HAVANA (HPD) — A forum of businessmen from the United States and Cuba began Wednesday in Havana, the first since the island opened the possibility for its small industries to find foreign partners and in the midst of a tense but He had small gestures of recent approach.
About 25 members of companies from the North American country arrived accompanied by Focus, a US consulting firm that seeks to promote commercial ties on the island and headed by Phil Peters and Paul Johnson. “It’s an informative conference,” Peters told The Associated Press, for whom the new Cuban regulations –approved in September 2021– that allow small and medium-sized companies to legally incorporate and take on foreign partners is an opportunity.
Of the visitors, five are Cuban-American businessmen, reported the organizers, who did not offer a list with the names of the firms but indicated that sectors such as transportation, agribusiness and technology are represented.
“It’s important for many of us to know about developments in Cuba’s private sector,” Peters said.
The forum will meet until Friday with a program of panels by sector and visits to drug production centers. At the opening, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce, Antonio Carricarte, assured that in 2021 and despite the sanctions of the United States government, imports to the island from the North American country had reached 370 million dollars.
If that amount is compared to the more than 8,000 million dollars that, according to the authorities, Cuba spends on purchases abroad annually, “it can illustrate the opportunities that US businessmen are missing,” according to Carricarte.
The United States maintains a policy of sanctions against Cuba, including the prohibition of selling or buying products, except food, but imposes strict financial conditions for its payment, which forces the Caribbean nation to obtain basic goods in distant markets, which according to the government translates in freight surcharge.
The regulations of the embargo on the island by Washington –whose objective for six decades was to achieve a change in the political model of Havana– intensified during the mandate of then President Donald Trump and, except for some changes, practically no they have varied during the administration of Joe Biden despite the fact that he had promised to resume the path of rapprochement begun by Barack Obama.
“What continues to characterize the bilateral relationship between Cuba and the United States is the economic ‘blockade’, which is designed to make life as hard and difficult as possible for Cubans,” Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández told The Associated Press. de Cossío, who was present at the business forum.
Biden did not change his policy towards Cuba alleging that the island had detained protesters during anti-government protests in July 2021 in the midst of a strong economic crisis. The courts sentenced people to more than 20 years for the crime of sedition.
However, in recent weeks there have been some approaches such as the delivery by the United States of uniforms for firefighters after an explosion in a fuel warehouse and a round on immigration issues.
Last week, the White House reported that it had donated two million dollars in supplies after the passage of Cyclone Ian, which Cuba thanked despite the fact that on other occasions it had rejected the cooperation of the United States Cooperation Agency (USAID, for its acronym in English).
“We have accepted help that was offered without conditions,” said Cossío, for whom it was “a gesture” by the United States. He added that the shipment did not imply political concessions on the part of Cuba.
Although for now the contacts are for specific bilateral issues, “on the part of Cuba there is the greatest willingness for there to be a path of dialogue,” said the deputy foreign minister.
Andrea Rodríguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezHPD