HAVANA.- In an auditorium filled by members of the U.S. business community, Cuban industrial state company executives and associates with foreign investment capital, members of cooperatives, entrepreneurs from the emerging national private and self-employed sector, U.S president Barack Obama declared that the best way to help the Cuban people was to lift the blockade.

HAVANA.- In an auditorium filled by members of the U.S. business community, Cuban industrial state company executives and associates with foreign investment capital, members of cooperatives, entrepreneurs from the emerging national private and self-employed sector, U.S president Barack Obama declared that the best way to help the Cuban people was to lift the blockade.During his visit to Cuba from March 20-22, Obama told the participants at a Business Forum held at Old Havana’s Timber and Tobacco Store that Congress should lift what he referred to as “the embargo”.

The U.S. president acknowledged the economic management transformations underway in Cuba and said that the Island welcomes North American companies.

He confirmed in this regard that the U.S. Government wants Cuba to become a commercial partner and referred to certain companies – such as Cleber LLC, hotel chain Starwood and the virtual private home rental service AirBnB --who had closed deals in Cuba.

He highlighted the spirit, talent and the creative capacity of young Cubans and expressed the wishes of the North American people and their government to assist small businesses and the nonstate sector.

Obama’s words encouraged the private entrepreneurs present, one of whom, barber Gilberto Valladares (better known as Papito) shared his vision of self-employment with the U.S. leader by saying that 95% of barbers in Cuba are now in the non-state sector, something very different to the situation that prevailed ten years ago.

During his intervention, Papito also alluded to how, from the perspective of the Barbers Alley project in Havana, social and economic multipliers had become intertwined.

He said that particular attention was paid to social values, pointing out that 10 deaf children were presently being taught the trade by the project.

Obama said that this was the type of initiative through which new habits would be learned.

Various private sector agricultural producers at the meeting exchanged opinions with Obama, who availed himself of the occasion to say that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, had met with Cuban government officials to speed up the cooperation between the two nation’s agriculture sectors and to also facilitate the market supply of implements.

Representatives of the Cuban health system, such as Dr. Miriam Portuondo, who talked about the opportunities presented by international medical collaboration, using the examples of the Cuban experience in the fight against Ebola and the Operación Milagro program that attends to poor people with eye problems, also took part in the Forum.

Dr. Portuondo outlined Cuba’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. in areas such as, academic services, clinical cancer trials and the pharmaceutical industry, among others.

President Obama also said that the Cuban economy should change and incorporate the best world experiences and that, in spite of the mutual mistrust between both sides because of so many years of enmity, they could work together internationally without the imposition of any conditions on the Cuban side.

According to economic experts, the company meetings that took place in the store-house converted into a traditional brewery highlight both the potential that exists between the two countries and the obstacles that still exist due to the ongoing enforcement of the blockade.

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