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Virginia governor promotes pork, wine, seaport in Cuba

Virginia governor promotes pork, wine, seaport in Cuba
Laura Vozzella and The Washington Post
The Washington Post

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, playground for Hollywood stars and mobsters
in its pre-Cuban Missile Crisis heyday, played host Sunday night to a
visibly peeved Virginia governor.

Over a dinner at the start of his three-day trade mission here, Gov.
Terry McAuliffe (D) learned that when Virginia-based Smithfield Foods
sells pork to this island nation, it ships the meat from Florida instead
of the Port of Virginia.

“You truck it all the way to Jacksonville?” McAuliffe asked the
Smithfield vice president sitting across from him. “Dumbest thing I ever
heard.”

McAuliffe traveled to Cuba on Sunday, at a moment of historic
rapprochement between Cold War foes, to pitch Virginia products to the
communist nation. But first he found himself having to promote
Virginia’s port to Virginians.

And so, in the patio restaurant of the famed hotel, when he should have
been swooning over pork, black beans, good cigars and ocean breezes, the
72nd governor of Virginia was barking.

“I do not want to hear about one more Smithfield pork [product] shipping
out of Jacksonville,” he said loudly enough to be heard at the next
table. “How do we fix that?”

The governor’s aggressive efforts to expand and diversify Virginia’s
defense-heavy economy have taken him to the Middle East, Asia, India and
Europe.

And now they have led him to visit Cuba, the fourth U.S. governor to
come here in the 13 months since President Barack Obama announced plans
to begin normalizing relations with the country.

McAuliffe and his 30-member delegation will spend all day Monday in a
series of meetings with Cuban ministry officials, hoping to sell them on
products ranging from modest roofing to high-end flooring. State
officials are also hoping to announce deals – one between the Port of
Virginia and Cuba’s Port of Mariel, another between Virginia
Commonwealth University and the University of Havana. Details of those
announcements remained under wraps.

Sunday was devoted primarily to seeing a few sights and getting to know
some of the private business people exploring the potential for trade.
McAuliffe does not usually play tourist on trade missions. A world
traveler long before he took office, he has often been there, done that.
But he did a little touring Sunday in Havana, he said, for the sake of
the larger-than-normal delegation accompanying him.

“Usually when I do trade missions, we generally don’t take anyone with
us,” he said. “Our last trip was 135 meetings. I like to go, go, go, go
– meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting. This one’s a little different
because it’s a brand-new opportunity for folks. So this one, since it’s
really virgin territory for so many American companies and Virginia
companies, we put out the word, ‘If you want to come down, we can help
you open some doors.’ “

With a Cuban architect as a tour guide, McAuliffe and the delegation
strolled past Old Havana bars where Hemingway drank. They admired
crumbling architectural gems, such as the 18th-century limestone palace
that had been home to colonial governors.

“Lot bigger than the one I live in,” McAuliffe said. “The Spanish knew
how to do it.”

The group lingered before a street performer who, perched motionless on
a cobblestone street and smeared in dark makeup, looked uncannily like a
weathered bronzed pirate statue. The buccaneer came to life after
McAuliffe placed $1 in his tip box, pretending to threaten the governor
with his sword.

In a funny coincidence, McAuliffe ran into Luis Avila, 32, of San
Francisco, a former Northern Virginian who had volunteered for the
governor’s campaign.

Tour guide Ayleen Robainas pointed out a 1906 hat factory gutted down to
its ornate facade, the rest of it too ruined to be saved. When she said
it was being turned into a hotel, McAuliffe smelled an opportunity. He
asked if any private partners would be involved.

No, Robainas said. The Cuban government has had lots of offers, she
said, but it wants to do the hotel on its own.

Even so, McAuliffe believes the island is teeming with other opportunities.

“I just think it’s a huge potential for us for many years to come,” he
said afterward. “We’re coming here to plant the flag.”

McAuliffe found a way to promote his state as the tour wound down. He
presented a bottle of Virginia wine to Warnel Lores, of Cuba’s Foreign
Ministry. The bottle – a 2014 Barboursville Vineyards viognier – was one
of the state’s best, McAuliffe said.

“Excellent with lobster,” Todd Haymore, Virginia’s secretary of
agriculture and forestry, piped up.

“Excellent with everything,” McAuliffe said. “You fire that up and think
of Virginia. You forget those other 49 states.”

Virginia – one of Cuba’s top three U.S. trading partners since
Washington lifted the ban on agricultural exports more than a decade ago
– does not face competition from other states so much as from the rest
of the world. While other countries allow Cuba to buy products on
generous financing terms, the United States still requires Cuba to pay
in cash before goods leave U.S. ports.

“This is ridiculous,” McAuliffe said. “As I like to say, you look at
Vietnam – 57,000 Americans were killed over there. We’ve had an embassy
there for years. This is a country that we actually came over and
invaded. We’ve got to put the past behind us.”

Among the businesses participating in the trade mission are Perdue
Agribusiness; Virginia Natural Beef; Forever Oceans, a high-tech,
sustainable fish-farming outfit spun off from Lockheed Martin; T. Parker
Host shipping; roofing firm Onduline North America; and Mountain Lumber Co.

Participants from those firms paid their own way for the trip, at a
price of about $3,000 per person. Taxpayers will pick up the tab for
sending McAuliffe, first lady Dorothy McAuliffe and the state officials
accompanying them. The administration has not yet calculated the cost.

Members of the state delegation include McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy
and two cabinet secretaries besides Haymore: Bill Hazel of health and
human resources and Karen Jackson of technology.

Additional state staff members include the deputy agriculture
commissioner and a special assistant; a member of the state’s economic
development authority; an official with the Virginia Port Authority;
three from Virginia Commonwealth University; and the director of the
state-supported Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Three people with the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which helped
organize the trip, are traveling with the delegation as well.

Also along for the trip are two members of the governor’s executive
protection unit, who accompany the governor wherever he goes, and two
pilots for the state plane.

Although most of the delegation arrived via charter flight, the Cuban
government extended a special privilege to McAuliffe by allowing him to
land his state plane at Jose Marti International Airport. Cuban
Ambassador José R. Cabañas offered that favor to McAuliffe in a
face-to-face meeting in Washington about two weeks ago, and the governor
took it as a good sign.

“There’s a whole different feeling I can tell, even from last time I was
here,” said McAuliffe, who traveled to Cuba once before, in 2009, as a
volunteer pitchman for Virginia apples and wine. “Much more open
feeling, much more willingness to do business.”

Source: Virginia governor promotes pork, wine, seaport in Cuba – Daily
Press –
www.dailypress.com/news/politics/dp-nws-wire-post-mcauliffe-cuba20160104-story.html

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