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Could Louisiana be Cuba’s chief partner again?

Could Louisiana be Cuba’s chief partner again?
Jeff Matthews, jmatthews@thetowntalk.com, (318) 487-6380 6:31 p.m. CDT
June 9, 2015

Louisiana once reaped the financial benefits of partnership with Cuba.

The state could do so again, Mike Tudor thinks.

Tudor, an Alexandria attorney, was part of a delegation of 75 people
from Louisiana who visited Cuba in March — the largest delegation from
America to the island nation since the U.S. enacted a trade embargo in
1962. He told members of the Alexandria Rotary Club about his
experiences Tuesday.

“The potential for Louisiana is significant,” Tudor said of the evolving
nature of U.S.-Cuba relations. “No state that I know of would benefit
more from normalization of relations. Louisiana used to be Cuba’s chief
trading partner. The Port of New Orleans was the primary port for Cuba
before (Fidel) Castro. They see us as their old trading partner.”

The delegation was mainly made up of people from South Louisiana, though
it included Tudor and Alexandria businessman Mike Shelton, who passed
out hats and shirts with the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen logo (he owns
dozens of stores in the popular chain) to locals. Alexandria native and
retired Episcopal bishop Joe Doss, who helped than 400 Cubans escape to
the U.S. 35 years ago, was among the organizers.

Going to Cuba was on Tudor’s “bucket list,” he said. He was supposed to
go with family members in 1958, but by then violence from the revolution
that would catapult Castro to power had spread and the trip was canceled.

“I’ve been fascinated with it ever since,” he said.

The Cuba Hoy Conference was meant to explore forging trade, cultural and
educational ties between Louisiana and Cuba. The delegation took the
first flight from New Orleans to Cuba since 1958 and spent a week in the
country.

Tudor came back with a bunch of colorful stories (the visitors were told
they could tip hotel staff with soap from their rooms, which is in short
supply on the island) and a belief that Louisiana is positioned to take
advantage of trade reopening between the U.S. and Cuba.

Cubans, Tudor said, would love to see charming Old Havana and the
island’s pristine beaches visited by American tourists (“they call us
their cousins, and that was very touching to me,” he said). They crave
the greater economic and personal freedoms they know exist elsewhere.

The business environment, he admits, is not yet ready to support large
investment, and there is still a lot of ground to cover in restoring
relations.

But, Tudor believes, the opportunities will be there, particularly in
agriculture and construction. Louisiana could be at the forefront of
America doing business in Cuba again, he believes, if state and local
leaders are aggressive enough.

“The opportunities are many,” he said. “But we need to engage. I think
we’re on the verge of missing the boat.”

Source: Could Louisiana be Cuba’s chief partner again? –
http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/news/local/2015/06/09/louisiana-cubas-chief-partner/28756713/

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