US Exec Praises Cuba’s Economic Reforms

By Progreso Weekly

Thomas Donohue speaking at the  University of Havana.
Thomas Donohue speaking at the University of Havana.  Photo: Ricardo Lopez Hevia /

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.”

Donohue shaking hands with Rodrigo Malmierca, minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, the man in the middle is the dean of the University, Gustavo Cobreiro Suarez. Photos: Ricardo López Hevia/
Donohue shaking hands with Rodrigo Malmierca, minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, the man in the middle is the dean of the University, Gustavo Cobreiro Suarez. Photo: Ricardo López Hevia/

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.

43 thoughts on “US Exec Praises Cuba’s Economic Reforms

  • You can visit Cuba. Legal tours are available. You can also travel illegally and the US government will never know, or if they do, won’t do anything about it. You can spend all the money you want, although US credit cards won’t work.

  • Regarding the Vietnam/US war, China was strategically a main source for transporting weapons and equipment to
    the Viet Cong. Russia, in terms of expense, spent an estimated four to five times as much as China and in fact used the open sea to ship to Vietnam but without China’s strategic location, bordering on the North of Vietnam, it is doubtful Vietnam could have lasted out the US. The shipment of materials from China to the Viet Cong was as much of a reason for US servicemen killed or wounded
    as the involvement and contribution of the Soviet Union.
    The bottom line is China owns quite a bit of US debt, sells
    a good portion of what we as American’s buy and again,
    was a direct factor in the fight against our servicemen
    who died in a tragic and senseless war. I feel the Cuban embargo and my inability to travel and spend money in Cuba is wrong and hypocritical. It also prevents us to talk openly to all Cuban’s about the disastrous consequences the Castro regime has inflicted on its people.

  • China was not the major supplier to Vietnam, the USSR was. The Vietnamese have long regarded China as a bully to the north.

    Interesting to note, the Cuban at sent advisors to North Vietnam to help th build & run their POW camps. US servicemen returning from the POW camps reported seeing & hearing The Cubans.

  • Moses, you’re a brilliant poster and I enjoy your writings.
    I believe that the transfer of power in Cuba is changing and you and many other ex-pat’s should in fact be part of that process. It is a country that has your DNA and I feel it will happen sooner than later. The problem is the Castro’s and what occurred on their dime that prevents many of those who left and in fact supported a “change” from the Battista disaster that is circumventing this sure to happen event.
    I support you and know many like you who are stable and
    have the wherewithal for this to be expedited. I do hope you continue to breathe to allow this to happen. Personally, I think the Roman Catholic Church can be the facilitator. PS, as an 11 year old, back when Castro took over, I knew he was a Marxist and not a good person and yes, took the world to the brink of annihilation.

  • Terry wrote:

    “…through discussion, proposal, and respectful negotiation, I believe the Cuban government will agree to set the stage for many changes to come…”

    Why do you believe that? It would be nice if it were to happened that way, but it would also be contrary to 55 years of established practice of the Castro regime and it would contradict their current stated policy. There is no evidence of such willingness by the Castro regime to negotiate democratic or political reform.

    So why do you believe this will happen?

  • The two sides are now talking? When & where did this happen? The Cuban govt is not in talks with the US govt. All that happened is a group of US businessmen came to Cuba for a tour.

    The US govt is still calling for meaningful democratic reforms. The Cuba govt is saying no way to any political reforms, but they are open to foreign investment in their military owned enterprises which already dominate the Cuban economy.

    This is not a step in the right direction. It’s moving the cause of freedom & democracy in Cuba further away. To invest in the Castro regime is to strengthen the regime.

  • The economic symbiosis between China & America is much more complex than “China has sucked the life blood out of America”. Both have benefitted from the arrangement, while both face problems from it as well.

  • I advocate for the right of the Cuban people to decide for themselves what kind government they want.

    Are you trying to suggest the Cuban people want to be ruled by a military dictatorship which denies the basic rights and freedoms of the people while routinely repressing dissent?

