Barely a week after Florida Governor Rick Scott threatened to cut funding for Florida ports which cut deals with Cuba, Alabama has shown that it has no such qualms, inking a deal with Cuban officials on Florida soil.
Officials from the Alabama State Port Authority met with counterparts from Cuba’s National Port Administration in Tampa last Thursday, signing a memorandum of understanding. The agreement is the first Cuban ports deal signed on U.S. soil since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, in which communist rebel Fidel Castro took power. After decades of tensions between the two nations, diplomatic relations were restored in late 2014 as then-President Barack Obama sought to ease economic and travel restrictions.
The five-year Alabama-Cuba agreement commits both parties to “collaborating in port and cargo marketing studies and strategies, engaging in promotion and exhibition activities, and sharing data to the mutual benefit of their respective seaports as allowed under governing law in both countries.”
“We are seeing increasing demand for normalized trade between the United States and Cuba, and it is our goal to foster relationships between the ports and their maritime communities to further changes in U.S.-Cuban trade policy and facilitate improved ocean carriage services to the benefit of our shippers,” said Alabama State Port Authority CEO James K. Lyons.
The closest U.S. state to Cuba, Florida ports — including Pensacola — had strong trade with Cuba before the 1959 revolution. But Gov. Scott has taken a hardline approach to restoring trade, telling reporters last month that he doesn’t want Florida ports “doing business with a ruthless dictator” and that the U.S. shouldn’t do business with Cuba “until there is freedom and democracy.”
A ship loaded with two containers of artisanal charcoal, the first legal cargo shipped from Cuba in more than a half-century, arrived at Port Everglades in south Florida last week.
“Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship,” Scott tweeted on Jan. 25. “I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget. We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior. Serious security/human rights concerns.”
At least two Florida ports — Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach — were prepared to sign similar agreements with Cuban officials, but called those plans off late last month amid Scott’s funding threat.