MOBILE, Alabama — Every month, three to five cargo ships loaded with Alabama-made products shove off form the Port of Mobile for the Dominican Republic, an impoverished, poorly educated island nation in the Caribbean Sea.
It is a flood compared to the trade between Mobile and the much-closer nation of Cuba, though.
“There’s no reason in the world why that couldn’t happen with Cuba,” said Jimmy Lyons, the director of the Alabama State Port Authority.
Increased trade may be on the horizon with President Barack Obama’s decision last month to loosen Cold War-era restrictions on travel and trade to the Communist country that has been a thorn in the side of American presidents for decades.
Under current rules, limited trade is allowed. Lyons said a cargo ship every month delivers Alabama chickens to Cuba. Every other month or so, he said, a cargo ship delivers lumber, telephone poles and other products
Lyons, who has been active in Society Mobile-La Habana – which seeks stronger ties between Mobile and Havana – said he expects that to increase. “No question it would be great for the port and really good for the whole state of Alabama,” he said.
Lyons said he disagrees with a speech Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, gave on the House floor Thursday opposing Obama’s Cuba policy and demanding that the regime of Raul Castro liberalize its political system before getting the benefit of normalized trade.
But the way Lyons sees it, the benefits of trade run in both directions. And Alabama stands to benefit more than most states, he added.
“Under the old rules, it was very difficult,” he said. “Congressional action will be necessary to really open things up, and I wish Congressman Byrne would lead the charge on that, and not wait for the president.”
Lyons said the United States has stuck with a policy that has not worked for more than 50 years even as the country has moved to normalize relations with Communist powers like China and former Cold War adversaries like Vietnam.
“Change will come” to Cuba, he said. “And I think it will come faster if we start trading with them.”
Lyons said the benefits go beyond trade. Existing student and cultural exchanges could be expanded. He said Cuba has a large bio-tech sector, as well.
“Cuba has a lot to offer,” he said.