  • I agree that Cuba is not China. I wonder if our rapprochement with China would be where it is today if Mao was still the head of government in the same fashion that the Castros still run Cuba. I am suggesting that there is a great challenge to overcome by the US to make amends with the guys who wanted to drop nuclear bombs on Americans.

  • Did the US government acquire significant commitments from China to modify their governing system before moving forward with doing business 25 years ago? The answer is no. Nixon walked the US government (and the American people) down the garden path without locking in place the necessary negotiated agreements with China. The rush to exploit cheap Chinese labor was much more important at the time. America’s lust for money is their primary motivator, and their Achilles heel. But the US government has the opportunity to get it right with Cuba through negotiated agreements for change before opening their doors to do business. It’s far too late to do anything about China. China has sucked the life blood out of America, and will continue to do so until China is the most powerful nation on earth.

  • It’s coming because the two sides are now talking. That’s half the battle resolved right there. But no doubt the US government and it’s ambassadors for change will not agree to significant changes in US foreign policy for Cuba unless the Cuban government also shows a commitment to significantly change their governing system over time. But through discussion, proposal, and respectful negotiation, I believe the Cuban government will agree to set the stage for many changes to come that will help to satisfy America’s concerns.

  • There will only be political changes in Cuba if and when the Cuban people demand it. You have got to get out of this patronising Plattist mentality that Cubans are unable to think for themselves and need another country to force them in the right direction.

  • The problem is if the US lifts the embargo, and investment from US corporations flows into Cuba, the regime will be re-invigorated and will have no motivation to change. Moreover, they will have more money and resources to repress the people.

    Consider the experience of China. The US & China started doing business together over 25 years ago. Has there been any move toward democracy? No. The Communist Party still rules, the Chinese military is more powerful than ever, and pro-democracy activists are still arrested, jailed or exiled.

  • You hope democratic change is coming. You imagine democratic change is come. But what evidence do you see that it is coming? Given that several top people in the regime have specifically ruled out any political reform, why do you think political change is coming? Given that the grime continues to harass, intimidate an arrest dissidents, why do you think this means political change is coming?

    I find myself, reluctantly, having to agree with some of what Dani wrote: the American business leaders don’t give a hoot about democracy in Cuba. All they want is for the Castros to open up to business. That will be a tragic future for the Cuban people.

  • Foreign policy should not be “one size fits all”. What works or is acceptable for one country may not be what is useful for another. The US remains strong because we stand for basic human values but it gets complicated fast. All those schoolyard idioms don’t fly in the real world. Sayings like ‘walk the talk’, ‘what’s good for the goose…”, etc. It’s not hypocrisy, its reality. Hoping that Cuba be given the same latitude on human rights that Saudi Arabia enjoys is not “common sense”. It’s naïve.

  • Moses, the real reason, and we all know this, is the powerful lobby that exists within the expat’s living in the USA. New Jersey and Florida have a huge “voting” base
    of Cuban’s who most definitely have the power to persuade and keep intact the embargo. I understand this but it’s counter productive. It also doesn’t make our country look effective within South and Central America.
    China, as you also are aware, was the major supplier to
    Vietnam during the horrific war that took over 55,000 of our young men during the sixties and early seventies. Cuba can never to placed in that category and as a remnant from those horrific days, I still despise Red China!

  • Moses, that’s a very honest and candid response. It’s also quite accurate in my opinion. But does that necessarily make it right? In all good conscience, should you too then be lobbying for more consistency in US foreign policy involving totalitarian states…especially when little Cuba undeniably represents absolutely no consequential threat to the US? Or is it more appreciable to make an example of poor little Cuba by holding that country back due to the Cuban government’s neglect of certain human rights and freedom of speech? Where does one draw the line on hypocrisy…or the pretense of justice for all? Admitting that there is indeed a double-standard is not a justifiable argument or valid conclusion to leave one feeling contented. In all good conscience, an “it is what it is” attitude is simply a cop out…in my respectful opinion. And fence-sitting certainly doesn’t do anything to help motivate your government to recognize this hypocrisy and adjust their foreign policy accordingly in all fairness to the Cuban people. I’m not criticizing your attitude…I’m asking you to allow your common sense to be your guide and motivator to help support a change in your government’s foreign policy concerning Cuba as well.

