HAVANA May 27 The head of the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce praised the growth of free enterprise in Cuba upon his
arrival in Havana Tuesday at the start of a three-day visit that
was criticized by a leading supporter of the U.S. embargo in
Chamber President Thomas Donohue has long opposed the U.S.
trade embargo against Cuba as an impediment to free enterprise
for American companies that want to do business in the
Now that free market reforms in recent years under Cuban
President Raul Castro have created a class of small-business
owners and private cooperatives and the government is courting
foreign investment, Donohue has returned for the first time in
"I'm here because of the evidence that we're seeing in Cuba
of an extraordinary expansion of free enterprise, the reduction
in government jobs, and more private hiring, all of which is
moving in the right direction," said Donohue, whose chamber is
an influential lobbying group that bills itself as the world's
largest business organization.
"As you know the chamber for years has been opposed to the
sanctions as they are used," he told reporters shortly after his
arrival and before he met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
Earlier this month an unprecedented group of 44 policy
reform advocates and former U.S. officials signed a letter
urging the White House to expand licensed travel for all
Americans to Cuba and seek to promote the island's fledgling
private sector. In February a public opinion poll found a strong
majority of Americans favor loosening Cuba sanctions.
But in Washington, New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert
Menendez expressed serious concern about the chamber's trip,
fearing it would strengthen a government that "jails foreign
business leaders without justification, violates international
labor standards and denies its citizens their basic rights."
"Such conditions hardly seem an attractive opportunity for
any responsible business leader," said Menendez, a leading
Cuban-American voice for maintaining strict economic sanctions
on the one-party state.
Donohue and a dozen others including a representative of
U.S. commodities company Cargill planned to visit a
private auto repair cooperative and the special development zone
in the port of Mariel. Donohue was due to give a speech at
Havana University on Thursday just before departing.
It was not known whether he would meet with Raul Castro, who
ushered in the reforms after taking over for his ailing brother
Fidel in 2008.
Donohue declined to say whether he expected any U.S. policy
change toward Cuba, which Washington has sought to undermine and
isolate since the island's 1959 revolution took it down the path
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Adams)