Isaac Risco (dpa)
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.