Representatives of the Tampa Port Authority just returned from a trip to Cuba, where they discussed increasing exports from Tampa to the Communist run country. WMNF’s Amy Snider has the story….

A 43 year trade embargo with Cuba, the only Communist country in the Americas, was partially lifted after Hurricane Michelle devastated Cuba in November, 2001. The deadly storm damaged 45,000 homes and destroyed valuable crops. That’s when the US Congress voted to allow certain agricultural products and medicines to be sent to Cuba.

Last year, former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco’s trip to Cuba met with harsh criticism from many Cuban-Americans. Dr. Joseph Diaz, Chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, and George Williamson, Port Director and CEO, spoke to the media about their visit to Cuba, and say that their visit has been non-controversial. And, says Williamson, trade with Cuba is legal.

Williamson re: blessed by US govt (2)

Critics have said that the Tampa Port authority has been slow to establish relations with Cuba, as numerous port cities in the country including Jacksonville, Gulfport, Mississippi, and Corpus Christi, Texas, have already exported millions of dollars worth of goods to Cuba. And, Cuba already has operating agreements with 11 US ports. The first US contract to export to Cuba was signed in December, 2001. Williamson and Diaz insist Tampa is not behind the curve, yet they then said that they have been watching as other cities have developed relationships with Cuba.

Dr. Joseph Diaz:

Diaz actuality – 27 ports….

Similarly, Mr. Williamson describes observing the movement of products already being exported from other US ports…

Williamson re:watching movement

Williamson says the visit is the first step in forging a trade relationship with Cuba:

Williamson re:first step

Diaz and Williamson say they had no contact with Fidel Castro during their four-day stay in Cuba. They visited the ports of Havana and Matanzas. They report that 10,000 tons of animal feed, made mostly of phosphate, have been exported from Tampa to Cuba in the last six months. They also say that 90% of exports to Cuba are now shipped from the Midwest.

During their meetings with Cuban port officials, Diaz and Williamson say they were not asked to persuade the US government to further lift the embargo. Currently, while Cuba may receive American food and medicine, Cuba may not export goods to the United States.

When asked about doing business with a country with a repressive government, Williamson said that dealing with Cuba is no different than working with other non-Democratic countries.

Williamson re: peel away emotion

However, Cuban port officials emphasized Tampa’s 90-mile proximity to Cuba, its historical ties dating back to the late 19th century, and Tampa’s Cuban-American heritage, which is still alive today.

Tampa Port Authority Chairman George Diaz:

Diaz re: Historical ties

The next step for the Tampa Port Authority is to provide Cuban officials with a list of area companies that export products that the Cuban people need. For WMNF news, this is Amy Snider.

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