Saturday, October 25, 2008

A More Skeptical View from Havana

Cuba not hopeful Obama, McCain will lift embargo

HAVANA (AP) — Washington's trade embargo costs Cuba an estimated US$232 million per year in lost foreign investment, and Havana is not hopeful that the nearly half-century-old sanctions will be lifted regardless of who becomes the next U.S. president, a top official said Friday.

Racial Proenza, U.S. and North America director for Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Investment, said authorities studied U.S. investment in other Latin American countries in recent years to come up with the figure.

"It's true we don't have real statistics with the United States, but we have estimates and can see that we would have achieved an average of US$232 million if the embargo didn't exist," Proenza said at a news conference. Total foreign investment would top US$300 million a year without the sanctions, he said.

From 1999 through 2007, more than 3,500 American business representatives traveled to Cuba without U.S. permission to investigate investing on the island if U.S. policy changes, Proenza said. Last year, however, only nine visited.

He blamed the decline on the Bush administration, which has tightened trade and travel restrictions since 2004.

Proenza also said Havana does not expect either Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama or Republican John McCain to lift the sanctions once in the White House.

"We don't think that either one who wins will break the embargo," he said. "This fight will continue."

Obama has said he would be willing to meet with President Raul Castro without preconditions. He also would ease restrictions on family-related travel and on money Cuban-Americans want to send to their families on the island.

McCain has called the offer to meet "the wrong signal," but also has said he favors easing restrictions if Cuba moves toward democracy.

Proenza's comments are part of a publicity campaign the government mounts every year in the days before Cuba asks the U.N. General Assembly to condemn the U.S. embargo. For the past 16 years, the assembly has approved Cuba's resolution calling for it to be lifted. The next vote is Oct. 29.

The full embargo took effect in 1962 and has been tightened since, although a U.S. law passed in 2000 allows American farm producers to sell directly to Cuba for cash.

Cuba blames the sanctions for more than US$93 billion in total economic damage over the decades.

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