduardo de la Tijera. ``She united us and you can't praise her too much.''
E.J. Krause & Associates Inc., a Bethesda, Md.-based exhibition and conference organizer in Asia, the Americas and Europe, will run next year's Plastimagen, to be held in Mexico City in April.
``After working all those years and getting something to a certain international level of quality, as we did with Plastimagen, I felt really satisfied that I had done a professional job,'' Maribona said.
``For a Cuban-American living in Mexico, being a woman and being an entrepreneur, it was hard. I thought it was time for me to move on.''
Maribona confirmed she had received about $5 million for the three exhibitions, and not just for Plastimagen, clarifying a previous report. However, she said personal security matters also influenced her decision. Over the past nine years in Mexico, she was mugged three times in Mexico City, kidnapped once (and held captive for 36 hours) and had her car stolen.
``I also got tired of seeing a country whose political parties, instead of working for the country, only think of themselves. Nothing happens for the better. It seems Mexico is stuck. Many [entrepreneurs] are doing well. But after 71 years of one-party rule [until the 2000 elections], there are so many things to do and instead of doing them quickly, they're stuck.''
Running a business in Mexico requires the qualities of a hero, she said. ``You're always swimming against the current.''
A case in point, she said, is Mexico's failure to develop a viable petrochemicals industry.
``I don't understand why they don't understand that this is urgent,'' she said, referring to Mexican politicians who balk at efforts to modernize the country's oil and natural gas resources with the help of foreign and private investment.
``I can't believe that they just don't see it, that it would bring so much growth to the petrochemicals and plastics industries and to the country.''
According to Maribona, Mexico's political parties look upon PetrÃ³leos Mexicanos, the state oil monopoly known as Pemex, as their personal cash register.
``The politicians have turned [private investment] into a political issue, because every time it comes up, the opposition complains that the government of the day is trying to sell off the national patrimony. The [private] money is there and the investors are there but the government doesn't have the pants.''
She now plans to dedicate her time to helping women in Florida keep their families together, and she is studying to prepare for the task ahead.
She was 6 years old when her parents, fearful about a Fidel Castro announcement that all Cuban youth ``belonged to the state,'' sent Maribona and her brother alone to the United States.
``I've never been back to Cuba,'' said Maribona, who was reunited with her parents when she was 12.
Now, once again a resident in Miami, she said, ``I feel that I'm back with my people. It's like coming home.''