(Adds meeting with Raul Castro, paragraph 4)
By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA May 29 The head of the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce on Thursday urged Cuba to speed up and extend
market-style economic reforms, saying world investors would
respond and that it might be the best path toward better
relations with the United States.
Chamber President Thomas Donohue extolled the virtues of
capitalism and free markets in the communist-ruled country, once
taboo subjects here, and told Cubans that reducing excessive
government control of the economy was the best assurance of
"The more Cuba can do to demonstrate its commitment to
reform, and the more it can do to address and resolve disputes
in our relations, the better the prospects will be for changes
in U.S. policy," Donohue said in a speech before Foreign
Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, a host of other Cuban
officials and university students.
Donohue also met with Cuban President Raul Castro, state
television said, without reporting details of their
conversation. It was a late addition to Donohue's agenda before
departing for the United States at the end of a three-day visit.
Donohue, an influential voice in U.S. politics, led a
delegation including representatives of commodities giant
Cargill and direct-selling pioneer Amway on a trip
that drew protests from supporters of the U.S. economic embargo
back in Washington.
The chamber has long opposed the embargo as harmful to U.S.
business interests; the embargo remains a pillar of the strong
Cuban exile lobby that supports maintaining Cold War-era
Since taking over as president for his ailing brother Fidel
in 2008, Castro has ushered in reforms that have allowed nearly
500,000 small private businesses to operate and hundreds of
thousands of private farmers to grow food on their own land.
Cuba is also seeking badly needed foreign investment with a
new law it hopes will attract $2 billion to $2.5 billion a year
in foreign direct investment, an estimated 10-fold increase from
current levels, which it does not report.
Donohue praised those reforms, but he said Cuba had more to
do and cited China and Vietnam as examples where communist
countries have raised living standards by turning toward more
"We hope these changes continue and urge that they be
expanded. Businesses throughout the global economy will
respond," Donohue said.
He cited the protection of intellectual property rights and
the lack of an independent arbitration system for business
disputes as areas where Cuba must improve to attract foreign
"I believe that Cuba ... has the potential to develop as a
very good investment," Donohue said.
When asked in a question-and-answer session how much of his
own money he would invest, Donohue said, "It depends on what I
"There are some pretty good deals here, you know. There's
some great real estate on the waterfront," he said. "I'm not
going any further than that."
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by G Crosse and Leslie