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US Chamber head prescribes open markets for Cuba

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Photo - U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue, left, and Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade and Commerce Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz walk in front of the Cuban and US flags after a conference at the auditorium of the University in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, May 29, 2014. Donahue urged Cuba to deepen economic reforms on the island, and the US to take steps to normalize relations with the Caribbean nation. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue, left, and Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade and Commerce Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz walk in front of the Cuban and US flags after a conference at the auditorium of the University in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, May 29, 2014. Donahue urged Cuba to deepen economic reforms on the island, and the US to take steps to normalize relations with the Caribbean nation. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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HAVANA (AP) — The head of the United States Chamber of Commerce on Thursday prescribed a heavier dose of the open market as the cure for communist-run Cuba's struggling economy.

In a speech at the University of Havana, Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue praised President Raul Castro's reforms under which hundreds of thousands of islanders are now working in the private sector but said the changes must now be consolidated and expanded.

"We deeply believe that countries with strong private sectors free of excessive government control and ownership will have the most successful and productive economies," he said.

About a dozen business leaders have been on the three-day mission to Cuba this week, the first by the Chamber of Commerce since 1999. They met with everyone from entrepreneurs and cooperative leaders to government officials.

"We have come to Cuba to assess the seriousness of this effort and to encourage and support it in any way we can," Donohue said. "We're trying to engage Cubans of all walks of life and explain how private enterprise can dramatically improve the lives of your citizens."

Donohue also called for a new relationship between Havana and Washington, including U.S. efforts to support Cuba's budding entrepreneurs. He said the Chamber for years has sought an end to the 52-year-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba that bars most trade between the two countries.

Cuba buys some U.S. food and agricultural goods under an exception to the sanctions, but in recent years such sales have fallen by nearly half to $509 million.

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Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

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