In 2014, President Barack Obama Barack Obama announced that America’s decades’ old Cuba policy, based on outdated Cold War politics, is no longer in the best interest of the United States. The President called for an era of engagement that would, over time, improve the lives of ordinary Cubans and Americans. Since then, the White House has taken multiple steps to normalize relations — including the opening of mutual embassies and allowing for limited direct air travel between the two nations.
Building on the President’s vision, I joined Gov. John Bel Edwards and other Louisianans this month in Havana to sign a memorandum of understanding with the National Port Administration of Cuba. Our visit was a follow up to a July fact-finding mission to Cuba, when Louisiana delegates – including myself — met with Cuban government and trade officials and toured the Port of Mariel. The document we signed on this most recent trip signifies a ceremonial partnership to expand trade and commerce and codifies ongoing efforts between the political, business and civilian leadership of both Cuba and Louisiana.
Unfortunately, the memorandum of understanding we signed was not a binding agreement because of the United States’ continued Cuban embargo, which prohibits, by law, any commercial relationship with Cuba. Economically, the island nation has been cut off from the democratic West for nearly 60 years. The effects of that political and economic isolation are omnipresent there. The United States and Cuba were natural trading partners before the embargo. There is no reason to believe if the embargo was lifted, that the trading partnership between our two nations would not again immediately flourish. After all, only 90 miles of water separate Cuba and the United States, and the Caribbean nation imports around 80% of its food. Cuba needs to bring in vast quantities of grains and other sustenance to feed its population, while the United States produces massive surpluses of commodities like corn, rice, beans, poultry and wheat for export. There can be little doubt that the lifting of the embargo would not be a massive economic boon for America.
The potential for this new trading relationship is particularly significant to my home state of Louisiana, which is home to five of the top 15 ports in this country. The Port of South Louisiana, alone, exports more grain than any other port in the United States. If the Cuban embargo were lifted, it would translate into massive economic gains for Louisiana and other agricultural regions, particularly the Midwest. To demonstrate just how important a trade agreement with Cuba could be for Louisiana, approximately 50 regional, state, local, port, and private business leaders joined a mission to Cuba. Both Republican and Democrat Louisiana leaders travelled to Cuba to lend support and show solidarity for the effort.
Regardless of your views about the past and current Cuban leadership, it is obvious that the embargo has not been effective in toppling their government. In fact, the same government is in place since the Cuban embargo was put into effect in the early 1960s.
Lastly, I respect the opinions of those Americans who do not want the embargo lifted. However, I sincerely believe that strengthening the bonds between our two countries though trade and commerce will improve the quality of life of both average Cubans and Americans over time. Therefore, we have a moral obligation to try and make this partnership work. Ending the embargo is an investment in economic progress and in a better future for both countries. Louisiana is committed to leading the way.
Paul Aucoin is the Executive Director of the Port of South Louisiana, the largest foreign trade zone for merchandise received in the U.S. with $75 billion in cargo and the number one Grain Exporter in the nation.
Paul Aucoin, The Hill
October 21, 2016