The President Speaks at an Entrepreneurs Event in Cuba

The President Speaks at an Entrepreneurs Event in Cuba


Let me begin by
thanking our hosts. This is my very first visit
to a Cuban cervecería. I hear they’ve got some
great pollo — Moros y Cristianos. And, of course, cerveza. But today, we’re
here to work. So I want to thank all of
you for being part of this unprecedented event —
the Cuban government. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the new U.S.-Cuba Business Council. I’m also want to express my
appreciation because we are joined on this trip by
nearly 40 members of Congress, as well as some
of America’s top business leaders and innovators who
are eager to invest in Cuba and its people. And most importantly, I
want to welcome all the extraordinary entrepreneurs
— men and women who are here from across Cuba. Now, I’m not here to
give a big speech. I’m going to do
that tomorrow. What I really want to do is
hear from you and have a conversation about what
we can achieve together. But I do want to begin by
stepping back and talking about the forces and hopes
that bring us together here today. In many ways, the history
of Cuba can be understood through the labor
of the Cuban people. For centuries, under
colonial rule, and then during decades
of American involvement, the toil of the Cuban people
was often used to enrich others as opposed to the
people who were doing the work. And then, for much of
the past half century, it was virtually impossible
for Cubans to operate their own businesses. But in recent years,
that’s begun to change. To its credit, the Cuban
government has adopted some reforms. Cuba is welcoming more
foreign investment. Cubans can now buy
and sell property, and today many Cubans
own their own homes and apartments. It’s easier for Cubans to
travel, to buy a cellphone, for farmers to
start cooperatives, and for a family to start
their own business. The United States has
been proud to help. Shortly after I took office,
we said that Cuban Americans could send unlimited
remittances to their families here in Cuba. And we allowed Cuban
Americans to visit more often. Across this island, Cubans
have used those remittances often to start businesses. And when Cuban
Americans come visit, they often bring
supplies and materials. We also made it easier for
Cuban entrepreneurs to import and to export. And since we’ve made it
easier to travel to Cuba, a lot more Americans are
visiting the island — you may have noticed. So the Cuban economy is
beginning to change, and just look
at the results. Groups like Cuba Emprende
are training a new generation of entrepreneurs. Today, about half a million
Cubans — including some of you — are proud
cuentapropistas — running your own restaurants, cafes,
beauty salons, barber shops, or working as artists,
seamstresses and taxi drivers. Your businesses now employ
about one-third of the Cuban workforce. With help from
services like Airbnb, more Americans are staying
at your casas particulares and eating at your paladares — like my family did last night. That food was really good —
even if my Spanish is not that great. (laughter) Those of you who run your
own business knows what this means. You can earn a little more
money for your family. You can provide more
for your children. And then there’s the pride
that comes from creating something new and improving
the lives of those around you. And that’s the power
of entrepreneurship. It’s about
self-determination — the opportunity to forge
your own future. It’s the belief that even if
you don’t have much — maybe just a kitchen, or
a sewing machine, or a car — if you’re
willing to work hard, you can make your own way
and improve your situation in life for the
next generation. It’s the spirit of youth
— talented and driven, daring young people like so
many of you ready to make your mark on the world. It’s an investment
in the future, because as we’ve
seen in America, businesses that start small
— even in a garage — can grow into some of the
world’s most successful companies, and change the
way we work and the way we live and connect
with each other. That’s the spirit of
entrepreneurship. And that’s what we’re
encouraging here today. Because Cuba’s economic
future — its ability to create more jobs and a
growing middle class, and meet the aspirations of
the Cuban people — depends on growth in the
private sector, as well as
government action. And it’s not easy. In the United States, we
work to help entrepreneurs and small businesses get the
resources they need because it can be a struggle to
get a new venture off the ground. Around the world, we
help young people and entrepreneurs access
training and skills to put their ideas into action. Here today, you’re talking
about the challenges you face as entrepreneurs
in Cuba. Now, many of the changes
that our two countries have already announced,
including today, will help you to meet
some of those challenges. More Americans coming to
Cuba means more customers for your businesses. More Americans using the
dollar will mean that they will spend more, as well. There will be more channels
for you to import supplies and equipment. More Americans will be able
to buy your arts, crafts, food, Cuban-origin software
— as well as, of course, Cuban rum and cigars. We also know that,
around the world, entrepreneurs flourish when
there’s an environment that encourages their success. When professionals like
architects and engineers and lawyers are allowed to
