U.S. business leaders appear to be lining up behind President Barack Obama’s historic move to normalize relations with Cuba, but the plan to erase one of the last vestiges of the Cold War is running into heavy resistance in Congress.
Vowing to “cut loose the shackles of the past,” Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than half a century. He called the Cold War approach to Cuba an outdated one that “for decades has failed to advance our interests.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups welcomed the move toward reconciliation. “We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits,” Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said in a news release.
Citing a recent Chamber trip to Havana, he added that Cuba “has changed some of its economic policies to lessen government control or ownership of Cuban businesses, and subsequently, their private sector is growing.”
Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, called Obama’s decision “truly strategic,” saying it was “past time to bring down the walls” between the two nations.
On Capitol Hill, however, some of the rhetoric smacked of the Cold War, with lawmakers from both parties suggesting Congress will not end the 50-year trade embargo against Cuba.
“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner,” House Speaker John Boehner said. “There is no ‘new course’ here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies.”
As Politico reports, Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and a Cuban-American who is the current chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, was highly critical of Obama’s proposals. But House Minority Nancy Pelosi hailed Obama’s “new chapter.”
“We must acknowledge our policy towards Cuba is a relic of a bygone era that weakens our leadership in the Americas and has not advanced freedom and prosperity in Cuba,” she said.