  • The comparison to China, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia is often made. Why do we make exceptions for these countries and none for Cuba. Here’s why: China was too big to be ignored. Vietnam was and remains significant militarily. Saudi Arabia? Oil. Tiny, poor and geographically insignificant Cuba brings none of these strategic advantages. So, we are able to bully Cuba as we would bully, when we can, any other country that chooses to oppose democracy and freedom.

  • But Moses, negotiation from strength is exactly what I’m proposing too. Change will still need to be leveraged, but through enticement…not through a policy of isolation, economic starvation, and belligerence. I feel that much more can be accomplished through tactful and respectful dialogue, mutual cooperation, and negotiated agreements. Nothing of any value will be accomplished if we maintain an isolationist attitude, rife with animosity. As Ronald Reagan once said… “Trust, but verify.” We need to collectively give the Cuban government the latitude to make the necessary changes on their own…in due time, through subtle influence, enticement, and tactful proposal. This will lead to negotiated agreements for scheduled changes, with progress to be monitored and verified at each stage. We might not see the full scope of change in our lifetimes, but the road to peaceful normalization of relations will be set. True enough…we might also be giving the Cuban government enough rope to hang themselves as well. There’s something to be gained from that too. But without either side making an effort, no significant change will come. No potential for change will be possible.

  • We have made the decision to normalize relations with China and Vietnam and the results have been spectacular in terms of reduction of poverty and employment. While we devastated Vietnam in a war we lost we are now playing a constructive role. One party rule still exists in Vietnam and China but the economies of both countries have taken off. Why is Cuba held to a different standard? Do we insist in elections in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states? We should encourage increased private sector business in Cuba especially of small business which is helped by remittances from families in the US. Makes no sense to keep a policy that has failed for 55 years. The US could have a large influence in Cuba if it engaged rather than obstruct.

  • Terry, it has been shown over the last half-century that the Castros have NO interest in change for the sake of improving conditions for Cubans. They have only conceded to reforms when their backs have been against the wall. Fidel’s reforms in the 90’s were rescinded as soon as Chavez began to send cheap oil. Tyrants do not behave as we would have them to. Putin has every opportunity to cooperate with the rest of the world. The US was prepared to ‘reset’ relations with Russia. How did that work out? If the US softens our stance with Cuba, in the hope that the Castros will respond in kind with political reforms, as you suggest, we will be disappointed. Raul has said publicly there will be NO political reform. What you see in Griffin as a “jaded attitude” is what I see as a “realistic attitude”. The Castros see concession in the form of unilateral normalization of relations from the US as a weakness. Negotiation from strength is the best strategy with these tyrants.

  • Moses, see my response to Griffin below. All good things take time.

  • You should have realized by now that neither Donahue or US governments care about democracy, dissidents, the Miami Mafia or human rights. Kennedy sent a message to Castro “I don’t mind you being a Communist, I like Communists as long as you are a Tito or a Toure”. Obama said in 2011 the main reason the embargo would remain was because Cuba’s reform “had not been aggressive enough”. Donahue is reiterating Obama’s view.

  • It’s coming…that’s the point. Again, you want everything immediately. Anybody with half a brain knows that THAT is simply not going to happen. But progress will come over time now that the two sides are talking. You have such a jaded attitude that it’s impossible for you to celebrate any positive steps forward. Glass half-empty, as usual, and still blind to the inevitable potential that can be realized by way of leveraged influence and negotiation before, during, and after normalizing relations.

  • I have the same question as Griffin. How do you see making the Castros and their chosen few rich will improve the lives of everyday Cubans. Without the freedom to think and speak as you choose, how is life better?