start their own businesses, as well. When entrepreneurs can get
loans from banks — capital to start and expand
their businesses. And then we need wholesale
markets where you can buy supplies. When there’s a single
currency and modern infrastructure so you can
get your goods to market and import supplies. And perhaps most
importantly, when everybody has
a chance to succeed, including women
and Afro-Cubans. These are all areas where
the United States hopes to be a partner as
Cuba moves forward. And I can tell you one of
the reasons I’m so confident in the potential of the
Cuban people is because you have some important
advantages. Your commitment to education
and very high literacy rates — that gives you an
enormous advantage in the 21st century. That’s been an investment
that has been made here in Cuba. Your ingenuity — who else
could keep almendrons running all these years? You’ve got more than 300
million potential American customers — and one of the
world’s most dynamic cities, Miami, right next door. And you have more than
two million talented, successful Cuban Americans
— some of whom joined me on this trip — ready to invest
in you and help pursue your dreams, and have deep family
commitments and deep roots in Cuban culture. So I’m absolutely convinced
— if just given a chance, more Cubans can succeed
right here at home, in the Cuba that you love. So I’m here today to say
that America wants to be your partner. Around this visit, American
companies are moving ahead with new commercial deals. GE is going to sell
more products here, from aviation to
energy technology. CleBer will be
the first U.S. company to build a factory
here in more than 50 years — they’re going to build
tractors for Cuban farmers. Starwood will become
the first U.S. hotel that operates
here in nearly 60 years, and Marriot plans to come,
as well — and they’ll help train Cubans in the
hospitality industry. The first Carnival cruise is
expected to pull into Havana in May. And I will keep saying it
every chance I get — one of the best ways to help the
Cuban people succeed and improve their lives
would be for the U.S. Congress to lift the
embargo once and for all. (applause) Here today, we’re doing
even more to empower Cuban entrepreneurs. I know you’ve been
networking with each other and potential
American partners. Innovators in business —
like Airbnb’s Brian Chesky — are sharing the lessons
that they’ve learned. We’ve got a shark here named
Daymond John — for those of you who don’t know, there’s
a show in America called Shark Tank, which is an
outstanding show where, on television, young
entrepreneurs bring their ideas and present them,
and they try to get some financing right
there on the air. And it’s a fun
show to watch. Julie Hanna supports
entrepreneurs all over the world with micro-financing. So give them
your best pitch. They just might bite
and decide to invest. We’re also announcing some
new commitments today. As part of our Young Leaders
in the Americas Initiative, we’re going to welcome up to
15 young Cuban entrepreneurs to the United States to help
them get the training and skills to grow
their own business. For the first time, we’ll
welcome Cubans to our annual Global Entrepreneurship
Summit, which I’ll host in Silicon
Valley later this year. And later this year,
our Small Business Administrator, Maria
Contreras Sweet — who is here today. Where’s Maria? There she is. She’s going to lead a
delegation of business leaders here to promote more
entrepreneurship in Cuba. And we also want to
help connect more Cuban entrepreneurs
to the Internet. Some are here today,
including Yon Gutiérrez, who designed AlaMesa, an
app to connect Cubans to restaurants; and InfoMed,
connecting doctors and scientists. More Cubans are going
online at Wi-Fi hotspots, but still, very few Cubans
have Internet access. Although I just learned that
my skit with Panfilo got two million hits here
in Cuba, so that — (laughter and applause) — I think with Internet
access paid attention here. But in terms of
Internet access, even those who have it
often are using old dial-up connections that can
be expensive and slow. I don’t even remember the
sound of the phone when it went (makes “dial-up” sound) — so new technology has
come and we need to bring it to Cuba. “If we had Internet” one
Cuban entrepreneur said, “we could really take off.” So America wants to
help you take off. And Verizon will help
deliver direct landline phone connections between
Cuba and the United States. Cisco has announced it will
help Cuban students develop their IT skills. The American
high-tech firm Stripe, is partnering with Merchise
Startup Circle here in Havana to help Cubans start
ventures and do business online. The bottom line is this. We believe in
the Cuban people. We believe in artists like
Idania Del Rio who designs and illustrates her own
goods — “99 percent Cuban design,” she calls it. We believe in merchants
like Sandra Lidicie Aldama, who says, “One of the most
important things in the Cuban nature is
perseverance, optimism, and our capacity to find a
solution to any obstacle in the way.” We believe in the
entrepreneur who said, “I think with these changes
in Cuba there’s no turning back.” And another who said, “This
opens us up to the world.” And one who also said,
“Just give us the chance.” Just give us the chance. Well, as your friend
and as your partner, the United States of America
wants to help you get that chance. And we’re so grateful
that we’re off to this outstanding start at
