Former hardliner appointed to head U.S. Chamber’s Cuba council

In June last year, Carlos Gutierrez — Secretary of Commerce under George W. Bush — went on the record regarding a change of mind on Cuba policy

CUBA STANDARD — A Cuban American and former hardliner was selected as the first chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s U.S.-Cuba Business Council (USCBC).

Carlos Gutierrez, a former CEO of Kellogg Co., was U.S. Secretary of Commerce under George W. Bush and is currently co-chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington-based strategic advisory firm for corporations.

As recently as 2012, Gutierrez was a co-signer of a letter by Cuban American corporate executives that called Cuba’s reforms “cosmetic” and urged the Obama administration and Congress to maintain a hard line on Cuba. In June last year, the Havana-born businessman went on the record regarding a change of mind in a New York Times op-ed titled “A Republican Case for Obama’s Cuba Policy.”

The lobby organization that says it represents 3 million U.S. businesses created the Cuba panel in September, in part to press Congress to lift the embargo. Within Chamber politics, the Cuba Council lifts the island into the same category as Mexico and Brazil. In the first half of 2015, the Chamber spent more on Cuba-related lobbying — $31.6 million, according to U.S. Senate data — than everybody else combined.

Vice chairs of the USCBC are Frank del Rio, CEO of Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Lines; Mike Fernandez, chairman and CEO of Miami-based MBF Healthcare Partners; Candace Matthews, president of the Americas at consumer goods giant Amway; and Tom Nides, vice chairman of Morgan Stanley.

“This is a historic opportunity to press for a new bilateral relationship, and the board’s choice of Secretary Gutierrez as chairman signals its willingness to bring the full force of the private sector to the tasks ahead,” USCBC president Jodi Hanson Bond said in a press release.

Gutierrez will lead the Council “in its work to urge ambitious economic reform in Cuba and build a stronger and strategic commercial relationship between Cuba and the United States”, the Chamber press release said.

On Feb. 16, Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca will visit the Council, while in Washington for a “regulatory dialogue” hosted by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

“Minister Malmierca’s upcoming visit, together with the U.S. regulatory changes announced a few weeks ago, create unparalleled opportunities for the United States and Cuba, particularly in the areas of travel and small business growth,” said Gutierrez, referring to a third round of limited sanctions easing steps taken by the Obama administration in January. “Through our improving relationships and partnerships, we will continue our work to ensure our members are able to effectively engage in the Cuban market, while fostering strong bilateral ties between our two governments.”

The Chamber also said it will lead delegations to Cuba throughout 2016, “to assist U.S. companies interested in doing business in Cuba, while encouraging both governments to further expand the areas in which our members can currently operate.”

The launch event in September included the president of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, Orlando Hernández Guillén. A day later, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue met with Raúl Castro and Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca at Cuba’s United Nations mission in New York, accompanied by a group of corporate CEOs.

Donohue, Guillen
Donohue, Hernández Guillen during the launch event in September
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