Louisiana committee asks state to reestablish trade with Cuba

A Louisiana Senate committee approved legislation Tuesday to restore the historic connection between this state and Cuba.

The House-adopted resolution asks Louisiana Economic Development to develop trade relations with the communist government of Cuba and analyze “current and future opportunities to establish Louisiana as the predominant trade partner with Cuba. …”

House Concurrent Resolution 37 was approved without objection but after a lot of good-natured discussion by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs. The resolution by state Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Republican Sen. Conrad Appel, of Metairie, said the government in Cuba is still restrictive with a bad human rights record and needs to improve.

“It’s a problem. I’m not belittling it. It’s a communist country, and it’s a dictatorship. But I think once the Cuban people recognize the benefits of capitalism and free markets and freedom, they’ll come around quickly,” Appel said. “I think this is a great idea.”

For 40 years during the late 1700s, Louisiana’s governor answered to the captain general in Havana and followed the same laws as Cuba. Until 1962, a few years after Fidel Castro took control of the island nation, Louisiana and Cuba had been close trading partners for centuries.

The 1959 revolution led to more than a half-century of estrangement between the U.S. and Cuban governments. President Barack Obama recently reopened diplomatic relations and has been pushing to ease the regulations that restrict open trade between the two countries.

Cuba has more than 11 million consumers who have been unable to buy U.S. goods for nearly 60 years.

In February, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to restore scheduled airline services. In March, Obama became the first president since Calvin Coolidge to visit the island.

The resolution points out that trade restrictions still exist. Connick said the resolution would limit Louisiana’s economic development officials to what’s allowed in federal law. But getting out early would help when federal restrictions are lifted, as they inevitably will be, he added.

“Why wait until everything happens. Let’s be in the forefront,” Connick said.

State Sen. Bret Allain II, a Republican who grows sugar cane near Franklin, noted that Cuba was the state’s largest competitor in the sugar industry before the Communist takeover of that country’s revolution. But he supported the resolution.

“We like their cigars,” he said.

Mark Ballard, The Advocate

May 17, 2016


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