this event here today. Muchas gracias. (applause) Thank you very much. Thank you. Now, as I said, I didn’t
want to just talk, I want to also
hear from you. So I’ve asked to join me
one of our outstanding journalists in
the United States, an entrepreneur herself
who works to empower girls through education. She is a proud
Cuban-American who, on this visit, has brought
her children to Cuba to meet their cousins for
the first time. Please give her a big round
of applause — Soledad O’Brien. (applause) Ms. O’Brien: So
welcome, everyone. My name is Soledad O’Brien,
and I’m a journalist, as the President said. And I’m also a
Cuban-American. My mother grew up not very
far from here, Habana Vieja. And so it’s not only
nice to be back, but it’s great to be able to
bring my children here for the first time. I’m also an entrepreneur. I run a small business
that employs nine people full-time. So I know very well the joys
and the struggles of running your own business. And I’m excited to be
here today to moderate a discussion — to talk to
several businesspeople, some people who work in the
private sector and others who work in the
state sector, to discuss some of the
opportunities to improve business and also improve
cooperation between Cuba and the United States. So I’m going to ask the
people that I call on to stand and talk for just a
couple of moments about your business. And if you have a question
for the President, we would love to hear it. So we’ll begin with Gilberto
“Papito” Valladares. He’s a small business owner. He is a barber. He’s also a
community organizer. Welcome. (applause) The Press: (as interpreted) Good afternoon. Mr. President, my name
is Gilberto Valladares. Everybody calls
me by my nickname, “Papito.” I’m a bald
barber and a dreamer. I’d like to share
with you my vision, my personal vision. I am also from Old Havana. I love Old Havana. We have that in common. In ’99, I made a major
decision in my life to become a private
self-employed people. At the time, 95 percent
of barbers worked for the state. Now, 95 percent of them
are private operators, meaning that something is
happening in Cuban society. It is a very important
moment for me. I know that the historical
moment of committing the private sector with
society is tomorrow, and that’s what’s been
happening in my community. I live in the callejón
de los peluqueros, or barbers’ street. I do like barber work. That’s why they talk about
that callejón, or alley. Three years ago,
on that street, we only had one
self-employed person, myself. Today we are talking in
terms of 97 people who are self-employed, including
owners and workers. And this has helped us to
promote a dynamic I’d like to share with you as to
how my community has been creating a chain of economic
benefits and also a chain of social benefits. I am convinced that social
benefits make economic benefits even more greater. When you work in a
micro-company and you work for the future of society,
that’s where the future of society lies. The person (inaudible) values of economics. That’s why we pay so much
attention to social values. My economic project is also
helping another project for young people who want to
learn to become barbers. Today we have 10 deaf girls
who are being taught how to be hairdressers so that in
the future they can work. I’m so happy because
alliances have allowed us to grow. By alliances I mean
alliances between the private and state sector,
among people, and so on. I think it is also very
important to see how we are creating a synergy, and
in the end, we all win. I’ll also say it’s so
important that in the end I will not be able
to fix the world, but I can fix my little
piece of land where I live. And I think that a very few
littles will make a big thing up. President Obama: Well,
first of all, Papito, I know that my barber is
very important to me. And Michelle’s hairdresser
— if she had to choose between me and her
hairdresser, I don’t know, it would be a close call. (laughter) But in the United States, a
barbershop, a beauty salon, that’s oftentimes the center
of the neighborhood and community life, and
that’s where people meet. And so congratulations on
not only starting your business but also seeing it
as a social enterprise that can help to contribute
to the wellbeing of the community as a whole. One of the things we’re
excited about is the fact that even though
it’s starting small, and you’re self-employed,
you’re now about to build up a business and people can
see you as a role model and as an example. The next step obviously is
for you potentially to be able to expand. And in the United States —
I don’t know about barbering here — but in
the United States, oftentimes people start off,
they just have one chair in the barbershop, then
they get five chairs. Young barbers come in and
initially they rent a chair from you, but over time,
once they’ve gotten regular customers, maybe they go
off and they branch off, and they start their
own barbershop. And in that way, you see a
number of businesses start to grow, even though it
started just from one. And one of the issues that
hopefully the cuentapropista movement can begin to
develop is the capacity to take these small businesses
that have just started and begin to expand them. That’s not going to
happen overnight, but that’s part of what we’d
like to see encouraged. And I think that that’s
going to require government feeling comfortable
with that process, but it’s also going to
require entrepreneurs like you, as role models, so
