Cuban Minister on Busy Agenda in Washington

Prensa Latina

The Cuban minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, had a busy agenda this week in this capital, where he reiterated that the blockade is the main obstacle to bilateral relations. The minister arrived at the Dulles International Airport on Sunday, February 14, on a working visit. He was accompanied by a delegation of managers and business people, and returned to Havana on Friday, February 19, after participating in many events and meeting with US authorities, politicians and entrepreneurs.

Malmierca met meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tom Donohue.

He also talked with representatives of US company interested in entering the Cuban market.

At the Chamber of Commerce, Malmierca and the Cuban delegation participated in a meeting of the US-Cuba Business Council, an organization created to promote trade opportunities and remove the barriers in the approach, after the announcement made by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama in December 2014 to move towards the normalization of ties.

Malmierca, along with Secretary Pritzker, also set up the second meeting for the regulatory dialogue, a bilateral mechanism aimed at discussing the scope and possibilities of trade in light of the executive measures taken by Obama to modify the blockade, the latest of which was approved in late January.

The intense program of the minister, who is first Cuban high-ranking official who visit the United States in decades, also included a speech at the opening ceremony of the first conference of the Cuba Consortium, an initiative that business people and academics use as a platform to learn more about the Caribbean island.

Another activity was a working session with the Engage Cuba coalition, an organization committed to lifting the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba for more than 50 years, which continues in full implementation despite 14 months of bilateral relations.

During his stay in the United States, Malmierca reiterated that the blockade is the main obstacle to Havana-Washington relations.

In that regard, he acknowledged the three packages of executive actions issued by Obama to make it more flexible, although he described them as inadequate, because the essential prohibitions of the blockade, which was turned into law in 1996, require a decision by the Congress to complete its total dismantling.

We know that the Congress should act as a mediator and we are aware of the political impact of the issue, but the President has the power to go further, Malmierca said in one of the forums he attended in the company of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Central Bank, the Chamber of Commerce and other Cuban institutions.

Obama has the prerogative to override the ban on using the US dollar in Cuba's transactions, to allow Cuban products to access the US market and to authorize US companies invest in Cuba. Both Malmierca and the US authorities with which he met ratified the interest in advancing in bilateral relations.

Pritzker and Vilsack admitted that the blockade was an obstacle that should be removed.

For her part, vice president of the Americas for the International Division at the US Chamber of Commerce, Jodi Bond, warned that the blockade puts US companies at disadvantage in contrast to other firms in the world, when approaching a promising market such as Cuba.

Bond described Malmierca's visit to the United States as historic, and highlighted the unprecedented event that two high-level visits coincide, due to the presence in Cuba of US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who signed an agreement with his Cuban peer, Adel Yzquierdo, to regularize direct flights between the two countries.

During the final working day of the Cuban delegation on Thursday, the White House announced that Obama will travel to Cuba on March 21 and 22, a piece of news that traveled the world.

According to Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, the US president visit's seeks to make the ongoing process of normalization of bilateral ties irreversible.