Senator criticizes upcoming trip by US Chamber of Commerce to Cuba

The Associated Press

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue, second left, talks with the press before a meeting with Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce Delegation arrived today to Cuba to explore the business climate at the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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By BRADLEY KLAPPER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman has told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that he believes its trip to Cuba is a bad idea.

Writing to the chamber, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Cuba isn't an attractive investment opportunity because the government unjustifiably jails foreign business leaders and breaks international labor standards. He questions the merits of engaging a government controlling almost all the country's economic activity.

Chamber head Thomas J. Donohue is meeting with entrepreneurs, officials and university students. U.S. business executives traveled with him. The delegation arrived Tuesday afternoon in Havana and met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

"I hope to go home with a very clear message of progress that's being made in Cuba on free enterprise and private employment and great progress in small business," Donohue said. "And that I hope to go home with other information as well."

Chamber officials say it is the organization's first visit to the island since 1999.

The delegation was scheduled to visit an auto-repair cooperative Wednesday.

Cuba has legalized private businesses in many fields since 2010, creating thousands of independent entrepreneurs.

But Menendez reminds the chamber the five-decade U.S. embargo against Cuba is unlikely to be lifted soon. He says Cuba must release political prisoners and give citizens their rights.

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Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.

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