HAVANA (AP) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Wednesday called on the Cuban government to let private enterprise thrive on the communist-ruled island and to grant its citizens greater access to the Internet.
Pritzker was visiting Cuba for two days, leading a delegation of officials from the U.S. Treasury, Commerce and State departments for meetings with officials from Cuban government ministries and businesses.
She started her visit Tuesday with a stop at the Mariel free trade zone outside the capital of Havana.
The commerce secretary is the most senior U.S. official to travel to Cuba since Secretary of State John Kerry visited on Aug. 14 for a flag-raising ceremony outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, which is now upgraded to a full embassy following restoration of relations in July.
"We urge President Castro and his government to make it easier for Cuban citizens to trade and travel more freely, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to access the Internet and to (be) hired directly by foreign companies," she said Wednesday at the start of meetings between officials from both countries.
Since the Dec. 17 announcement that the former Cold War foes would work toward normalization of relations, the Obama administration has eased some economic restrictions on Cuba. A trade embargo remains in place under U.S. law, but Obama is now allowing U.S. firms to send supplies to private Cuban businesses and export telephones, computers and Internet technology.
The U.S. government has also eliminated the previous limit on remittances that people can send to relatives on the island, among other measures.
The impact of those moves, Pritzer said, "will depend on the Cuban government also taking steps to update its regulatory system and reform the economy in ways that support continued development of the Cuban private sector and increase the prosperity of the Cuban people."
Cuba's foreign ministry said in a statement that the goal of the meetings is an "exchange over the reach and limitations of the measures recently taken by the U.S. government to modify some aspects of the application of the embargo against Cuba."