More than 100 newly independent Cuban entrepreneurs on Wednesday sent President-elect Donald Trump a letter imploring him not to sever diplomatic ties and to protect the economic gains they have reaped.
Senior members of Congress greeted four visiting entrepreneurs from Havana in the first salvo of what promises to be a protracted political battle over the future of US-Cuban relations after Trump takes office next month .
“I hope the next President of the United States, as a businessman, will understand our needs,” Yamina Vicente, whose Decorazon company hosts weddings and other events, said in a briefing. at Capitol Hill.
“A few years ago a new era of dreams began in Cuba,” she said. “I hope my children can dream too.
The letter to Trump began by congratulating him on his victory last month over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“As a successful businessman, we are confident that you understand the importance of economic engagement between nations,” the entrepreneurs wrote. “Small businesses in Cuba have the potential to be engines of economic growth in Cuba and important partners in the American business community. “
Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, Florida, dismissed the widespread perception that the state’s large Cuban-American population opposes improved relations with Havana.
“Florida is not monolithic when it comes to Cuba,” she said.
Money sent by Cubans in Florida and elsewhere to their families in Cuba, Castor said, has helped private businesses grow.
Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over the country’s presidency when his brother, Fidel Castro, fell ill in 2006, instituted reforms in 2012 that limited private business in the communist country. Fidel Castro died late last month and his ashes were buried on Sunday.
Following this openness to private affairs, the United States and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations in December 2014, reopened their embassies in July 2015, and Obama made a historic trip to Cuba in March 2016, becoming the first U.S. president in exercise in visiting the island nation since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia also pleaded for preserving Obama’s easing relationship with Cuba, noting that last year Virginia sold $ 42 million worth of agricultural products to Cuba.
“Farmers in Virginia want this market to be open,” Warner said.
Warner is co-sponsoring one of many congressional bills that would completely lift the economic embargo imposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, months before the Cuban Missile Crisis put the world on the brink of nuclear war. between the United States and the Soviet Union.
While Cuba has maintained Communist rule since then, entrepreneurs who lobbied Capitol Hill said U.S. policies were helping to open up its economy.
“We need this reform to continue because it has been very important for the growth of our businesses,” Marta Deus told reporters.
Calling the US embargo “a dismal failure,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said it was time for Congress to lift the embargo.
“It has not served the people of the United States and made many Cubans miserable,” he said.
McGovern urged people to put political pressure on Trump to maintain U.S.-Cuban relations.
“Tweet the president-elect!” He laughs. “Anything that works! “
Deus made a personal appeal to Trump.
“We invite him to come to Cuba to see the growth there – all private companies,” she said.
More than 500,000 people are now working in the private sector, most of them at the head or employed by small businesses, Cuban business leaders said in their letter to Trump.
Changes in laws and regulations by the US and Cuban governments have resulted in an increase in travel between the two countries, an increase in telecommunications services, and an expansion of banking operations.
As with other key issues, Trump delivered mixed messages during the presidential campaign on his view of US-Cuban relations.
After saying for months that he supported Obama’s openness to Cuba, Trump used a visit to Miami to signal a change.
Addressing an audience filled with Cuban-American immigrants and their families, Trump criticized the Obama campaign as “one-sided” and said it “only benefited the Castro regime.”
Trump added: “But all the concessions Barack Obama gave the Castro regime were made by executive order, which means the next president can overrule them. And that’s what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands. These demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the release of political prisoners. “
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, warned Trump that maintaining open relations with Cuba is not just a partisan issue supported by members of his party.
“Many of us, Republicans and Democrats, want this to work,” Leahy said of the still fragile relationship between the United States and Cuba.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Representative Kathy Castor’s last name.
This story was originally published December 7, 2016 3:34 p.m.