Secretary of Commerce of the Obama administration says the Regulatory Dialogue provides an opportunity to learn from each other. She held a busy schedule of exchanges with senior officials of the Cuban Government. Photo: Roberto RuizZoom
"We are here to help seek new opportunities within the limits of the embargo" -a term of less consistency and scope that the United States uses to designate the Blockade- said Secretary of Commerce of the United States, Penny Pritzker, in a press conference with Cuban journalists in which she explained the interests that brought her to Havana at the head of a team of experts "of great experience in the regulatory environment" of the Departments of Commerce, Treasury and State.
Pritzker, who said it was a pleasure for her to be the second member of the Cabinet of Barack Obama to arrive in Cuba -the first was Secretary of State John Kerry, who last August 14 reopened the US Embassy after restoration of diplomatic relations on July 20- insistently pointed out that this was a reconnaissance trip, because there is much in the United States that is unknown of the Cuban economy, its operation and the export and import system and distribution of products on the island.
"The fact is that there still exists in the US much ignorance of the Cuban economy in order to understand it fully, and that's why I´m here," she said.
This dialogue gives us the opportunity to learn from each other, she said, while sustaining the hope that this will be the first of a series of meetings "that allow us to know ourselves better," referring to the Regulatory Dialogue between American and Cuban officials held in the morning of Wednesday, October 7.
She praised her meetings with the Vice President of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca, with whom she discussed the next steps to strengthen bilateral relations.
In her statements to the Cuban journalists, and in response to questions, the Secretary of Commerce noted that in her meetings with Cuban officials she was able to discuss the scope and limitations of the measures taken by her government, although she did not list these margins which prevent the measures announced in January by President Obama having practical implementation.
However, she claimed that since January there has been "significant progress" in the area of relations, citing the increase in US travel to Cuba, although the ban on tourist travel remains in place, -referring to the right of Americans to travel freely- and the possibilities that have opened for telecommunications companies -facilities not allowed to other US companies also having an interest in doing business with Cuba-, but they prevent mechanisms such as banning the use of the US dollar in Cuba's international transactions, not allowing lending and the inability of the island entities to open accounts in US banks, substantial barriers that may exist for a normal development of economic relations.
She also mentioned that it had increased the amount of remittances "that can be sent to Cuba, and authorized the sale of products and services that can be used by Cuban entrepreneurs."
Despite the limitations imposed by the blockade, Penny Pritzker secretary felt that this trip comes at a very important time in the history of the two countries, she appreciated the warm welcome and noted that it was a pleasure to be in this beautiful country and meet with the leaders and the people, before detailing that she had visited the Special Development Zone in the port of Mariel, where she got to know the plans "for its future development."
She also considered as "very special experiences" her meeting with members of the cooperative remodelling the Capitol of Havana, and her tour of Old Havana, where she visited local small businesses and cultural sites.
The Secretary of Commerce of the United States, who arrived in Havana on Tuesday, October 6, concluded Wednesday night her visit to Cuba during which she said dealt with very technical issues.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla received Penny Pritzker at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry and previously, the Secretary of Commerce had held a meeting with Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, in which officials of the departments of Treasury, Commerce and State and representatives of ministries and Cuban companies assessed the extent of measures taken by the White House to ease elements of the blockade of our country.
On the Cuban side, among other senior officials, were the director general and deputy director general of the US department in the Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal and Antonio Machin, respectively.
At the beginning of the meeting with the Secretary of Commerce, Malmierca said that the process of normalization of relations is not easy given the differences and accumulated problems, but stressed that both sides are willing to move forward. The Minister noted that Cuba appreciates the measures President Obama has taken to reduce the scope of the blockade, but added that from this side they consider them to be inadequate and that we must work to remove it completely.
Malmierca said the blockade is the main obstacle to normal relations between Cuba and the United States and it can work even before coming to Congress, if the prerogatives of the American President are fully exploited.
Meanwhile, Penny Pritzker praised the courageous decision taken in December by the leaders of the United States and Cuba and said that flexibility is the beginning of the process. "The aim of the work this week is to learn," she said before adding that the change in policy is rooted in the fundamental desire to improve the lives of the peoples of both countries.
The US Secretary of Commerce declared that her country does not intend that the changes applied transform the lives of the Cubans overnight. The effect they can have on the people of Cuba, she assured, depends on the Cuban government, a claim that ignores the essential limitations and obstacles imposed by the blockade, especially the impediment on the use of the US dollar and a ban on access to credit, forcing Cuba to pay cash up front on purchases from US companies. It also overlooks the prerogatives attending President Obama to make it more flexible.
Pritzker noted in the preamble of the discussions that she is convinced that, if they take the necessary steps together, the US and Cuba can achieve an open relationship.
On September 18 last, the Departments of Treasury and of Commerce of the United States issued addition revisions to the Control Regulations on Cuban Assets and of Export Administration, measures moving in the right direction, but which do not resolve the main obstacles and limitations.Translated by ESTI