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Time to start new US-Cuba relations: US commerce chief

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The head of the US Chamber of Commerce made an urgent plea Thursday to relaunch relations between Cuba and the United States.

Thomas Donohue spoke at the end of the highest-profile visit of an American official to the communist-ruled island in years.

"For too long, the relationship between our nations has been defined by our differences and shackled by our past," Donohue told dozens of Cuban and American businesspeople.

"It does not have to be that way. It's time to begin a new chapter in US-Cuban relations. And the time to begin is now."

Washington has maintained an economic embargo clamped on Cuba since 1962, and the two have never moved off a Cold War footing in their ties.

Donohue, speaking at the end of a three-day visit accompanied by a high-ranking business delegation, noted that Cuba was changing some of its economic policies and that its private sector was "clearly growing."

"And the US has revised some of its restrictions on the movement of people and money," he added.

"There is lots more to do. And lots to do on both sides."

Saying it was "time for a new approach," Donohue noted the Chamber of Commerce, which represents some three million companies, has urged Washington to remove the trade embargo on Cuba for years.

President Barack Obama "could take additional steps to facilitate more travels between our nations, he could create new avenues for the export and import of goods and services," Donohue added.

"That's the interest of American people."

And he urged Cuba to "expand and accelerate its economic reforms, because that is in the interest of the Cuban people."

President of the chamber since 1997, Donohue had previously traveled to Cuba in 1999.

"Progress has not happened as quickly as we might have liked, but progress is happening," he said.

"Cuba is changing some of its economic policies and its private sector is clearly growing."

Donohue also spoke of a "period of transition" in Cuba's economic system and potentially in US policies and politics.

He called for a "constructive and ongoing dialogue" between Havana and Washington on human rights and civil liberties.

During their visit to Cuba, the US business chiefs met with many newly independent entrepreneurs and visited recently created cooperatives, following limited Cuban economic reforms implemented during the past three years.

They also toured the Mariel megaport 50 kilometers (30 miles) outside the capital Havana. It was inaugurated in January by the Cuban leadership, which hopes to make it one of the biggest commercial and industrial hubs in the Caribbean.

Donohue held talks with President Raul Castro just before his departure. Cuban television said they discussed "subjects of common interest."

Days before Donohue's visit, dozens of American businesspeople and former officials wrote an open letter urging Obama to lessen the US embargo on Cuba.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140530/time-start-new-us-cuba-relations-us-commerce-chief