Transport in Cuba
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South Louisiana delegation in Cuba for talks on promoting business ties

South Louisiana delegation in Cuba for talks on promoting business ties
March 14, 2015

Thirty-five years ago, Joe Doss helped load 473 political prisoners on a
World War II-era ship bound for the United States.

Doss, then an Episcopal priest in New Orleans, had spent two weeks in
Cuba organizing the rescue as part of a church mission authorized by
both nations’ governments. The vessel, dubbed “God’s Mercy,” was part of
the Mariel boatlift, in which 125,000 Cubans unwanted by Fidel Castro’s
government were allowed to flee the country.

On Saturday, Doss, 71, made his first return to Cuba since then, heading
an 80-person delegation of south Louisiana business, education and civic

“I’m expecting to see a very different place,” Doss said before setting
out. “Then, it was tyrannical. There was no good food. Cubans were
afraid to talk to us. It was not a fun trip. Now, I’m expecting to see a
country that’s opening up in many ways.”

Doss and the others attending the Cuba Hoy Conference made what is
believed to be the first direct flight from New Orleans to Havana in
more than 50 years — an especially noteworthy event because the two
cities had close economic and cultural ties until the aftermath of the
1959 Cuban revolution that brought Castro to power.

The delegation is the first one to visit Cuba from Louisiana since
President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother,
agreed in December to begin normalizing relations between the countries
— relations that have been stuck in a Cold War embrace dating from the
Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

The two countries do not have diplomatic relations, and since 1962, the
United States has enforced a trade embargo on most goods sent to Cuba.
That embargo remains in place.

Before the 1959 revolution and the exodus of Cubans to Miami and
elsewhere, New Orleans served as a gateway to the Caribbean island. The
weeklong trip is an attempt to position Louisiana to be a player as Cuba
transitions from the communist regime of Fidel Castro, who ceded
official power to his brother nine years ago, to an uncertain future.

Kevin Berken, a rice farmer in Acadiana who chairs the Louisiana Rice
Promotion Board, said Cuba was a major importer of Louisiana rice before
the U.S. embargo. Today, Cuba imports its rice from Vietnam. Getting
rice from Louisiana would take only two days, said Berken, who is not
making the trip.

“Other Gulf Coast states aren’t sitting around,” said Randy Haynie, a
prominent Baton Rouge lobbyist whose grandmother was Cuban and who is on
the trip. “It’s going to be a competition. I see wonderful opportunities
for business and tourism.”

To that end, the delegation will hold several sessions with the
University of Havana’s law school, with an eye toward analyzing how
American citizens can take advantage of the fact that they now can own
property in Cuba.

Mary Dumestre, a longtime attorney at the New Orleans law firm of Stone
Pigman Walther Wittmann, wants to get a better handle on such basic
questions as: How do you transfer property to private ownership in a
country where the government has nominally owned everything?

“How do they deal with contracts?” Dumestre asked. “How are contracts
enforced? How do you get property, title or liability insurance in Cuba?”

The trip was organized by Doss’ progressive religious group, At the
Threshold, and the International Cuba Society, a New Orleans-based group
headed by attorney Romualdo “Romi” Gonzalez.

Not everyone is pleased that the trip is taking place.

“It’s a complete waste of time,” said George Fowler III, a New Orleans
lawyer who was born in Cuba and is the general counsel for the
conservative Cuban American National Foundation, based in Miami.
“There’s nothing to do in Cuba absent the embargo being lifted. And
lifting the embargo requires congressional approval. That won’t happen
with Obama as president.”

Ana Lopez, the director of Tulane University’s Cuban and Caribbean
Studies Institute, sees benefits to traveling now. “What has begun to
happen is the chipping away of the embargo,” she said. More and more
Americans are traveling to Cuba, and Obama already has liberalized some
trade and travel rules.

“You can’t imagine what will happen in the future if you don’t get a
foot on the ground,” said Lopez, a Cuban native who is on the trip.

Wanting to get a foot on the ground helps explain why Guy Williams, the
chief executive officer of New Orleans-based Gulf Coast Bank & Trust,
signed up for the trip. “We do business in Central America,” Williams
said. “We would love to do business in Cuba as well. Hopefully, Cuba can
turn back into a democracy with civil rights and a market economy.”

Pres Kabacoff, a pioneer in redeveloping the Warehouse District and now
the Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans, will give a presentation
attended by Cuban officials on how to redevelop old neighborhoods. That
could have special resonance because Old Havana looks and feels like the
French Quarter but remains rundown.

“I want to tell them that development takes place through private-public
partnerships,” Kabacoff said. “The government needs to fill the gaps to
allow the commercial developer to get it done. How that plays in a
communist country, I don’t know.”

Source: South Louisiana delegation in Cuba for talks on promoting
business ties | News | The New Orleans Advocate — New Orleans, Louisiana

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