The privatization and commercialization of water has proven to be one of the most controversial policy developments of the past 20 years. Largely associated with the neoliberalization of the world economy, it comes as a surprise to many that the socialist government of Cuba signed a 25-year contract with a Spanish multinational in 2000 to manage the supply of water in Havana. This paper provides an historical context for water reforms in the country and the first comprehensive study of this little-known contract. Based on key interviews and primary documentation we argue that there are no easy explanations for why the contract was signed, or whether it has achieved its objectives. There are, however, interesting lessons to be learned for public–private partnerships elsewhere in the world, and insights into the changing fabric of socialism in Cuba.