that people can see how successful it’s been. I will say, there was an
interesting conversation that I had with President
Castro around this issue, and I know that U.S. companies will
relate to this, because he pointed out that
as people start getting more of their own income, owning
their own property and starting their
own businesses, the question starts coming
up about paying taxes. And President Castro
pointed out, rightfully, that nobody likes
paying taxes, especially if they’re not
used to paying taxes. And I assured him that
was a universal trait. That’s true in America, just
as much as it is in the United States. But that gives you a sense
of how some of these institutions are going to
have to evolve over time because they’re still
relatively new. But certainly these are the
kinds of initiatives that will start building new
habits and new possibilities for people throughout
your country. So, congratulations. If I hadn’t just
gotten a haircut, I’d stop by your shop. (applause) Ms. O’Brien: The next person
I’d like to introduce is Idania del Rio, and
she’s a graphic designer. And she has been in the past
part of an exchange program to the United States. The Press: (as interpreted) Thank you, very much. Good afternoon. I am a designer,
illustrator. And with two women, we
funded Clandestina, which is a design brand
intending to define work by as done by Cuban
young designers, and in general to have a
bigger design market in Havana to begin with. So we are trying to
establish a chain between creation, production, and
sales for the benefit of Cuban designers. The concept behind
Clandestina’s work is to change the concept of
Cuban souvenir idea. We have products like rum
and tobacco and cigars, which are practically
commodities, but there is a whole market
of new products from new initiatives of creation
which are not as well established as
those products. And design is a quite
interesting field in any modern society where much
value can be generated for society itself. Clandestina
began a year ago. What started as a t-shirt
shop has become a project with 14 employees, and it is
creating over 25 products. So we are very, very happy
— most of all, our girls, which is also very cool. And thanks to some things
that have been happening — we have been invited to
participate in WEAmericas, which is a State
Department project. And because of those
things of life, we entered the Columbia
Business School. So we’ve been having
business training, and that’s essential for us. That has changed our lives
and the way we think of our own project, which began
as a project and now is a company. We do have many expectations
for the future and for what we can do with young people
in our township in Old Havana also. Thank you very much. (applause) Ms. O’Brien: What would you
like to happen between Cuba and the United States that
could be helpful to you and the young women
that you serve? The Press: Basically, what
has been discussed here. Specific regulations,
information about those regulations, what will
happen with imports and exports, what will happen
with Cubans as to whether they might be having
companies in the United States or selling
their products there. Could they trade online? And that Cuban state
information and U.S. government information
would be valuable for us. This information is what
we need most, I think. President Obama: Well, I
need some information on where I can buy a
couple of t-shirts. (laughter) Did you bring some samples? I’m not going to take yours. But we’ll see if we
can get a couple. I think Malia and Sasha
might want a couple. And I still have some pesos
to spend before I leave. But I tell you, you’re
absolutely right about the need to make sure that young
people who have ideas are not restricted to just the
traditional exports where you’re not that high
up on the value chain. And this is true
around the world, including in the
United States. You have global markets
— they’re competitive. If all you’re doing is
selling commodities, then it’s very hard to spur
significant economic growth, and you’re also vulnerable
in the world marketplace if there’s a downturn in the
economy and people need less raw materials. So if China’s economy slows
and suddenly they’re not buying as much oil
or as much minerals, or what have you, then
suddenly the economy of that country is very vulnerable. And so you want a
diversified economy and you want to make sure that
skills, design, software, products of intellectual
work and not just raw materials and commodities,
that that becomes a critical part of the overall economy. Now, Cuba already has an
example of that in its outstanding medical
profession. The doctors and the nurses
are essential exports for Cuba because they’re
highly skilled, they’re highly trained. They’re at a
global standard. And as a consequence, they
can sell those services essentially when they work
elsewhere in the world. But there’s no reason
to think that the same ingenuity that exists
when it comes to medicine shouldn’t be true in fashion
as well, or in software, or in engineering, or
a whole host of other potential occupations
that people provide. And so you’re starting
to lead the way. But I’ll talk to you
afterwards about that t-shirt. Ms. O’Brien: The next person
we’d like to hear from is Brian Chesky. You mentioned him earlier. He is the founder of Airbnb,
and they have 2 million listings in 190 countries. The Press: Thank
you Mr. President. It’s an honor to be here. This is a historic
