Cuba hosts first U.S. business conference in years, seeks investment

HAVANA, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Several dozen U.S. it. Entrepreneurs braved tough US. it. Sanctions and Cuba’s worst economic crisis in decades to participate in a meeting in Havana on Wednesday focusing on the new private sector and aimed to boost the flagging engagement between the Cold War era enemies.

The Cuban Chamber of Commerce and Washington-based consultancy FocusCuba, which are holding the gathering, said the three-day event was the first such forum since at least 2018 when former US .

Both the Cuban and the American delegations criticized the sanctions – most of which are still in place – and called on the Democratic US President Joseph Biden to abandon the policies of his Republican predecessor.

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Cuban Chamber of Commerce President Antonio Luis Carricarte called the gathering at the famous Hotel Nacional a “historic day,” praising the persistence of representatives in attendance from both sides of the Strait of Florida.

During a brief thaw in relations under former President Barack Obama, hundreds of American businesses arrived to explore opportunities on the all but banned communist-run island nation.

Several, from cruise ship companies to Western Union Co ( WU.N ) and Starwood Hotels have inked groundbreaking agreements, only to have new U.S. it. Sanctions force them to refuse. Others continue to do business.

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The government has licensed Cubans to operate nearly 5,500 private small and medium-sized businesses in the past year, in a first since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, opening new possibilities for partnerships with foreign investors.

“Almost everything we do is with the new booming private sector,” said Cuban-American Hugo, whose Miami-based Fuego Enterprises Inc ( FUGI.PK ) operates an online food marketplace that processes 4,000 orders in Cuba a day.

“It’s important that American businesses see this for themselves,” said Cancio, who attended the conference.

Entrepreneurs in attendance represent a range of industries from food services to online shopping, digital money transfers, shipping and finance.

“I think participants are looking for clarity in terms of what is possible with investment on the Cuban side in this new private sector, although any agreements must also be approved by US regulators,” said Phil Peters, founder of FocusCuba. More clarity there too.”

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The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Biden administration has loosened some restrictions on Cuba around remittances, tourism and migration. It has also expressed interest in supporting Cuba’s private sector.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana and Steve Holland in Washington. Editing by Marguerita Choy

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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