Cuba to Host US Chamber of Commerce Leaders

By Wilfredo Cancio Isla*  (Café Fuerte)

Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

HAVANA TIMES — The US Chamber of Commerce (USCC), one of the most powerful groups of political influence in the nation, will conduct a senior level trip to Cuba this month to explore the economic transformations undertaken by the government of Raul Castro.

Two members of the USCC, linked to the Cuba Working Group, confirmed that the trip will take place in May and that the delegation will be headed by Thomas J. Donohue, president of the organization and a strong supporter of lifting the US embargo on the island.

“The Chamber of Commerce is preparing this trip with a particularly keen interest in the economic and investment outlook in Cuba,” said a businessman who asked not to be identified. “I think it’s something that will have much impact in Washington.”

High Level Visit

The source said that in addition to Donohue the delegation will include American businessman Steve Van Andel, chairman of the board of directors of the giant Amway Corp. and current USCC vice president.

Crossing the avenue in Havana.  Photo: Juan Suárez
Crossing the avenue in Havana. Photo: Juan Suárez

Contacted by Diario Las Americas, Tyler Hernandez, director of communications for the USCC, declined to give details on the exact date of the visit.

The high level USCC trip to Cuba comes at a crucial time for the Cuban economy, eyeing a possible expansion of trade ties with the United States. The Cuban government has launched the Mariel Special Development Zone and is about to implement a new Foreign Investment Law, which takes effect in June.

According to the sources, the visitors have planned meetings with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, and Orlando Hernandez Guillen, president of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, plus a tour of the Mariel complex.

The trip to Havana has as a context an event organized by the Chamber’s Cuba Working Group of in Washington.

Cabañas will speak to the business leaders

On 20 May, Cuban Independence Day, there will be a special presentation at the USCC headquarters by Ricardo Zuniga, special assistant to President Barack Obama for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. A day later, on the same stage, Jose Ramon Cabañas, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, is invited to speak.

The trip by the top USCC executives will be the first visit in more than a decade. In July 1999, during a three day stay in Havana, Donohue met with Cuban ministers and President Fidel Castro.

On that occasion, Donohue also spoke with representatives of a small sector of self-employed Cubans and predicted that a long road lay ahead to strengthen the private sector on the island.

“I suspect this will be more of a marathon than a short distance race,” Dohonue told reporters before leaving Havana on the trip 15 years ago.

And time proved him right. It was not until October 2010 that the Cuban government authorized more options for private work and three years later expanded the list of activities to 201. The official figure for self-employed workers is now 455,000 people (although it has not been made public how many of these have maintained their licenses).

Tourism would receive a big boost if the travel ban on US citizens was lifted by Washington.
Touristy Obispo St. Old Havana.  Photo: Juan Suarez

It is no coincidence that those who accompany Donohue represent corporations tied to two pillars of the reforms applied by Raul Castro: the self-employed sector and agricultural production.

Critical of the embargo

Cuba has been forced to implement a reduction of the state payroll by almost a million workers and advocate for increased agricultural production to alleviate the impact of food purchases abroad, amounting to more than US $2 billion annually.

However, sales of agricultural products from the US to Cuba continued to plummet in 2013, reaching $ 348.7 million dollars, the lowest figure in the last seven years in the limited bilateral trade relationship.

Donohue is a fervent supporter of radically changing the map of relations between Washington and Havana by lifting restrictions on US citizens travel and the embargo on the island.

“In the interests of the two countries, it is time to turn the page… The embargo has failed and we are at a time of change,” said the businessman during a hearing before the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee in 2009.

The US Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of over 300,000 direct business partners, and about three million businesses through its affiliates in state and local chambers. It is the main stronghold of lobbying at Congress, with an annual budget of $ 136 million for such efforts, higher than all other lobbying groups in Washington.

*Published in Spanish by Diario Las Americas

32 thoughts on “Cuba to Host US Chamber of Commerce Leaders

  • There is very little chance that the bulk of the Helms-Burton conditions will be met. The only things that would be negotiable are compensation for US companies and some of the rougher edges of the human rights issues, but then only on a quid pro quo basis. The US Chamber of Commerce know this as do the Brazilian government and companies involved with the Mariel Project. So the question is what are they doing in Cuba?

  • You are really naïve. Even the Castros know that the Port of Mariel works only if the embargo is lifted. I always marvel at what type of person actually believed that there would be a 10 million ton sugar harvest or that a super cow was possible. Even more recently, that the moringa plant would be the next superfood. The Castros depend on people like you to stay in power.

  • Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela together would be over 330 mil plus all the other developing countries in the area.

  • I see your point given the wealth of nearby countries with populations of 330 million people with comparable purchasing power and production output similar to the US. There are lots of other countries that could take advantage of these supermax vessels. Sure, I get that.