  • Donahue failed to mention anything about democracy and human rights for the Cuban people. The Castro regime has rules out any political reform while the repression and arrests of dissidents has increased.

    So what is it about this that looks like progress to you? Seriously. What is improving for the Cuban people?

  • Time to let Cubans decide for themselves what kind of government they want. Time to allow a free and independent press. Time to allow open and free expression. Time to get rid of the Castros.

  • Well…I’m pleased. This is exactly what I’ve been proposing should happen to help transition the normalization of relations and help the people of Cuba to realize a much brighter future for themselves. Now if everyone of influence within the US power brokerage would jump on board (and they will), the end of the war on Cuba is going to happen much sooner rather than later…and without a change in Cuba’s governing system…much to the disgust and continued belly-aching of some here. There are some who would rather continue fist-pounding their hardline stance to help promote change in Cuba…and we all know how well that hardline stance has worked out for all concerned.

    Further changes will definitely be needed as things progress. But further changes should now be encouraged…and not demanded. The US has always had the power to effect meaningful change in Cuba. But unfortunately the US government has tried to starve the Castros out, instead of building bridges to influence change; bridges to support respectful dialogue and negociation; and bridges to help transition change in Cuba over time. If the US had adopted this new soft-sell approach decades ago, there would likely now be a democratically elected government in Cuba today.

  • Now that is an interesting contrast in editorial emphasis!

    “(Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday urged Cuba to speed up and extend market-style economic reforms, saying world investors would respond and that it might be the best path toward better relations with the United States.

    Chamber President Thomas Donohue extolled the virtues of capitalism and free markets in the communist-ruled country, once taboo subjects here, and told Cubans that reducing excessive government control of the economy was the best assurance of prosperity.

    “The more Cuba can do to demonstrate its commitment to reform, and the more it can do to address and resolve disputes in our relations, the better the prospects will be for changes in U.S. policy,” Donohue said…

    He cited the protection of intellectual property rights and the lack of an independent arbitration system for business disputes as areas where Cuba must improve to attract foreign investment.”

    That does put it in a somewhat different light, as far as economic policy goes. Now if only he added support for democracy and human rights in Cuba.

  • Thank you for including that closing paragraph describing your specific dysfunction.

  • You have never been to Cuba nor do you know any Cubans, yet you profess to know what’s best for that country. Now, you write what I KNOW and what I believe. You are wrong about Cuba and you are wrong about me.

  • The Reuters article covering Donohue’s remarks is slanted differently. According to Reuters, Donohue seems to be admonishing the Castros to “do more reforms” to better attract US investment. Here’s the bottom line: As long a Sen. Menendez is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Cmte., no legislation lifting the embargo will see the light of day unless conditions required by Helms-Burton are met. Likewise, Obama will not further endanger Democrats hoping to hang on to the Senate and lose even more seats in the House by doing anything that appears to assist a Castro “commie” regime without major political changes in Cuba. This trip to Cuba is merely a ‘Texas Two-Step’ to drum up Cuban support for further changes in Cuba. Like the Cuban twitter Trojan horse strategy, the purpose of this trip is to get a larger group of Cubans excited and hopeful about business with the US. Here is the link to the Reuters article:

  • Thanks for that intelligent and well-constructed rebuttal. As usual, the truth is hard to deny.

  • What Moses means by “sustainable corrupt capitalist system” is the direction Raul Castro is taking Cuba, with the help of any foreign corporations who want to join him in exploiting the Cuban people.

    As Raul Castro and Díaz-Canel have made clear, “There will be no political reforms.” There will be no democracy of any sort: no liberal democracy and no democratic socialism. The future for Cuba will be the single party control of a military dictatorship with a rich & powerful elite.

