Cuba says Obamas steps to ease embargo insufficient

Cuba’s trade minister said Monday that US President Barack Obama’s moves to ease the five-decade embargo on the communist island are “incomplete and insufficient.”

With Obama heading toward a potentially historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro this week, Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca criticized the US leader’s limited steps to ease the crippling trade and financial embargo the United States has maintained on Cuba since 1962.

After the old Cold War foes announced a historic rapprochement on December 17, Obama loosened several components of the embargo, allowing more travel from the United States to Cuba, raising the limit on cash remittances to the island and easing restrictions on certain kinds of trade, among other measures.

“The measures Obama ordered are incomplete and insufficient, and do not change the essence of this unilateral measure taken by the US government against Cuba,” Malmierca told state newspaper Granma.

He said the measures were a “step in the right direction” but did not go far enough toward ending the embargo.

Obama “has vast prerogatives — far beyond the measures approved last January — that he could use to make substantive steps toward normalizing bilateral relations,” he said.

He called on Washington to allow Havana to use dollars for international transactions and clear the way for Cuban exports to the United States beyond the small quantities of rum and cigars that Obama allowed travelers to bring back from the island.

“Beyond traditional goods like rum and tobacco, there are others of excellent quality that can be included in this possible exchange, such as biotechnology products,” he said.

Obama and Castro will cross paths at the Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday, which could yield the first substantive meeting between US and Cuban leaders in half a century.

The two men shook hands briefly at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa in December 2013.

To lift the full embargo, which Havana says has cost it $100 billion, Obama would need the blessing of the Republican-controlled Congress.

– No foreign capital flood –

Malmierca also downplayed expectations of a large increase in foreign investment in the short term under the economic reforms undertaken by Castro.

Since 2006, when Castro took over from his older brother Fidel, the 88-year-old father of the Cuban Revolution, he has taken tentative steps to open up the economy, seeking to end its long stagnation and reach annual economic growth of five percent.

In March 2014, Cuba adopted a series of tax breaks for foreign investors in a bid to attract $2.5 billion a year in new investment.

But that and other reforms have so far failed to deliver the desired results.

“The real impact of foreign investment will be felt in the medium and long term,” said Malmierca.

“Right now, we need strong domestic investment to create the basic infrastructure and services that favor the future launch of projects with foreign capital.”

He said Cuba was in an “initial phase where it is fundamental to capture investors’ interest and trust.”

Investors from various countries, including China, Japan, Brazil and various European nations, have approached Cuban authorities about investing in a massive new port and industrial park being built at Mariel, just west of Havana, Malmierca said.

Scant investment and the US embargo have been major hurdles for the project, which the government hopes will establish Cuba as a regional shipping hub and attract one million containers a year.

The first phase of the project was inaugurated in January 2014. Economists have estimated Cuba must attract $3 billion in investment a year to continue.


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