Mississippi Ports Eye Cuba, Ink Pacts in Havana

Posted by Joseph Keefe

The Mississippi ports of Pascagoula and Gulfport
signed agreements in Cuba on Monday with an eye to future
business and with a Republican U.S. senator from the state
looking on, despite concerns President Donald Trump might
backtrack on improved relations.

Senator Thad Cochran is the only Republican among five U.S.
senators and a U.S. representative on a three-day visit to the
Communist-run Caribbean island to discuss relations and explore
business opportunities.

The agreements were signed during a business forum to explore
future trade attended by Cochran.

"There is great potential for business between these ports and
Cuba due to the geographical proximity and the excellent fluvial
and maritime ways Mississippi has," state-run media quoted Maria
de la Luz B'Hamel, director of commercial policy with the United
States at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, as
saying.

The event was closed to foreign journalists.

The congressional delegation arrived on Sunday and is being led
by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who was
instrumental in efforts to normalize relations under former
Democratic President Barack Obama.

Cuba watchers are looking closely for signs of how the fragile
U.S. detente with Cuba will fare under the new Trump
administration.

The Republican president has threatened to scrap moves to
normalize relations, one of Obama's signature foreign policy
initiatives, if he does not get "a better deal."

Port authorities along the U.S. southern coast are strong
proponents of increased trade and travel with Cuba, and some have
expressed interest in using Mariel, located on the northwest
coast of Cuba, as a transshipment hub.

Similar agreements were signed last month with Virginia,
Louisiana and Alabama.

The Florida ports of Everglades and Palm Beach had also been
planning to sign deals, but balked after Republican state
Governor Rick Scott threatened to cancel their funding if they
did business with the "Cuban dictatorship."

Reporting by Marc Frank

Feb 21, 2017

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