week for diplomacy. And I want to just talk for
a moment about maybe another kind of diplomacy, and
that is people-to-people diplomacy. We launched, with your
help, one year ago. In that period of time,
we’ve had Americans come from all 50 states
in the country, and they’ve stayed with
hosts here in Cuba. And we estimate now about
20 percent of all Americans that are staying in Cuba are
staying in a home with a Cuba host. What they say is that they
come here with 50 years of questions, and they have
three days to ask them. But I think it’s been an
amazing experience and unbelievable story. We just got the word from
the White House that, a day ago, we were going to
be allowed to have not just Americans stay
with a Cuban host, but guests from
all over the world. I mentioned this
to a Cuban host, and then she actually
started crying. And she explained to me that
this would allow her to finally be able to complete
paying the bills for their family and fix up her home. I met another host last
night, and she said, “We open our doors,
we open our hearts, and what we care most about
is not just the money we make, but the friendships we
make.” And they used to say that they had lots of
misconceptions about Americans, and it’s hard to
have misconceptions about Americans when you actually
host them in your homes. And the same thing is true
with Americans and I think people all over the world. There’s hundreds of
thousands of new friendships that are possible if we
can bring people together. (applause) President Obama: I just want
to brag on Brian just for one second. First of all, for those
Cubans who are not familiar with Brian, you can
see how young he is. The company that
he started, Airbnb, basically started as an idea
with his co-founder who is also here. How long ago did you
guys start, Brian? Mr. Chesky: Eight years. President Obama:
Eight years. And what’s the
valuation now? Mr. Chesky: Twenty-five — President Obama:
Don’t be shy. Mr. Chesky: $25 billion. President Obama:
$25 billion? With a “B”? Okay. But I use Brian
as an example. He’s one of our outstanding
your entrepreneurs who had an idea and acted on it. And in this global economy,
it can take off — if it’s a good idea and it’s
well executed. But I also think Brian is a
good example of the power of the Internet and why having
an Internet infrastructure is so important. Because essentially, Airbnb
is using social media and the Internet in order to
create a buyer and a seller and a market that is safe
for those buyers and sellers that didn’t
previously exist. I mean, it used to be if
an American or a German or anybody wanted
to come to Cuba, they could go to a
hotel, and that was it. Now, suddenly, there are
thousands of potential sellers of a great
experience here in Cuba, and they themselves become
small business people. But it’s only possible
because somebody in Germany can look up online and
see, okay, that’s a house, that looks nice,
there’s a nice picture. There’s been a good
rating of the host. They found out that
when you get there, the room actually looks like
the room on the Internet. The person who’s inviting
somebody into their home, they can check and
they’ve seen that, okay, the person who’s using this
has a good credit rating. And if they’ve stayed
at Airbnb before, they haven’t completely
torn up the house. And so it’s a tool to
build trust and allow this transaction to take place. But if you imagine what
could be done with broader Internet access and service
here, Brian, I think, gives you a good example of
the potential that could be unleashed. But it requires an
infrastructure and an investment in order
to make it work. Thank you for sharing
your story, Brian. (applause) Ms. O’Brien: Up next is
Abelardo Alvarez Silva. Mr. Silva, I should say,
is the president of the Cooperative of
Credits and Services, an association
of small farmers. The Press: Good
afternoon, Mr. President. I’m a farmer, president
of a credit and service cooperative, a social and
economic unit which has autonomy in its management. I cover expenses
with the income. There are 192 associates. There’s a general assembly,
the top organ of the cooperative. It has an area of 638
hectares — 500 are arable land with fruits, grains,
et cetera; 28 owners and 25 (inaudible). We produce all of our
production, around 9,000 tons. For social consumption,
we sell to the population directly. With the industry, we
sell seeds to hotels. One of the positive impacts
of our cooperative at the social level, our
cooperative takes care of women homes, children with
oncological problems. That is the positive
impact of the cooperative. We supply them. We are located in Artemisa,
Havana Matanzas area. It’s a productive
area under irrigation, with a system created by
farmers with an advanced experience in all the crops. However, we have not been
able to find all the potential because of the
absence of new technology. Our machinery are very
backward — irrigation system that prevents us from
finding the development and the top productivity
of our work. What is our message? To give us an opportunity
to meet two objectives. One, to produce food for the
people more efficiently. And second, in the
immediate future, to contribute to the world. And we continue with
our land growing it and harvesting it. (applause) President Obama: Let me just
ask you a quick question — pregunta. What’s your — you said
you grow grain and fruit. Let’s get a translation. I’m just curious,
first of all, what are the products that
