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The US and Cuba have restored diplomatic relations after 53 years. Above right, the US Interest Section in Havana. (Photo: US State Department)
Thomas J. Donohue, US Chamber of Commerce; Susan Segal, Council of the Americas and President Barack Obama. (Latinvex Collage wih images from US Chamber, AS/COA and White House)
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Special Reports

US Business Supports Cuba Relations

US Chamber will push to end US embargo.

BY LATINVEX STAFF

US business groups – led by the US Chamber of Commerce and the Council of the Americas – applaud President Barack Obama’s moves to normalize relations with Cuba.  

“The U.S. business community welcomes [the] announcement, and has long supported many of the economic provisions the president touched on in his remarks,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said in a statement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses.

The Americas Society and Council of the Americas congratulated the Obama Administration for taking the historic step of normalizing diplomatic relations with the government and the people of Cuba, easing existing restrictions on travel and telecommunications, allowing for limited commerce and financial links to the non-state sector, and charting a new policy that will further empower Cuban people and give much-needed support to its nascent private sector, a policy for which AS/COA has long advocated.

"We greatly welcome this reconfiguration in U.S. policy towards the Americas. The falling oil prices provide the right juncture for us to reframe the discussion at the hemispheric and even the global level," Americas Society/Council of the Americas President and CEO Susan Segal said in a statement.

Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at AS/COA and chair of the AS/COA Cuba Working Group, argues that the increased ties should not be seen as a concession, but as a way to boost independence within Cuba.

"Far from being a concession, better access to telecommunications equipment, improved contacts with U.S. citizens, and support to independent entrepreneurs will build the pockets of independence, which a half century of U.S.-ordered isolation and the Castro regime’s repression have prevented,” he said in the statement. "This bold move to change a five-decade-old foreign policy that has failed to produce any meaningful outcome is welcome."

The Council of the Americas is an international business organization whose members share a common commitment to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Americas Society, established by David Rockefeller in 1965, is an organization dedicated to education, debate and dialogue in the Americas.

Meanwhile, several law firms emphasized the benefits of the liberalization in US business with Cuba.

Frank Rodriguez, the Latin American Practice Group Leader at Shutts & Bowen, sees the primary opportunities in the immediate term for business interests and the firm’s clients in the tourist industry, including travel and hospitality. “There has already been a lot of interest in Cuba in those sectors and we expect the President’s comments to increase those interests,” he said. “There will be new opportunities for joint venture agreements with existing operators, in expanding and operating existing facilities, and in marketing more broadly to the American public.”

Meanwhile, telecommunications development will also benefit in the short term, he pointed out. 

Given the reality of the political situation in Cuba, clients of Shutts & Bowen have been measured in their approach to investment in Cuba.  “However, the President’s comments may help facilitate Miami as a potential departure point for the investments which our clients wish to cautiously investigate and pursue,” Rodriguez said.

Bowman Brown, chair of the Executive Committee and Financial Services Practice Group at Shutts & Bowen, sees more long-term, broader investment opportunities across the board, including infrastructure and real estate investment and financing, particularly in Havana and in the mountains, as well as energy investment.

Mary Rose Brusewitz,  who heads up the International practice at Strasburger & Price and was named one of Latin America's Top 50 Female Lawyers by Latinvex, says yesterday’s action in regard to Cuba will open doors for financing and investment opportunities for US clients and will open the door to conflicts regarding confiscated properties where Cubans living abroad may bring claims.” 

“Nations in Latin America like Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and others that have aligned themselves with Cuba as ‘brothers’ will need to digest this, and those nations that have been free to invest in Cuba will see new competition," she says.  

In a speech yesterday, President Barack Obama called for an end to the US economic embargo against Cuba after agreeing to restore diplomatic ties with the island, Reuters reported. However, Congress won't likely approve such a measure as Republicans will control both houses of Congress from January and most of them oppose normal relations with the communist-run island. Meanwhile, travel restrictions that make it hard for most Americans to visit will be eased, but the door will not yet be open for broad U.S. tourism on the Caribbean island.  

The US Chamber believes that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish. “In countries around the world, where leaders from across the political spectrum have made a concerted effort to liberalize their economy, we have seen a sharp rise in the quality of life of their citizens,” Donohue said. “As we witnessed on our exploratory trip to Havana earlier this year, Cuba has changed some of its economic policies to lessen government control or ownership of Cuban businesses, and subsequently, their private sector is growing. There is still work to do, on both sides of this relationship, but the changes outlined today are a substantive and positive step forward.”

It is imperative that the Cuban government build on today’s positive steps with a more ambitious economic reform agenda at home, while the US Chamber continues to push for the end of the embargo in Washington, he said.

“The Chamber and its members stand ready to assist as the Cuban people work to unleash the power of free enterprise to improve their lives,” Donohue said.

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