  • Capitalism is amoral. Should Cuba transition to capitalism, it is likely it will be corrupt because the socialist regime which precedes it is corrupt. You should realize by now that in the real world, your definitions of “communism”, “socialism”, “totalitarianism” are incorrect. Now you continue in your private definitions of political terms by misstating the definition of “oligarchy”. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, with whom you will likely disagree, “oligarchy” is defined as “a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people. : the people that control a country, business, etc. : government or control by a small group …” There is no regard to being ‘wealthy’ in their definition. But, of course, you know best.

  • spin away

  • You speak of “sustainable corrupt capitalist system(s) ” .
    Capitalist systems have been sustainable ONLY because they have corrupted the electoral systems that were meant to control them to the extent that capitalists own and run governments in capitalist countries.
    Democratic socialism could actually come about and replace the state -run socialist -STYLE systems were the U.S. to stop its war on the revolution.
    but a shift to capitalism absolutely locks Cuba into permanent economic totalitarianism .
    FYI, an oligarchy is a government run by the wealthy such as in the USA.
    A plutocracy (rule by the powerful) would be a better description for the GOC where money does not enter into a campaign-less electoral system.

  • The embargo on Cuba is a part of a U.S. foreign policy that has existed for close to 100 years and at least since the U.S/European invasion of the nascent Soviet Union in 1918.
    It should come as no surprise that despite all the calls from a great many quarters to end the embargo as useless, ineffective, immoral, the GOUSA continues to stick to that policy .
    A failure to understand the importance , the CENTRALITY of the U.S. foreign policy imperative to crush any and all movements that would work toward a democratic economy and/or society is the reason most people cannot understand the embargo and quibble over its details and purpose..
    The perfect example would be Moses who, in a case of situational stupidity* actual believes that what the U.S. is doing to Cuba is for the purposes of installing democratic institutions when he KNOWS that 99% of all U.S. interventions are for the purposes of crushing democratic institutions and that the odds that Cuba is an exception to this rule are astronomical. .
    * Situational stupidity: The condition in which an otherwise intelligent person feels so strongly about something that his emotions obstructs his ability to access his reason, rendering him functionally indistinguishable from a person who is natively stupid.

  • Time to help the Castro regime elite get rich, rich rich!!!!

  • Cuba is safe for investment? Tell that to the Canadian businessmen that the Castro regime tossed into jail and confiscated their businesses from. Tell that to the British firm Coral Capital Group, who’s director Stephen Purvis was arrested and held in jail for two years.

  • A country deeply in debt and continually operating with a deficit…..that’s just the one you want to take advice from, do as we say and do…. you will soon be in as bad a shape as we are, approx. 45 million Americans receiving food stamps, and that number is rising weekly. Americans have the most amusing way of calculating the rise in employment, laughable to say the least. They are not able to print money as fast as they are spending it and the Federal Reserve is a joke, plain and simple. Change is coming, want to guess what or who the next “power” is going to be ??? England ruled the world for a time and what happened…..they now are like that little dog in cartoon that runs after “Spike” and asks what he wants done next, countries that do not learn from other countries mistakes are soon headed in the same direction……broke, powerless, but ever so ready to threaten very small countries with war, yet they themselves have never won a war…………sad but true fact.

  • There are few better than the Castros at this type of ‘dog and pony’ show. Likewise, Donahue is the perfect ‘useful idiot’ to blithely appear to accept all that he is told as the gospel. Despite his corporate influence, he is does not have the 217 votes in the House nor the 51 votes in the Senate to lift the embargo. So why all the encouraging words? His visit whets the appetite of the junior Castro oligarchy who are waiting in the wings for the ‘historicos’ to die off. With the exception of a few idealogues, most at this level just want to get rich. Donahue’s visit will put pressure on the Castros to move the ball forward in whatever direction necessary to attract American businesses. In his wake are scores of salivating wannabe Cuban millionaires who see their Russian counterparts as the template for how to go from a sinking corrupt socialist-style regime to sustainable corrupt capitalist system.

  • time to end the embargo and not let old line cubans in miami dictate our policy.

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