U.S. Commerce Secretary visits Mariel special economic zone

havana-live-pritker-marielHAVANA, Oct. 6  U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker began her two-day visit to Cuba with a tour to the country’s first special economic zone of Mariel on Tuesday.

Located 45 km west of Havana, the deep-water port of Mariel is expected to become a major Caribbean shipping and industrial hub when completed.

Pritzker and her delegation, including officials from U.S. departments of treasury, commerce and state, arrived Tuesday afternoon at Havana’s international airport, where they were met by Maria de la Luz B’Hamel, head of North American Affairs under Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment.

On Wednesday, Pritzker is scheduled to chair a meeting between her delegation and representatives of various Cuban ministries and companies, to address the scope and limitations of the measures adopted by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama since January this year to ease certain restrictions against Cuba.

Obama’s measures made it easier for citizens and companies from both countries to travel to and do business in each other’s country, but the trade embargo Washington imposed on Cuba in the early 1960s remains in place, hampering the island’s trade, economy and finances.

The ban on Cubans using the U.S. dollar for overseas transactions, for example, is one of the main obstacles Pritzker is expected to tackle during this trip.

She is also set to meet with Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and Vice President of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas.

The trip by the secretary of commerce is the second by a member of Obama’s cabinet since the two countries announced last December a decision to restore their diplomatic ties.