Obama envoy explores Cuban economy

The U.S. secretary of commerce analysed the reach of the measures taken by her government to relax the blockade on Cuba and studied the opportunities offered by this Caribbean nation to her country’s companies.

During her stay in Havana, the U.S. secretary of commerce held talks with Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca.

The visit to Cuba by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker lasted barely two days but they were sufficient to give signs that her government is seriously maneuvering to approach the Cuban economy. According to her statements to the press, she made the trip to explore the ground in order to open the road for her country’s companies.

According to the official, she came to understand how the Cuban economy manages exports, imports and the distribution of products throughout the island. Pritzker said her aim was to get to know an economy, which she described as “singular,” to share that knowledge with the U.S. companies interested in exchanges with Cuba.

 

Pritzker is the second representative of Barack Obama’s cabinet to visit Cuba in less than two months, after more than half a century of bitter bilateral relations. While the first, Secretary of State John Kerry, came to inaugurate the U.S. embassy in Havana, this time the envoy helped with the mission of exploring the commercial and economic activity of the largest of the Caribbean islands.

 

She said her visit was a technical one, to initiate a regulatory dialogue between the officials of the Departments of Commerce and of State who accompanied her and their Cuban counterparts. This dialogue, which is unprecedented in our history, gives us the longed-for opportunity to learn from each other, she said.

 

The joint meetings also analysed the reach and limitations of the measures the Obama administration approved two weeks ago to relax some restrictions of the blockade in terms of travel, telecommunications and remittances.

 

As another sign of the interest the Cuban economy is awakening in the U.S. business community was that, when the secretary of commerce had barely landed she left for the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), 45 kilometres west of Havana. The government inaugurated this zone on January 2014 to attract foreign investments.

 

During the tour of the enclave, the general director of the ZEDM Office, Ana Teresa Igarza, encouraged the U.S. companies to study the possibilities this zone offers to invest.

 

When the visitor asked about the challenges faced by this work, one of the most ambitious undertaken by the Cuban government in the last three decades, Igarza responded that the principal challenge is the U.S. economic blockade on Cuba, because of the fear it instils in other countries’ companies. Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca reiterated this idea later on in the statement he gave following the technical dialogue he had with the visitor.

 

In a press conference, Pritzker said that these first rapprochements seek to open new opportunities, generate mutual trust and knowledge with respect to what can be done in the frameworks of the “embargo,” which Cuba considers is a blockade.

 

During the talks initiated on December 17, the government of Raúl Castro insisted that the normalisation of relations between both countries would not be possible while the economic blockade continues. Washington even sanctions third country companies and banks for doing business with Cuba.

 

The visitor said she hoped that week would be the first of a series of meetings in which they could mutually help each other understand their systems. (2015)

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