  • There are many more countries around Cuba, and the US isn’t the only country in the world. Many others could use Mariel in Cuba as a hub for the consolidation of cargo.

  • The main thing is the Canadian economy is too small, and therefore the Canadian dollar lacks the necessary weight of a potential reserve currency.

    Other than that, the Canadian economy is doing rather well lately.

  • Well, I disagree. One thing is for sure. As long as the embargo is in place, no ship that is in Port Mariel can call on a US port for 6 months. So that kills the ‘unload in Cuba for re-shipment to the US’ theory, doesn’t it?

  • If there is no Castro as President and the other Helms-Burton conditions are met, I agree that lifting the embargo will be considered after Raul retires. Without a free media, without open multiparty elections, the stipulations set forth in Helms-Burton will not have been met. No US President wants to be the President who capitulated to Communist Cuba without significant concessions to US demands. In Vietnam, Clinton is credited with clarifying the fate of American prisoners of war and missing in action who had remained unaccounted for after the war.

  • Building democracies in tough. In our own history, the US endured a Civil war less than 100 years after the signing of our Constitution. The struggles which confront the Iraqui and Libyan peoples in the next few years should come as no surprise. Afghanistan just held its second national election since the US invasion. Your anti-US bias has colored your judgment. These are two hard-fought and wobbly but worthwhile success stories and not failures.

  • It was a poor choice of words. I understand that the Canadian dollar “tracks” the movement of the USD in the market. For that reason to use the Canadian currency would only add additional transaction costs to the exchange. Shale fuel technology in addition to improved conservation and energy efficiency had put the US on a path to energy self-sufficiency in the next few years.

  • The power curve in Congress which guards the sanctity of the US embargo has been quite clear what must happen before a bill lifting the embargo in the Senate should even be considered:
    (1) No Castro as President
    (2) Legalize independent media
    (3) NO political prisoners
    (4) A date set for open, multiparty elections
    At the periphery is the debate over how movement toward a market-driven economy should be made possible. There is a valid argument that Raul’s current, albeit tepid, reforms are a positive step in that direction.
    Once these above conditions are met, the Senate could begin to seriously consider a repeal of Helms-Burton.

  • The value of the Canadian dollar is not pegged to the US dollar. The Canadian currency trades freely on the markets. As it happens, because the Canadian economy is closely tied to the US economy (our largest trading partner by far), the Canadian economy, and the dollar, moves in tandem with the US dollar.

    A few years ago, some people were predicting the Euro would become the reserve currency. Well, given the EU’s persistent economic crisis, that idea has quickly faded. Then the Chinese Yuan was touted as the next reserve currency. But the Chinese government artificially keeps the value of the yuan lowered. That interference negates its utility as a reserve currency. Plus, the Chinise economy is showing some dangerous signs recently as their hugely inflated real estate market is starting to implode.

    The Japanese Yen? Don’t make me laugh.

    Despite it’s many troubles, the US has several advantages the rest of the world lacks. A strong and advanced economy & world-leading scientific & technological development. The next key ingredient may come as a surprise to Americans, but the US also has a functioning democratic system of government under the rue of law. Not perfect by a long stretch, but better than most countries around the world.

    Oh, and fracking has now produced an energy boom in America, which counts for a lot to a reserve currency.

  • If these two are not failures in your view you have the bar set about ground level .

  • You are being rather too negative. All the signs are pointing to a massive sellout of the gusanos. At the moment they are gradually preparing the groundwork. A similar situation happened with Vietnam and the US had no qualms of betraying all the veterans of that conflict. I stand by my prediction that the embargo will be gone within a year of Raul retiring. Any other country would have given up on the farce years ago.

  • Thanks for the correction about Helms-Burton Moses. Do you have any view upon the viablilty of the *section of the Cuban Democracy Act which directs the President “to take steps to end the United States trade embargo of Cuba ” when two conditions have been met etc.
    *Section 1708(b)(3) of the CDA, 22 U.S.C. (section) 6007(b)(3).
    The CDA includes “to maintain sanctions on the Castro regime so long as it continues to refuse tto move towards democratization and greater respect for human rights” and “to encourage free and fair elections to determine Cuba’s political future.
    The specific reference to the Castro regime rather than to the Government of Cuba is interesting – but I don’t think that succession by the Castro selected Diaz Canel as President in 2018 would change anything.
    However, there is the interesting potential for Madura to lose the election due that year in Venezuela and the dual effect of loss of cheap Venezuela oil coupled with the presidential change could provide a useful dynamic.
    Yes, I think that Raul recognises that Cuba needs capitalism, but it is anathema to Fidel who has used it as the big bad wolf for 55 years. On the ground there has been little effect. Although some casas have notices saying “se vende esta casa” there are virtually no sales as Cubans don’t have the money.
    Finally regarding the Canadian dollar, it floats on the market and is currently at 92 cents US. But Cuba has tied the Cuban Converttible to the US dollar although penalising the exchange of US dollars by 10%. Two years ago I saw a painting in Trinidad de Cuba of an ancient US convertible Cadillac loaded with youngsters and bearing the title: THE CUBAN CONVERTIBLE

  • As you know Moses, shipping companies will ship in the most efficient way they can and the triple E vessels will cost the least per ton of cargo and have the fastest transit time in the world. Shippers don’t load vessels to suit the port, they will load them to the max. and seek a port that can take their draft to maximize the tonage per voyage. That is why they could unload completely in Mariel as a hub to reload smaller vessels to go to the minor draft ports of Houston and Louisiana. The major ports in the US aren’t upgrading like other ports around the world because there is no money available to do so as the US is too much in debt. Other major ports around the world unlike the US, are upgrading to take up to 20 meters draft (65ft) and some US ports have the problem of bridges that limit vessel air draft.(overhead height) I have worked in the cargo ship area for many years and know how they operate. By the way the Canadian dollar is not pegged to the US dollar and it’s exchange rate varies daily with all world currencies not only the US dollar. By the way for your information, a supertanker, as you call it carries petroleum or other liquid cargo not containers, tripple E vessels only carry containers. The tripple E vessel could load an amalgamation of containers from many ports in South America etc. for her return voyage. By the way Houston and Louisiana aren’t dredged to 45ft yet.

  • ….I forgot to add Saddam Hussein to that list. Remember him?

  • I don’t know where you are from but surely you heard about what happened to Osama Bin Laden and Muamar Gaddafi?

  • send the marines,when was the last time you fellows won a war. I am not talking about Panama or Grenada etc.When some country is able to fight back you fellows leave with your tale between your legs.

  • “Pegged” with regards to the USD simply means its value is measured against the USD in world markets. The more you comment, the more wrong you are. Stop while you are ahead.

  • You are reading measurements but you are not in touch with shipping realities. The channel depth needs you cite are extremes for just a handful of superships not yet built and based on fully-loaded fully-fueled vessels. The few in operation once built will not immediate change the shipping world of hundreds of smaller ships that will still be in operation for many years to come. The business decision by these ports to delay expansion is based the cost/benefit. Like your comments regarding “pressure” on Obama to make nice with communist Cuba, your hopes for the Port of Mariel are wildly optimistic if you think that lil’ ole’ Cuba having one deepwater port will suddenly change the balance of power in the shipping business. First, Cuba will not produce enough of anything to warrant an empty ship to call on Cuba. Likewise, Cuba will not be buying enough of anything to justify sending a supertanker loaded to the gills to call on the Port of Mariel to be completely unloaded. Given that FACT, the only reason a supertanker would stop in Cuba would be as a waystation. The Castros can do the ‘stopover’ business ‘until the cows come home’ and they will never threaten the Port business done in Houston or Miami. The complete loading or unloading of ships is where the $$$ is my friend. That is also a FACT, As to your last comment, I strongly prefer a government that responds to the needs of business over what exists in Cuba, where the Castros tell ‘business’ what to do. How has that strategy worked out so far?

  • Forgot to add that the Canadian dollar is not pegged to the US it is traded and the value changes daily.

  • I have done my research Moses, you see the port of south Louisiana and Houston can’t take vessels with a draft of 13 mtrs(45ft) now and will need $100,000,000 per year for several years to dredge the rivers to that depth. The tripple E vessels that Maersk is building (10 ordered) have a draft of 15.5 meters (50.85ft) and will carry some 18000 TEU. The port of Mariel however is dredged to 18 meters (60ft) and could be used to unload and forward the containers on smaller vessels that can enter ports with insufficient draft. The new Panama canal after it’s now stalled expansion project due to lack of funds will only be able to handle vessels with a draft of 15 meters (49ft) and even these can’t enter the ports of Louisiana and Houston now. You see the cargo doesn’t have to be destined for Cuba to be passed through it. I know that some ports make $150.00 per container to unload them, could be another good scource of income for Cuba and good for the capitalists and US gov. that don’t want to spend the multy billions to upgrade ports and can put lots of pressure on Congress by threat to cut off the donation money flow. Thats how big buisiness controls government isn’t it?

  • Actually, Helms-Burton was signed into law by President Clinton. It was a bill introduced largely in reaction to the Castros downing of the unarmed Brothers to the Rescue plane which killed four Americans. At that time, there was a groundswell of support for a military response to this Cuban action. This legislation should properly be considered a peaceful compromise between moderate and extreme factions which opposed the Castro dictatorship.

