WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says lifting the near five-decade long U.S. embargo on Cuba will bring significant economic opportunities to American and Cuban workers alike. He made the case Tuesday at a news conference in the U.S. Congress.
The president of U.S. Chamber of Commerce says his group is supporting the efforts of some U.S. lawmakers to end the trade embargo on Cuba. Thomas Donahue says engaging with Cuba will help the communist nation move toward a more democratic society.
"I would say that if you want to open up Cuba to the things that we value, then send a whole lot of Americans down there to talk about what life is really like, to talk about economic opportunity, to go down there and take along with them opportunities to trade and invest and develop," said Donahue.
The U.S. imposed an economic embargo on Cuba in the early 1960s when it moved toward Communism and aligned with Russia during the Cold War.
U.S. President Barack Obama eased restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba by Cuban Americans last month in a gesture to its Communist rulers. But, he left the embargo in place and urged them to take the next step, by increasing political freedom.
Donahue says lifting the embargo will give U.S. businesses significant opportunities to sell agricultural and manufactured goods to Cuba and to develop offshore oil fields. He says those opportunities are seized instead by other countries.
Republican Congressman Jeff Flake said at the news conference he supports opening up to Cuba even though he is not sure how its government would react.
"I think the experience has been around the world that economic freedom and reform typically precedes political freedom and reform. It does not always happen, but it is more likely than not," said flake. "But in this case we should do it because it is in our interest and every American should be able to travel wherever they want unless there is a compelling national security reason and there is not one here."
House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel is leading efforts in Congress to end the embargo on Cuba. The New York Democrat said the embargo gives Cuba's rulers a scapegoat for their mistakes and lifting it will boost the U.S. standing on the world stage.
But Cuban American representatives in Congress strongly oppose any relaxing of restrictions on relations with Cuba. They say increased revenue from tourism and trade only would strengthen the government of President Raul Castro.
Roger Noriega is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a former State Department official in the George W. Bush administration. He says Americans who call for unilateral concessions to Cuba are lobbying on behalf of a dictatorship.
" What these people are doing when they go down and make their deals is aid and abet a regime that is keeping 11 million Cuban people in bondage," he said. "Why would any American businessmen want to keep in power a regime that has destroyed the Cuban economy."
Noriega says maintaining sanctions will give the U.S. leverage to press Cuba's rulers to release political prisoners and grant their citizens political rights.