Cuban entrepreneurs urge Trump to keep U.S.-Cuba detente going

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a USA Thank You Tour event at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a USA Thank You Tour event at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

HAVANA, Dec 7 (Reuters) – More than 100 Cuban small business owners sent a letter to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday urging him to continue President Barack Obama’s engagement with Havana, despiteTrump’s threat to end detente with the communist-ruled island.
The appeal to Trump from Cuba’s fledgling private sector underscored increased uncertainty about future relations between the two former Cold War foes, given his vow to halt what he called Obama’s “deal” with Havana unless it agreed to new terms with Washington.

Obama administration officials, seeking to further cement changes before Trump takes office on Jan. 20, were due to hold talks with Cuban counterparts in Havana on Wednesday. It was the first such meeting since the election of Trump and the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro.

Appealing to Trump’s roots as a real estate developer, the Cuban entrepreneurs wrote, “As a successful businessman, we’re confident that you understand the importance of economic engagement between nations.”

“Additional measures to increase travel, trade and investment  will benefit our companies, the Cuban people and U.S. national interests,” they wrote. “We look forward to taking advantage of any openings that your administration makes to the Cuban private sector and the Cuban economy as a whole.”

The letter, carrying more than 100 signatures, was seen by Reuters before its release on Wednesday. A small, bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers also planned to hold a news conference in Washington, D.C., to urge Congress to lift the half-century-old U.S. economic embargo on Cuba. Several Cuban entrepreneurs who were due to participate were expected to ask Trump not to reverse the thaw in relations.

The letter, organized by Cuba Educational Travel, a U.S. company that arranges trips to the island, and coordinated with the Washington lobbying group Engage Cuba, was signed by startup companies and small-scale entrepreneurs. They included family-owned restaurants, high-tech firms, car services and hair salons.

The Obama administration has pressed for additional U.S. business deals in Cuba in hopes of making detente irreversible. U.S. businesses are looking to persuade Trump to drop his threats to cancel Obama’s opening, a reversal they fear could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.

Obama and President Raul Castro announced a breakthrough in diplomatic relations nearly two years ago. Since then, ties have been restored, and Obama has used executive actions to ease some business and travel restrictions, though the Republican-controlled Congress has resisted removing the broader U.S. embargo.

Trump has said that Obama should have cut a “better deal,” echoing critics who have said that Cuba was given too many concessions. At a campaign rally in Miami, Trump said he would seek to reverse Obama’s moves unless Cuba allowed greater freedom. The Cuban government so far has mostly refrained from commenting on Trump’s statements.
U.S. supporters of detente have said it is improving Cubans’ lives while opening cracks in the socialist system.

Raul Castro started introducing market-style reforms in 2011. Cuban entrepreneurs have complained, however, that more changes are needed. Private businesses still have no access to wholesale stores and can only import or export via government agencies.