Florida Ports Abandon Cuba Deals After Governor’s Threat

HAVANA, Jan 31th Two ports in Florida, the port of Palm Beach and Port Everglades, caved to political pressure after Florida’s Governor Rick Scott, threatened to cut off state funds if the ports proceeded with cooperation agreementswith Cuba.

Taking a page out of President Donald Trump’s playbook, Scott tweeted: “I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget;” and “Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any agreement with Cuba .”

Scott’s invective came after it was reported the two ports were in talks with the Cuban government to cooperate in the development of a new deep water port in Mariel, 30 miles west of Havana. Some speculated that Port Tampa Bay was also in talks with Cuba and that it would enter into an agreement with the country after a Cuban delegation visits this week.

Scott’s tweets came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than half a century — two containers of artisanal charcoal—arrived last week at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

Those shipments were made possible by the opening of ties and loosening of the US embargo on Cuba made possible by the policies of former President Barack Obama. Scott has been critical of Obama’s Cuba policies. In Florida, with its large Cuban emigre population, trade with Cuba is a sensitive political issue.

The agreements between the Florida ports and Cuba would have allowed the exchange of data, marketing studies, training programs, and information about port modernization and improvements, all of which are now allowed under US law. Cuba already has similar agreements with the ports of New Orleans, Mobile, Norfolk, and Houston.

Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale has got more than $600 million of capital projects in the pipeline—including deepening and widening its channel to accommodate ultra-large containerships—and expects to get $125 million from the state over the next five years.

Ironically, Scott included the lack of funding available to ports as among the critical issues facing US states in March of last year. Some of his critics are also wondering why he said nothing when Florida airports began handling commercial flights to Cuba.

Meanwhile, Ana Teresa Igarza, general director of the special development zone at Port Mariel, invited the governor to visit Cuba. So far, there has been no response from the governor’s office.