you’ve been most successful in growing? What’s your major seller? And also, when it
comes to equipment, what are the specific things
that you’re looking for at this point? Is it basics, like tractors,
or is it more sophisticated irrigation systems? What are the main needs of
the cooperative at this point? The Press: (as interpreted) We have several crops. We produce potatoes,
plantains, and sweet potatoes. Those are the most
productive items. And in vegetables, we’re
high producers in carrots, tomato, beet root. They’re the main ones —
although we grow them all. And fruits — guava, papaya. Those are our main crops. Fifty percent
are vegetables, thirty-five in fruits,
fifteen in grains, and five percent in foods. When I spoke about the
obtainment of the equipment, we need machinery —
irrigation machinery. Our machinery is very old,
and no spare parts do we have. Those parts that
we need today, it’s hard to buy them. So the irrigation system
are actual furrows, and that’s not used anymore. It brings about erosion. And we have substituted
with organic maneuver. But still, we’re under
the productivity. When we have all
that machinery, things will be done in
less time, less expensive. Not so much use of water. Better protection of the
soil — to find the top productivity of the land. Also, the resources which
we need are indispensable, and sometimes
they don’t come. Because of the main
costs, as you know, we don’t receive those
inputs at the time required and when we don’t
really need it. Thank you. President Obama: My
Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, joined
me in this delegation. I don’t know if
he’s here today. But I know that he’s
been meeting with Cuban government officials about
how we can accelerate cooperation between U.S. farmers and Cuban farmers. We have programs all around
the world that are designed to advance technologies,
specifically for small farmers, not just for big
farmers — because the truth of the matter is, the U.S. agricultural industry, which
is the largest in the world, oftentimes may have systems
that are not perfectly adapted to smaller-scale
cooperative farming. On the other hand, what
you’re seeing in terms of agriculture in the United
States is a greater and greater interest in what’s
called organic farming — less inputs, less chemicals,
fewer mono-crops, and more vegetables and
fruits that can go directly to the table. And this is part of the
First Lady’s emphasis on healthier eating. And the fact that Cuba is so
close to the United States means that if you develop
fruits and vegetables here, the ability to ship them and
immediately get to markets where they can be purchased
would be something that could make a big difference
in terms of farm incomes here in Cuba. So this is an
area where, again, it’s not going to
happen overnight, but our hope is that as
relationships between the two countries
advance and develop, hopefully we’ll be getting
you some new equipment sometime in the future. The Press: Muchas gracias. President Obama:
Muchas gracias. (applause) Ms. O’Brien: Dr. Miriam
Portuondo Sao is with the health system. She’s a specialist in
the genetics clinic. Welcome. The Press: (as interpreted) Welcome. For us, it’s a pleasure to
share with you a little bit on the experience in
the field of medical collaboration. I am doctor — a doctor
in medical science, especially in
clinical genetics, and professor of
the university. And we have had the
opportunity to share the medical collaboration,
the international one. As you know, it reaches
138 other countries. Over 3,700 health
professionals have participated. And this field of
medical collaboration, there are several fields. And you know the recent
experience we had and the struggle against the Ebola
experience in the countries of Western Africa. From there on, we have had
other working lines in which we have cooperated, like the
miracle operation that has returned vision to over 2
million people in the rest of the world. We have a special program — research and action of disability. We have already one
experience of handicap people, which we
had in our country. We want to collaborate
with the ALBA countries, and this research we
want it to be conveyed. Once we research each person
with all the disabilities that show up, then we know
the true reality of that person. And in those sectors that
should be taken care of in a personalized manner, we
provide them with a medical special program. And other programs
have been developed, like the development
of genetics. And community genetics,
rehabilitation, those are programs which
go from the research and action. We also have the possibility
to establish collaboration lines, joint ones. And we have possibilities
that the health medical services have 17 programs. They are world-class
in the country. And we can received
patients if they are sent. And we have lines,
like attention and the certification of addiction
— lines which are already dealing with very specific
matters for certain regions, and where we could establish
other fields of cooperation — research, academic
services, development, clinical trials, especially
on cancer, for instance, that could contribute
in this link with the pharmaceutical industry. Vaccines, which have
already been tried, that shall improve the
quality and prolong the life of patients that are
limited at this moment. We’re willing to cooperate
in all these spheres. Thank you. (applause) Ms. O’Brien: You
