HAVANA TIMES – “It is time to begin a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, addressing students, academicians and other guests at the University of Havana on Thursday (May 29).
“On the basis of what we’ve seen, we consider that this period of transition in your economic system may possibly be of transition in our policies,” he said, according to the official website Cubadebate. “And it’s very promising for both countries.”
Jorge Hernández Martínez, director of the Center for Hemispheric Studies and the United States, introduced the U.S. visitor with such a glowing biography that Donohue began his address by saying “That sounds like my obituary,” drawing laughter from the audience.
The U.S. visitor spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in the university’s Grand Lecture Hall, a chamber reserved for special events.
“We have come to Cuba to observe the seriousness of [the economic reforms] and to encourage and support them as much as we can,” Donohue said, quoted by The Associated Press. “The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in the citizens.”
“The reforms that we have observed in this country […] can have a positive influence in the lives of its citizens,” he said. “Let us hope that they continue and we encourage them to expand. The businesses in the world economy will surely value that.”
“The more Cuba can do to demonstrate its commitment to the reforms, and the more that can be done to deal with and resolve the conflicts in our relations, the better will be the outlook for changes in the policy of the United States,” he said, quoted by the Reuters news agency.
For many years, U.S.-Cuba relations “have been marked by differences and bound by their past. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Unrestricted travel between the two countries could give the new generations of Cubans and Americans “an opportunity to know each other, to learn from one another, to do business together, to prosper together and help each other as friends and neighbors,” he said.
Donohue said that he hoped that “other Americans, in addition to Cuban-Americans, could come and convince themselves of how much we share.”
While citing China and Vietnam as examples of communist governments that have adopted market-oriented economies, Donohue stressed the value of private enterprise.
“We’re profoundly convinced that the countries with strong private sectors […] will have the most successful and productive economies,” he said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been an aggressive defender of normal relations between Havana and Washington, Donohue said, adding that “there are some very good business on the island worth investing in.”
About the trade embargo the U.S. imposed on Cuba decades ago, “the Chamber of Commerce thinks that it is time to eliminate the longstanding political barriers.”
“Cuba is safe for investment, not only for the citizens of the United States — we’re 90 miles apart — but also for the entire world, taking into account the changes that are taking place,” Donohue said.
Asked how much longer the embargo might last, he answered, “It depends on how well we can communicate with one another.”
Donohue and about a dozen U.S. businessmen arrived in Cuba on Tuesday. Since then, they have visited at least one cooperative and toured the Development Zone at the Port of Mariel. They have also met with several self-employed entrepreneurs.