Cuban port official invites Gov. Scott to visit Cuba

HAVANA, Jan. 30th Following Gov. Rick Scott’s threat to cut state money for any port that signs an agreement with Cuba, a top Cuban port official meeting at the Port of Palm Beach Friday invited the governor to visit Cuba.

“Nobody can speak about something they don’t know. Seeing is believing. I would invite Gov. Scott to come visit our country. Come see our reality. See how we feel about it so that he can form his own view,” said Ana Teresa Igarza, general director of the special development zone at Port Mariel.

The governor’s office did not respond Friday to request for comment.

On Thursday, during a visit to Baron Sign Manufacturing in Riviera Beach, Scott said that Florida ports should not do business with a nation run by Raul Castro, whom he described as a brutal dictator of a country where citizens have no human rights.

Igarza, speaking through a translator, made the remarks Friday at the port based in Riviera Beach during an informal session. Friday’s meeting with the seven-member delegation was to have included the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the National Port Administration of Cuba and the port, but port officials decided against doing so because of Gov. Scott’s comments.

While the pact would have been non-binding, it would have provided a framework. Despite the fact that no formal document was signed, both sides said progress is being made for businesses at the port to trade with Cuba.

Port of Palm Beach Executive Director Manuel “Manny” Almira said he was taken aback by the governor’s opposition to the proposed agreement.

“I was totally disappointed. The signing ceremony would have been here. It would have been historical. It is what it is,” Almira said.

Almira, who was born in Cuba, plans to travel there with his wife on Wednesday, said that the friendship between the Cuban delegation and port officials is now sealed.

Private businesses based at ports do business with Cuba, Almira said, not the ports themselves. The ports’ role is to help with that.

Igarza said the lack of an agreement will not limit the work ahead, adding that both sides are ready and willing to work together. She said that despite Scott’s statements, the delegation has been well-received in all the cities visited.

“I think that every day more people are aware of the need to lift the blockade and establish relations with Cuba,” Igarza said.

In the 1950s, until the U.S. government’s embargo with Cuba in 1961, the Port of Palm Beach was the world’s leading port in trade with Cuba.

The Cuban delegation has visited ports in Houston and New Orleans, and also plans to visit Port Tampa Bay and the Port of Virginia in Norfolk before heading back to Cuba in early February.

Five U.S. ports, including those in Texas, Louisiana and Virginia, have signed agreements with Cuba, Igarza said.

Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Jean Enright expressed concern that by not having a formal agreement, the port will lose out to other ports which do.

Igarza said that Port Mariel is positioning itself to be the “Hub to the Americas” and hosts 13 international shipping lines.