Cuban-American business leaders on Friday called for the creation of a 300 million dollar fund to help build private enterprise in Cuba once the communist-run state adopts what they called "inevitable" reforms.

The proposal, presented at a conference in Miami, is based on the Enterprise Funds that invested US grants in small and medium sized corporations in eastern European countries when they emerged from communism in the 1990s.

The Cuba Study Group, an organization made up of Cuban-American business and community leaders, suggested that the US government, the European Union and private companies should each provide 100 million dollars for the "Cuban Enterprise Fund."

The group made it clear the money would only be available once Cuba adopts reforms. US laws currently would not allow for the funds to be sent to the island, and Cuban legislation prohibits such private investments.

But the group said the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raul "represents a genuine window of opportunity" and called for the fund to be set up "in anticipation of the inevitable change that will occur in Cuba."

It said the proposal will be sent to members of the US Congress.

Cuba currently has a tiny private sector made up of entrepreneurs running small restaurants, stores repair shops or other small businesses.

The businesses were first allowed to operate after Cuba lost billions of dollars in subsidies following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

As Cuba slowly recovered from the post-Soviet crisis that crippled its economy, authorities have cut back on the number of business licenses they hand out.

But with ailing president Fidel Castro looking increasingly unlikely to return to power, there are rising expectations of gradual economic reforms.

The 80-year-old veteran revolutionary leader handed power to his brother Raul, 76, on July 31, 2006 after undergoing gastro-intestinal surgery.

"Fidel Castro doesn't consider the economy a priority, but Raul does," said political analyst Marifeli Perez-Stable, of the Inter-American think-tank.

"Opinion polls we receive from the island, and that the Cuban government also has, show there is a strong expectation of economic changes. The economy is a priority for the majority of Cubans, and there is strong pressure on Raul Castro in this sense," she told AFP during a three-day conference of Cuba experts.

Most Cuba-watchers believe change will be slow and gradual at best and that major reforms are unlikely as long as the older Castro still has a say in government affairs.

Even though he has been convalescing in seclusion, Fidel Castro said in a article published by Cuban state media this week that he is still consulted on every major government decision.

News Center

Date Title
8/31/07 Lawmakers push a united, hard-line front on Cuba
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