Georgia leaders visit Cuba to begin building relationships


On a trip to Cuba this week, state Sen. David Lucas noticed how few American cars were on the streets.

For the political veteran, it was a sign of one of the reasons earlier this year he sponsored a resolution to form a Senate committee to study the impact of Georgia forging a better relationship with the island nation. So, for four days this week he and a delegation of 13 other Georgian political, educational and business leaders visited Havana, the capital of Cuba.

It makes sense to look at working with a nation that’s physically closer than some other countries where business relationships have developed with Georgia, Lucas said.

Other countries like China and Germany are making headway with selling vehicles in Cuba while America lags behind.

Among the other members on the trip to Havana were the dean of the Mercer University School of Medicine, former speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives Terry Coleman, and Lucas’ wife, Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Elaine Lucas.

While setting up the trip, Lucas got in touch with Coleman, who had built relationships with some people in Cuba over the years. While they were not able to meet with government leaders, the group met with people such as a retired Cuban government employee, a college professor, business owners and other Cuban residents.

The cost of the trip did not involve taxpayer money.

William Bina, dean of Mercer’s medical school, said there could be numerous ways the school can work with medical schools in Cuba and the nation’s Ministry of Health.

He estimates about 50 percent of Mercer’s medical students are interested in a global health experience, as they’re eager to learn how to treat different cultures.

Bina described the Cubans he met on the trip as “proud, creative and energetic.”

“I think we need to take a long-term view and develop the relationships that would allow a exchange of ideas and certainly with education in the medical field,” Bina said.

One of the interesting notes about health care in Cuba is that “they have enough physicians to cover their entire country and citizens, but here in Georgia we have a deficit of physicians for a growing population,” Bina said.

For many Cuban parents, the emphasis has been to have their children become doctors or lawyers, which has led to a major shortage in skilled-labor jobs, Elaine Lucas said.

One critical area that Cuba needs help with improving is infrastructure, such as their poor water and sewer systems.

“Now Cubans are realizing they need folks to do building contracting, and they need engineers,” she said.

An improved relationship with Cuba could be beneficial to both sides.

“If we don’t go ahead and start talking with Cuba, the other countries will do it before us,” she said. “There’s so much potential. The people are very friendly. They’re not hostile to Americans.”

October 23, 2015

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