News / USA

    Obama: US Ready to Partner With Cuban Entrepreneurs

    President Obama attends a meeting with entrepreneurs as part of his three-day visit to Cuba, in Havana, March 21, 2016.
    President Obama attends a meeting with entrepreneurs as part of his three-day visit to Cuba, in Havana, March 21, 2016.

    President Barack Obama says the United States wants to help Cuban entrepreneurs, and that the best way to do this is for the U.S. Congress to lift the trade embargo against Cuba "once and for all."

    Obama told a gathering of several hundred Cuban entrepreneurs and U.S. business people in Havana Monday that "America wants to be your partner."

    Despite the fact that the U.S. Congress remains opposed to lifting the trade embargo against Cuba, the Obama administration has been pushing forward with new trade initiatives, and the president's visit to the communist-run country has triggered a wave of new commerce.

    "Around this visit, American companies are working ahead with new commercial deals. GE is going to sell more products from energy to aviation technology," Obama said. "Cleber will be the first U.S. company to build a factory here in more than 50 years; they are going to build tractors for Cuban farmers. Starwood is going to be the first U.S. hotel that operates here in more than 60 years. The first Carnival cruise is going to pull into Havana in May."

    Cleber Tractor hopes to build small, cheap, simple tractors just right for 40-hectare farms in Cuba.
    Cleber Tractor hopes to build small, cheap, simple tractors just right for 40-hectare farms in Cuba.

    Obama praised Cuba's government for opening its economy to private enterprise, saying nearly a half-million Cubans are now either small business owners or an employee of one.

    "The Cuban economy is beginning to change, and just look at the results. Groups like Cuba Aprende are training a new generation of entrepreneurs," he said. "Today, half a million Cubans, including some of you, are cuentapropistas, running your own restaurants, cafes, beauty supplies or working as artists, seamstresses or taxi drivers. Your businesses employ one-third of the Cuban workforce."

    Obama called on Cuba's government to do more to encourage an environment that fosters entrepreneurship, including making it easy for business people to get loans from banks and access markets to buy supplies.  

    "Some economic models just don't work," Obama said. "If something is not working for 50 years, you should stop doing it. Try something new."

    Obama took questions from several entrepreneurs in the audience, facilitated by Cuban-American journalist Soledad O'Brien.

    Obama Speaks to Entrepreneurship Conference in Havanai
    X
    March 21, 2016 10:31 PM
    U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to several hundred Cuban entrepreneurs and U.S. business owners Monday afternoon in Havana.

    Obama said he wanted to buy some T-shirts made by Cuban graphic designer Idania Del Rio, who said her shop has grown to 14 employees and now sells 25 products. Obama praised her effort to start a business that is not part of Cuba's traditional economy.

    "Young people who have ideas cannot be restricted to the traditional exports where you are not high up on the chain," he said. "If all you are doing is selling commodities, it is hard to spur economic growth."

    The White House says that while Cuba's government has increased private employment from 145,000 in 2009 to approximately 500,000 in 2015, it still restricts licenses to 201 service-oriented jobs like restaurant owner, hairdresser, sign painter and taxi driver.

    Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, said his business expanded to Cuba one year ago with the help of the U.S. government. He said 20 percent of all Americans visiting Cuba are now using Airbnb to stay with Cuban hosts instead of at traditional hotels.

    Obama said Internet access is the key to Airbnb's success and he urged Cuba's government to invest more to broaden the Internet's reach in Cuba. The White House says only 5 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet, one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora