U.S. businesspeople look at Cuba

A visit headed by the president of the Chamber of Commerce confirmed the interest of U.S. businesspeople in the economic changes initiated in the largest of the Caribbean islands.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños/ IPS-Cuba

In a master lecture in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, Thomas Donohue praised the changes being made in Cuba but recommended that the private sector have a greater space.

Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, expressed his satisfaction over the course of the economic transformations being undertaken in Cuba, but recommended that the changes be speeded up and to give a bigger space to the private sector. He made these comments in Havana before government members during a publicised visit at the head of a delegation of businesspeople from his country.

Faithful to his economic doctrine, Donohue defended the need to also strengthen private sector companies in Cuba. The countries with strong private sectors, exempt from excess government control and ownership, will have the most successful and productive economies, Donohue said during a master lecture offered on May 29 in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana. He was accompanied that day by Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca.

Following that logic of thinking, he considered that Cuba has become aware that the government doesn’t have to control all the aspects of the economy and that they were pleased to see several state enterprises making a transition toward private cooperatives, he commented.

The delegation of U.S. businesspeople visited non-agricultural cooperatives, the Mariel Special Development Zone and other points of interest. Donohue said he was particularly impressed by a cooperative for the repair of vehicles and applauded the changes taking place in agriculture.

He said the enterprising spirit is alive and is enjoying good health in many of the hearts of the citizens in Cuba, and when that spirit is encouraged in the right way, the country as a whole can make progress. Referring to the advance in China and Vietnam, he affirmed that the same will happen in Cuba if the reforms are serious and far-reaching.

As a sign of the interest the visit generated, the business delegation met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.

One of the comments that had the most repercussion in the Cuban and foreign media was Donohue’s criticism of the U.S. position toward Cuba. It’s time to eliminate the political barriers and work to overcome our differences, he said. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been at the forefront of the efforts to eliminate the economic blockade laws, in the name of a business community that has differing interests in terms of the anti-Cuban political lobby in Congress. Until now, however, it has achieved very little. The visitor recalled that 15 years ago he stated in the same university hall that it was time to open a new chapter in the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, but he admitted that the advance has not been as fast as he would have wanted.

He insisted that for many years the Chamber has put pressure on the government for it to eliminate the trade embargo on Cuba, saying that it is time for a new focus.

According to analysts from the Caribbean country, the situation continues the same or worse, if the recent U.S. government extraterritorial sanctions against European banks are taken into account, a particularly sensitive area for Cuba’s commercial and financial ties abroad.

Donohue defended a point of view that is not to the liking of the Cuban government when he said that changes were needed in both countries to achieve the withdrawal of the economic blockade. He even considered implicitly and explicitly at all times the economic reforms on the island as a factor or condition for the White House to review its policies. He reflected that the more Cuba does to demonstrate its commitment to the reforms and the more it does to resolve the conflicts in U.S.-Cuba relations, the bigger the possibilities of changes in U.S. policy.

The Cuban authorities, however, have persistently defended the opinion that the blockade is exclusively the responsibility of the United States and, therefore, its solution depends on the decisions Washington adopts. Havana has considered the U.S. position as a “system of unilateral sanctions” and year after year has even achieved that the UN General Assembly condemn it almost unanimously, with the explicit recognition of its unilateral character that violates international law.

In any case, the process of changes begun in Cuba seems to motivate more the U.S. businesspeople to put pressure on their government. On this occasion CEOs of powerful companies accompanied Donohue: the president of Amway, Steve Van Andel, and the vice president and financial director of Cargill, Marcel Smits, as well as Jodi Hanson Bond, vice president for the Americas of the International Department of the Chamber of Commerce.

Judging by the observations of the president of the Chamber of Commerce, the recently approved Law on Foreign Investment can become another important factor for his country’s businesspeople. He commented that Cuba is inviting foreign partners to invest in the new sectors of the economy and that the approval of that law indicates that the Cuban leaders understand that foreign direct investment can be a powerful tool for economic development and the creation of jobs.

The visit took place a few days after almost 50 U.S. personalities, including businesspeople, the military and intellectuals, had sent Obama a public letter with the petition that he again review the Cuba policy in order to promote a rapprochement that would contribute to making deeper the changes in the neighbouring country. (2014)

 

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