CubaNews / July 1995
By Larry Luxner
NEW YORK --Gladys Garcia is director of the international relations division of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, a position she has held for the last two years. A former journalist, Garcia studied economics at the University of Havana and spent 10 years in Switzerland as economic affairs officer at Cuba's UN mission in Geneva. She served as director of Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Trade before assuming her current post.
On June 15, during her first time in the United States -- Garcia spoke with CubaNews about Cuba's economic transformation.
Q: How can a chamber of commerce function in a Communist country, and what are your objectives?
A: Our goal is to promote Cuban exports and business in general. The chamber has 259 associate members, mainly Cuban partners of foreign joint ventures. We also have agreements with 72 other chambers of commerce. Nobody is obliged to come to the Chamber of Commerce. The people come because the chamber guarantees the right contacts and saves them time.
Q: What is the chamber doing to promote business ties with Cuban exiles in the United States?
A: Of the 212 companies that have visited us in the last 13 months,42 are from Florida, and many of them are run by Cubans from Miami. We are working very hard to make business contacts with Miami Cubans.
Q: How many U.S. companies have registered their trademarks with the Chamber of Commerce, and what type of companies are they?
A: We guard our discretion. There are dozens of U.S. companies which have registered their trademarks with us, but this is secret. We must guard our discretion. What we can say is that eight of the top 15 Fortune 500 companies have visited Cuba with authorization to discuss opportunities.
Q: What is Cuba doing to improve trade relations with other countries?
A: As a founding member of GATT, and a signatory to the World Trade Organization, Cuba supports free trade and encourages free-trade zones. In spite of the blockade, Cuba moves forward and becomes stronger every day. Today, our commercial relations involve 3,000 firms from 109 countries on five continents.
Q: Do you see Cuba's economy stagnating, worsening or improving over the next few years?
A: What Cubans are trying to do is guarantee development of the country, while getting out of the current crisis. We are trying to avoid big mistakes. We have to accept and adapt to free-market policies. We live in this world. We need to adapt. We cannot tell you everything will be solved, but we have to go step-by-step.
We already have a booming foreign investment. If you sit on the door of our building for two hours, you'd be amazed. Investors are coming every day. Once the new [foreign investment] law is passed, we'll have a second boom.
Q: What's your opinion of the Helms bill?
A: It is nonsense, just like Torricelli. Nobody listens to it. The Europeans are trading with us, and the U.S. is losing $750 million a year because American firms can't trade with Cuba.
Q: Is the Castro government thinking about opening up the retail sector to foreign investment?
A: It's not being considered for the moment, because we have to designate all our resources to the population to guarantee that everybody receives the same goods.
Q: Do you think the U.S. embargo will be lifted sometime during 1995?
A: No. I think the blockade will continue for several years.