American trade delegation in rare Cuba visit

US Chamber of Commerce's visit to Cuba The Chamber of Commerce's head, Thomas Donohue (left), visited a private-run garage in Cuba

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A delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce has begun its first visit to Cuba in 15 years.

Chamber president Thomas Donohue said he was in Cuba to assess the economic changes taking place under President Raul Castro.

The United States imposed an embargo on the communist-run island more than 50 years ago following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

Members of the Cuban community in the US have criticised the visit.

They accuse Mr Castro's government of persecuting political opponents and violating basic human rights.

Cuban-American Senator Robert Menendez said political opponents continued to be arrested "without justification," in Cuba.

"Such conditions hardly seem an attractive opportunity for any responsible business leader," Mr Menendez told the AP news agency.

'Civilised relations'

Members of the trade delegation told AP that they were in Cuba to assess the trade possibilities in a post-embargo scenario.

However, the vast and politically-active Cuban community in the US has been strongly opposed to any change to trade ties with the communist-run island.

Cuban mechanic, April 14 The Cuban government says more than 450,000 people own or are employed by private businesses

Since Fidel Castro handed power to his brother Raul in 2006, Cuba's communist government has introduced a number of economic reforms.

Cubans are now allowed to own small businesses and to buy and sell cars and properties.

"We are very pleased to be here. We are learning a lot about the changes taking place in Cuba," said Mr Donohue.

He said that Cuba is now "fundamentally different in terms of the number of people that are operating under the private system".

In December, President Raul Castro called for "civilised relations" with the United States, saying the two countries should respect their differences.

The US should drop its demand for regime change and allow both sides to continue work on improving relations, Mr Castro said.

The US Chamber of Commerce delegation was welcomed to Havana on Tuesday afternoon by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz.

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