  • Mariel the port financed by Brazil is open. A new highway is being built from the autopista linking to Mariel. But apart from the odd container labelled Hamburg there appears to be little increase in traffic. The idea of Cuba filling a supermax vessel with 20,000 containers is ridiculous. What would Cuba export? Almost 80% of food requirements are being imported, there is insufficient coffee to supply Cubans, Sherrit are already handling the nickel and the oil from Venezuela arrives at Cienfuegos on the south side of the island. Even Minister Murillo Jorge by profession an economist, was expressing frustration at the extraordinary Congress held in April about chicken and milk production. Frozen chicken is imported from Brazil, Mexico, Canada and tthe US, but is not always available in the Government shops which only accept the convertible peso, not tthe Cuban peso. Some communities have been unable to buy coffee for six months. Time to address the reality of Cuba rather than the wishful thinking of sociologists.Of course any increase in communication between the US and Cuba is to be welcomed – aftter all, only the US itself and Israel voted against the UN resolution to lift the embargo., 182 nations voted for it including the NATO allies. Israel remembers the Yum Kippur war when Cuba supplied 500 tank drivers to Bashar Assad.
    My memory is that it was Kennedy who introduced the embargo and that it was reinforced under the George W Bush administration – including Helms-Burton. Obama cannot lift it, it requires I think a two thirds majority of the Congress.

  • Do your research on ADM. These are the type of capitalists that the word “savage capitalism” best describes. They start wars in banana republics like Cuba and their stock price goes up. Despite the childish tone to your comment, it does reflect exactly what I was referring to. You likely see this as a weakening of US resolve to maintain strong opposition to communism. Do your homework. The USCC is as far right and anti-communists as Calle Ocho in Miami is anti-Castro. To the credit of the Castro oligarchy, they clearly recognize the end is near and are choosing to get in bed with the ‘big boys’. Who should be worried are all those minor league European businesses who thought they were going to get a leg up on their US counterparts. If the best you have got to support your position is your reaction above let the grown-ups debate from here on.

  • Every one of your points is false. There is no pressure to do anything with Cuba. Besides, the embargo is federal law. Obama can’t change that by executive order. He needs Congress to act. The Port of South Louisiana and the Port of Houston, Texas are both nearby ports quite large enough to accept these larger container vessels. The expansion to the Panama canal is specifically intended to handle these supertankers. There has been nor is there expected to be a shift to any other currency as the world’s reserve currency, including the Canadian dollar. It’s value is pegged to the USD so such a move would be stupid. Given the recent bilateral agreements between the US and members of the Pacific Alliance countries in Latin America, there no change in the currency of exchange even being considered. If you believe your silly comments to be true, cite your sources.

  • It is obvious that Moses is shocked by this development and is trying to shape it to suit his own perspective. The Obama admin. is fealing the pressure from all sides to modify it’s embargo and let buisines try to get in on the manufacturing rush to Mariel. There are no ports in the US that can accept the supermax vesels coming on line that can carry 20,000 containers and draw 17 meters of water, Mariel port can and will become a transfer point of cargo to Latin America and could become one to the US. These vessels can’t even pass through the modified Panama canal as they are too large. They will however pass through the new canal being built by china in Nicaragua. The US is loosing it’s grip on world domenance as can be seen by recent abandonment of the US dollar in favor of the Canadian dollar by Latin American and some European countries . It’s a slippery slope down but it looks like the US has started it’s journey.

  • Omar, your comment lacks any content. So what do you have to say on the visit of the Chamber people? It would be a lot more constructive if you added to the discussion instead of just insulting another commenter.

  • The collection of stupidities in this comment by Moses, is even larger than those of the Ten Commandments. Marines my balls, Moses. Go and smoke your mana.

  • The codification of the US embargo through the passage of the Helms-Burton act which seemed like overkill in 1996 now appears to have been a stroke of genius. The USCC is an iconic symbol of capitalism in the US. A high-level visit from this group to Cuba is a powerful signal that a sea course change is underway. Sympathizers to the Castro regime will wish to believe that a unilateral lifting of the embargo is in play. Nothing could be further from the truth. This visit simply means that the CASTROS have come to terms with the inevitability of the return to capitalism and are hoping to make the best of it. No one should be naïve to think that the Castros still don’t have a few more arrows in their quiver. To the extent they can pretend that Castro & Co. is open for business, they will certainly try. But just as the Castros are masters of deception, USCC leadership are titans of business. These business leaders have heard every lie and seen every trick. The Castros can cheat Canadian and French businesses and get away with it. If they cheat American businesses, we send the Marines. For those of us who support continuing the
    embargo until democracy comes to Cuba, this trip is good news.

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