By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Engage Cuba, the leading advocacy organization working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba, will join State leaders at the container facility at the Port Authority State Docks in Mobile, to launch the Engage Cuba Alabama State Council, later today.
A network of agriculture, business, technology, manufacturing, education, energy and health care constitutes the core entities behind Engage Cuba. Their goal is to build statewide support to end the 50 year travel ban and trade embargo on this, the largest of the Caribbean Islands, and a unitary, sovereign state.
As Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillian pointedly observed, after his resent trip to Cuba, Alabama’s ports are losing out on shipping, agricultural and tourism opportunities due to current restrictions.
A recent Op-Ed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Senator Vivian Davis Figures, Senator Jabo Waggoner and Commissioner John McMillan, makes the case why the ban should be lifted, “This 50-year-old isolationist policy is not only infringing on Alabamians’ right to choose with whom they can and can’t do business; it has also negatively impacted the Cuban people. The time has come for Congress to lift the travel and trade embargo with Cuba.”
They also point out, “Alabama’s top exports would thrive in Cuba’s growing markets, and this is especially true for Alabama’s top agriculture export: poultry. Agriculture is a major economic driver for the State, and poultry is a leading revenue source of this industry. In 2014, Alabama broiler meat exports reached $478 million.”
Engage Cuba found that the Island Nation imports 80 percent of its food, or around $2 billion annually, and that Alabama is being denied a golden opportunity, just 36 hours by ship off the Port of Mobile.
Alabama agricultural exports could expand markedly if the US lifts the embargo. Nearly all of Cuba’s major agricultural imports are also major export products for Alabama, the group has stated.
US Congressman Bradley Byrne, upon returning from his visit to Cuba last year said, “I’ve seen the optimism and spirit of the Cuban people first-hand, and there is great potential for our two countries.” But he also demands a change in Cuban government.
“We must start demanding reforms from the Cuban government instead of just continuing to give the Castro regime everything they want with nothing in return.”
During his historic trip to Cuba, President Obama said, “I’ve come to Havana to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. I’m here to bury the last vestige of the Cold War in the Americas and to forge a new era of understanding to help improve the daily lives of the Cuban people. Like Byrne he said, “There continue to be real and important differences between our governments, including profound differences on the way to promote safety, security, opportunity, and human rights. But there’s so much Americans and Cubans share — our cultures and passions, our hopes for the future, not to mention a love of baseball.”
Engage Cuba is working to pass legislation known as The Agricultural Export Expansion Act which “would allow American farmers to offer financing to Cuban importers and recapture lost market share.
They are also pushing for The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act which would allow Americans to travel freely to the one country in the world to which the US government prohibits tourist travel.
The event will take place today at 2:00 PM. Expected to be in attendance are, President of Engage Cuba, James Williams; Alabama Senator and former Minority Leader Vivian Figures; Alabama Senator and former Majority Leader, J. T. “Jabo” Waggoner; Executive Director Alabama Poultry Association, Johnny Adams and and Commissioner John McMillan of the Department of Agriculture & Industries and others.