Cuba overhaul could backfire in big way: Gutierrez

Don't 'plunk down' money in Cuba yet: Gutierrez
Don't 'plunk down' money in Cuba yet: Gutierrez

Business leaders should not bank on entering the Cuban market just yet, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

President Barack Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to restore relations with Cuba that included measures to expand travel to the nation, authorize sales and exports from the United States, and allow travelers to import more goods.

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But the former cabinet member under President George W. Bush sounded a cautious note.

"Let's see how this thing is going six months, one year from now. This could backfire in a very big way, and I would not urge businesses to go down and start plunking down money or thinking that they can plunk down money," said Gutierrez, who was born in Havana. His family fled to the U.S. when he was 6.

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As for the president's motivation, he said, "I think President Obama wants to make Cuba his China. He wants to be the president who opens up Cuba."

What the president must realize is that he's dealing with a regime that relies on anti-American ideology and exists because it has positioned itself as the bulwark against the American empire, he said. For that reason, he said, he is skeptical that the Cuban leadership will turn over control to U.S. companies.

Cuba's sitting pretty now: Gutierrez
Cuba's sitting pretty now: Gutierrez

Gutierrez noted that the U.S. embargo on Cuba cannot be lifted without a congressional vote. That fact could derail any executive action on renewing commercial ties because the law that codifies the embargo overlaps with presidential authority, he said.

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The announcement yesterday was really only a prisoner exchange, and the fate of diplomatic and commercial relations remain uncertain, he said.

"This is not the first time that we've gotten close to an agreement with Cuba and in the end they've made it blow up," he said.