mentioned collaboration. And I’d love to know what
could the United States and doctors and the medical
profession here in Cuba be working on together. President Obama:
Well, as I said, Cuba has world-class
doctors and nurses. And the field that
the doctor mentioned, the transformation that’s
taking place as we started understanding genetics,
mapping the human genome, understanding at
a cellular level, the nature of diseases,
means that we’re in a position in the very
near future to start personalizing treatments,
because a cancer cell that develops in me may not
be the same as one that develops in you, and
may require different treatments. But that’s just one example
of a wide range of areas where collaboration
could be very fruitful. So with the Cuban
government, we have agreed to establish
and develop over time more and more scientific and
research collaborations in the medical area. And one of the things that
I’ve always believed is that knowledge should be
disseminated everywhere. And the basis for scientific
advancement is the sharing of information
and data sets, and our ability to test
hypotheses and discoveries and treatments and diagnoses
across borders — because ultimately, regardless of
our political and economic systems and our differences,
the diseases are the same because we’re the
same creatures. And we want to make sure
that if there’s a cure or a potential line of
research here in Cuba, that that can go global, in
the same way that if in the United States, we find
a potential ability to diagnose or treat, that we
can spread that around the world. One specific example that
I mentioned to President Castro today is the work
we’re doing on Zika. It’s just not Zika; it’s
also dengue and some other mosquito-borne diseases that
are becoming more common because people are
traveling more. Many of these are actually
fairly simple viruses. But it’s just because they
used to be very isolated, the major drug companies and
scientific research didn’t devote a lot of
attention to them, and now suddenly they’re
spreading very quickly. The faster we can get
diagnoses and potential vaccines, the more we can
help guard against what appear to be some
correlations between this disease and abnormalities
in newborns. But you’re seeing this
spread so fast across the Americas, this is a natural
place where the U.S. and Cuba should be
working together. Because it really doesn’t
matter whether it’s and ALBA country or a U.S. ally, the mosquitos don’t
care about borders. They’re biting everybody. And the women who are
fearful because it may affect their pregnancy,
they’re not concerned with ideology, they’re interested
in making sure that their children are protected. So that’s a good, specific,
concrete example of how our collaboration can advance. Ms. O’Brien: Our last speaker is Indhira Sotillo Fernandez. She is the founder
of IslaDentro, which is sort of
the Yelp of Cuban. Business, artist, cultural
guide of the Internet. Certainly has been
challenging here. So why don’t you tell us
a little bit about your business and how you’d
like to see it develop. The Press: Good afternoon. My name is Indhira. I represent IslaDentro. It’s a guide of vistas
for the state and private sector. I am from the private
sector and I think I am an entrepreneur. This was a project that came
to my hands almost from the air. It just came to me. And in time, I have
been transforming it. We have modified until we
have reached to this state. If you want to
walk around Havana, you should install
it in your phone. It includes everything
you need, you require. We have restaurants,
cafeterias, beauty parlors, and mechanics of
almandrones, the old cars. All sorts of services are
in that type of guide. My experience in that work,
when I began I knew nothing about programming. All I do is empiric. I began to design
in an empiric way. I have a very good team
that backs me and perfectly understands this, and they
put it into practice. One, I want to be
the guide of Cuba. I want to be the one
representing Cuba abroad — the guide for all those who
come here and move around inside the whole island
with the application. To become the guide
that represents Cuba, abroad especially. And of course, to have
thousands and thousands — right now, I have hundreds
of active profiles in the application, and thousands
would be much better. President Obama: What’s
going to be the one or two things that are going to be
most important to you as you develop your business over
the next several years, and how can the dialogue
between the United States and Cuba be most helpful? Is it capital? Is it having access to
international markets? Is it making sure that the
Internet is widespread? Is it having
trained personnel? Is it your knowledge of how
to expand your business and make sure that it actually
is generating revenue? What are the things that you
think are going to be most important to you? The Press: A little bit of
all you have mentioned. A little bit of all
we’re going to need. Of course, to open up — if
the Internet is opened up, it will be faster so that
abroad they will know what we’re doing inside, and it
will be easier for anyone arriving, any foreigner,
coming with information. That is one of the things. Also, to train
ourselves better, it would be another of the
urgencies to take into account. A little bit of
everything you said. President Obama: Well, here
is the thing I will say, that Malia and Sasha
— Malia is soon 18, Sasha will soon be 15
