Could relations between the United States and Cuba finally be thawing? While it remains far too early to tell, there have been some positive developments as of late. Now, a trade delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce is heading to Cuba to assess economic changes that have been taking place under President Raul Castro.

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It’s been some 50 years since the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba and 15 since a Chamber of Commerce trade delegation visited the island. Following the Cuban revolution, the Cubans allied themselves with the Soviet Union and installed a Communist government. While the Soviet Union has long since collapsed, Cuba has continued on, largely in isolation due to U.S. sanctions.

Private business and the private market was essentially outlawed and Cuba became a command control economy with the central government deciding what to produce and it what numbers. At the time, Cuba depended on the Soviet Union to stay afloat.

Raul Castro, a Reformer?

In 2006, long ruling Fidel Castro was forced to hand off power to his younger and healthier brother Raul. The younger brother has been pushing through some gradual economic reforms and has slowly been increasing basic freedoms. Cubans are now allowed to own small businesses, and can buy Western luxuries, such as cars and electronics.

Raul Castro has also called for the United States to end the push for regime change and for both countries to respect each others’ differences. Given the long obsession of American lawmakers with forcing the Castro’s from power, however, these calls are unlikely to ever be heeded.

Cuban-Americans against visit

It appears that the Cuban-American community, or at least its vocal leaders, are against the visit. Many American businesses and Cuban-Americans lost considerable amounts of wealth during the Cuban Revolution. During the revolution, private property was seized and taken over by the Communist state.

The Cuban-American community is a powerful group and has a lot of influence in Congress. As such, so long as the community opposes warming relations with Cuba, any progress made is likely to be minimal. Still, the trade delegation is a step forward, even if it is only a small one.

By all reports, the trade delegation was met warmly by a group of senior Cuban officials. So far, it appears that the delegation is being given an extensive and open tour of the country. Whether or not the trip will have any influence on Cuban-American relations remains to be seen.