US Business Lobby Calls for Trade with Cuba

May 30, 2014 | Print Print |

Isaac Risco (dpa)

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Thomas Donohue speaking at the University of Havana. Photo: progresosemanal.us.

HAVANA TIMES — Chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce Thomas Donohue praised the market economy whilst speaking of the benefits of Cuba’s new entrepreneurial freedoms in Havana yesterday, during a rather uncommon visit to the island as the head of a US commercial delegation, DPA reported.

Donohue was the guest of honor yesterday at the Main Hall of the University of Havana, a venue he had last visited 15 years ago. The representative of the United States’ main commercial association (gathering upwards of 3 million companies) arrived in Cuba on Tuesday for a visit related to the economic reforms currently underway in the socialist island.

“Cuba is changing some of its economic policies and the private sector is evidently growing,” said Donahue during his speech, in which he condemned the economic embargo Washington has been imposing on Havana for more than fifty years.

The reforms under Raul Castro’s government demonstrate that “Cuban leaders understand that direct economic investment can be a powerful tool for economic development and job creation.”

The speech, closing a visit which also included a tour of the recently-inaugurated Mariel Free Trade Zone located to the west of Havana, centered on a defense of what Donahue considers are the advantages of an economy geared towards the market as a source of wealth.

“We fervently believe that countries with strong private sectors, free from excessive State control and ownership, have the most successful and productive economies,” he underscored.

Under Raul Castro’s government, Cuba has undertaken a process of market reforms that have opened up more and more spaces for private initiative over the past few years. More than 440,000 Cubans have been issued licenses as “self-employed.” (The number of those that have successfully maintained their economic activity has not been made public.)

Recently, the Cuban government also approved a foreign investment law that will facilitate the arrival of foreign capital on the island in coming weeks. President Raul Castro himself has spoken of the advantages of “direct investment” from abroad on several occasions.

The reform, however, maintains a number of restrictions on foreign investors, such as those related to the hiring of personnel, which must take place through government controlled employment agencies.

The US embargo also reduces investment opportunities for the extensive Cuban émigré community in the United States. It is estimated that more than 1.5 million Cubans live in the United States, mostly Florida. Many of them have been supporting their families on the island with remittances for decades.

“For years, the US Chamber of Commerce has demanded that our government eliminate the commercial embargo on Cuba. It’s time for a new approach,” Donahue said, mentioning the situation of human rights on the island, one of the most common criticisms of the Castro government.

“We believe these are serious issues (human rights and the lack of individual liberties) that must be treated by our governments through constructive and constant exchange,” he remarked.

The US businessman arrived on Tuesday in Havana, where he met with the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca.


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    Donohue said, ““We fervently believe that countries with strong private sectors, free from excessive State control and ownership, have the most successful and productive economies”. He is either uninformed of the facts or he’s a hypocritical liar.

    Sadly, the economic facts of Cuba contradict Donohue’s statement. The Cuban government maintains excessive control and ownership. The two largest corporation in Cuba, GAESA and CIMEX, which together control over 70% of the Cuban economy:

    Businesses Operated by Cuba’s FAR and GAESA S.A.

    -Gaviota S.A.: hotel and tourism industry marketing and sales.

    – CIMEX (Comercio Interior, Mercado Exterior): largest commercial
    corporation in Cuba. Manages businesses in the areas of real estate, banks,
    retail stores (over 250), shopping centers, fast food restaurants, gas
    stations, etc.

    -Servicio Automotriz S.A.: car rental services for tourists, car repair
    and gas stations.

    -Aero Gaviota: manages tourism and airlines.

    -Tecnotex: import/export of technology and services.

    -Almacenes Universal: warehouses located in Wajay, Mariel, Cienfuegos and
    Santiago.

    -Almest: real estate and tourism services.

    -Antex: customer service and commercial operations in Africa.

    -Agrotex: agriculture and livestock.

    -Sermar: exploration of Cuban waters and naval repair (shipyard).

    -Servicio la Marina: provides security and support to GAESA (some
    employees are operatives of the MININT’s Intelligence department M-6).

    -Geocuba: geodesy and cartography.

    -Cubanacán: tourism.

    Everywhere you look in Cuba, the military owned corporations are there. The US Chamber of Commerce has therefore placed itself in the position of calling the right to engage in business with the Cuban military dictatorship. That will not bring freedom and democracy to Cuba, rather it will cement the power and control of the military over the exploited Cuban people.

    • Terry Downey

      I think you’ve misinterpreted what Donohue was saying. “We fervently believe that countries with strong private sectors, free from excessive State control and ownership, have the most successful and productive economies”.

      I interpret this as Donohue schooling the Cuban government on what needs to change in Cuba to help build a successful and sustainable economy. Donohue is also tactfully implying that the Cuban government must make changes to their governing system to realistically attract, encourage, and nurture foreign investment. He’s implying that making these necessary changes will win the support of US investors, and secure their influence to effect change on US foreign policy. Making these necessary changes will inevitably set the stage for normalizing relations and help to bring prosperity to Cuba.

      • Griffin

        I agree with your comment about the point Donohue was making. I was pointing out how far Cuba is from such a thing.

        Making the economic policy changes which Donohue advocated would make Cuba more attractive to foreign investment. However, for the US embargo to be lifted, Cuba will also have to introduce democratic political reforms and improve their human rights record. Those are two things the Castro regime has ruled out.

        • Terry Downey

          It’s still possible for the two sides to negoctiate and make firm agreements on anything the US would like to pursue as being necessary. Behind closed doors, I’m sure nothing will be off the table for negotiation if it will help to move things forward for both sides. But I’m anticipating that the Cuban government will require a transitional period of time to fully implement the changes you’ve indicated. I would imagine the full scope of the changes will not go into effect until Raul steps down in 2018.

          • Griffin

            As you wrote: “It’s possible” …”would like” …”I’m sure” …”I’m anticipating” …”I would imagine”.

            That’s all very nice, but back in the real world, there have been no reports that the governments of US & Cuba are in fact discussing anything.

            Publicly, Cuba demands the lifting of the embargo, with no conditions. The regime begs for the US to release the 3 Cuban spies in exchange for Alan Gross. The top men of the regime insist there will be no political reforms ever.

            The US calls for democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba. They demand the unconditional release of Alan Gross. They confirm the embargo will remain until the conditions are met. Cuba remains on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

            So unless they are meeting secretly and saying something very different in private, I don’t see any movement at all from either side.