— if they go anywhere, they don’t have a book. They don’t have maps. Everything is
on their phone. And that’s true of young
people internationally. And so as more and more
visitors come to Cuba, I think that the potential
for this app is going to be enormous. And so I know that you
have the right idea. It’s just going to be
a matter of execution. And hopefully, with some of
the changes that are taking place in terms of government
policy, and your own drive, and some of the work that
we’re doing, for example, where Cisco is training more
people in terms of online skills, and maybe some
entrepreneurial advice that we’re able to obtain through
the exchanges that have taken place between our two
countries — when they come here five years
from now without me, they’ll know how to find the
best restaurant and the best music. They’ll be going
to your app. So, good luck. (applause) The Press: Gracias. Ms. O’Brien: I’ll just throw
out some questions, as well. Where do you
think — I mean, clearly she talked about
wanting to learn about entrepreneurship, in
addition to capital and all these other things. What do you think is going
to be the thing that changes Cuba over the next two,
three years that will really help entrepreneurs
in this country? President Obama:
Well, ultimately, it’s going to be young
people like some of the ones that we’ve heard who are
going to use their own imaginations and ideas to
help develop and expand the Cuban economy. Obviously, the United States
has a long history — we were built on
entrepreneurship and on market-based principles. And it has produced wealth
that’s unmatched in the history of the world. I think Cuba, in part
because of its history and seeing some of the
inequalities that emerged in the old system, have been
concerned about what a market-based economy does
to the social fabric and to equality and to making sure
that the progress that’s been made in health
care and education, that that’s not eroded, and
you don’t start seeing some of the patterns of
inequality that existed before coming back. And I understand
those concerns. I will say this, though,
that in the 21st century, in a knowledge-based
economy, in a global economy, for
Cuba to grow it’s going to have to find ways to link
itself with that global economy. And that’s going to require
some reforms internally here in Cuba. And what I said to
President Castro was, given some of the history of
mistrust between the United States and Cuba, given the
fact that our embargo at the moment is still in place,
it may be that it’s not the United States that is giving
them the technical advice they need in terms of how to
make some of the changes and reforms in a way that is
not overly disruptive. But there are other
countries that have done this and made
these transitions. There are countries that
have a more mixed economy but that have been able to
develop strong entrepreneurs and a business class. And so Cuba
should take ideas, steal ideas from wherever
you see something working. Now, my advice would be
don’t steal ideas from places where
it’s not working. (laughter) And there are some economic
models that just don’t work. And that’s not an
ideological opinion on my part. That’s just the objective
reality that there’s some economies that have had
great difficulty in how they operate, and it gets harder
and harder as time goes by. So I think that some of
what’s going to have to happen will be
internal to Cuba. And that’s not going to be
determined by the United States, that’s going to be
determined by the Cuban government and
the Cuban people. What I can say is that the
business leaders — the U.S. business leaders who are
here and the American people are not interested
in Cuba failing. We’re interested
in Cuba succeeding. We’re interested in Cuba
being a partner with us. We’re interested in
a situation in which businesspeople who are in
Miami right now are taking a half hour, 45-minute flight,
or however long it takes, and suddenly they’re in a
thriving Cuba where they’re partnering with
Cuban businesses. Young people like the
ones we’ve met today, they’re developing their own
business on their own terms. They may have
international partners, but they’re not
being dictated to. They’re, in fact, the ones
who are guiding their own models and their
own prosperity. That more and more Cubans
are seeing the concrete benefits of economic growth,
and that that economic leadership, which I believe
can be compatible with good education and good health
care and equal pay for equal work, and all the principles
that President Castro talked about at his press
conference — that’s our hope. That’s our desire. When I initiated the
change in policy, one of my arguments was that
if something is not working for 50 years you stop doing
it and try something new. (applause) And that applies to what
the United States is doing. That also applies to
what Cuba is doing. (applause) And so we both I think are
in a time when we should be examining new ideas. But the one thing that this
gathering and hopefully my visit should have
communicated is the Cuban people have nothing to fear
from the United States. And I’ve said to the
American people, we have nothing
to fear from Cuba. And if we can
build that trust, and let these young people
develop their talents without fear, then I’m
confident that the future of both countries and the
cooperation between the two countries is going
to be very promising. So, thank you very
much, everybody. (applause)

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