Louisiana is gearing up in case economic restrictions placed on Cuba are lifted. A stance they’ve held since former President Barack Obama and his administration began repairing relations with the country in 2015. The state, which has successfully exported more than $1.4 billion worth of goods to Cuba since 2006, has spent the better part of a year normalizing relations with the country since the travel ban was lifted in 2015. This has included trips by Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and Louisiana’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, Mike Strain, who is a Republican
Relations between the United States and Cuba have been strained since 1962, which is known as Proclamation 3447 and was signed by President John F. Kennedy in February of that year. It is preceded by the arms embargo that went into effect in 1958 during the Fulgencio Batista regime and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
This embargo, known in Cuba as el bloqueo, or the blockade, is bolstered by two statutes that were implemented prior to the blockade and which Cuba meet the criteria for, and four additional statutes that were implemented over the course of four decades. These include, but are not limited to, the Cuban Assets Control Regulations Act of 1963 and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.
The purpose of these restrictions, which included commercial, economic, and financial embargoes for 55 years, was to place pressure on the country to progress towards “democratization and greater respect for human rights,” as outlined by the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992.
It is also reported that the United States holds $6 billion worth of debt and financial claims against Cuba, which has led advocates for the embargoes to argue that until the debt can be paid in full, Cuba should not enjoy normalized relations with its neighbor.
While the restrictions have been firmly in place since 1962, the anti-embargo outcry has been rising.
In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has annually passed a resolution condemning the actions by the US and declaring it to be in violation of not only the Charter of the United Nations but also international law. Likewise, human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch remain critical of the embargo due to its impact on the humanitarian crisis in Cuba.
In recent years, Cuban-American groups have called for a normalization of relations, citing that although there have been embargoes placed on Cuba, the United States continues to profit from Cuba through businesses.
The Obama Administration further changed the relationship with Cuba by easing the travel ban, first in 2009 to allow Cuban-Americans to travel to the country, and then again in 2011 to allow students and missionaries travel there as well, provided they meet certain travel requirements.
In 2014, the Obama administration continued to ease restrictions on Cuba by announcing its intent to re-establish relations with Cuba and in 2015, President Obama met with President Raúl Castro. In 2016, the travel ban was finally lifted, although there are still some requirements that need to be met prior to boarding a flight.
NOLA.com hosted a guest column from Strain and Joe Accardo Jr., the executive director of the Ports Association of Louisiana which summarized the extent of trade that the state currently does with Cuba and the potential advantages that could arise with easing restrictions.
One of the most interesting aspects of the column comes in the form of an assessment of the profit that could be gained for the state should they be allowed to export food products, including soybeans and rice, to Cuba. These products accounted for roughly $750 million in export value in 2014 and would only increase should the current restrictions be lifted by the Trump Administration.
Cuba currently imports the majority of its rice from Vietnam, which is of lower quality than that which is found in Louisiana and takes a full month to reach the island country. Prior to the 1962 embargo, Cuba was the largest market for rice, which is grown in substantial amounts in Louisiana and other Southern states. And because the state’s ports are just two sailing days away from Cuba, trade would only increase, allowing both entities to benefit from a solid trade relationship.
Governor Edwards, who was recently re-appointed by President Trump to sit on the Council of Governors, has made it clear that the intention of Louisiana is to pursue deeper trade relations with Cuba.
The Advocate reported that the Governor took a week-long trip to Cuba last year to foster better relations with the country as efforts increased to dissolve the long-standing embargo. Edwards told reporters that “I still believe the overall trajectory remains positive, and we are moving toward freer trade with Cuba. We’re going to do everything we can under the current constraints.”
United States Congress Representative Clay Higgins, a Republican representing the Port Barre district, spoke about Cuban relations after he joined the Cuba Working Group, which has a stated goal of rebuilding the economic relationship between the countries. He reiterated the need for Louisiana to have a relationship with Cuba on economic terms, a position the Governor agrees with.
“Americans have suffered through a stagnant economy for almost a decade. Jobs have been scarce, particularly in southern Louisiana. I think it’s time to start trading with Cuba, to bolster the economy in the 3rd Congressional District,” Higgins said in a statement. “If there are opportunities for our farmers to trade with Cuba, then that’s something we’re definitely going to want to look at.”
The Trump Administration has been critical of trade agreements with countries; the President recently pulled the country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has consistently threatened to impose the embargoes and pull out of any deals, stating that “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people, and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”
In February of this year, White House Press Secretary announced that the administration was conducting a comprehensive overview of US-Cuba relations. There have been no plans announced by the new administration on Cuba or lifting further restrictions.
Governor Edwards remains committed to improving the life and economy of the state of Louisiana, which continues to be his main reason for trading with Cuba. While the future of US-Cuba relations remains in limbo, the only thing Louisiana residents can be certain of is that the Governor will use any strategies at his disposal to provide a strong economy for his state.