The United States’ fledgling efforts to bring Cuban trade back to life are getting rolling, thanks in no small part to Texas.
The nonprofit group Engage Cuba, which is attempting to lay the groundwork for trade as the diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the U.S. thaws, last week revealed that more than three dozen members have joined its Texas council alone. James Williams, Engage Cuba’s president, says that Texans’ willingness to throw their support behind the trade issue is heartening.
“Texas has a long history with Cuba, both before 1959 as well as after, and every time we peek under the rug we find more and more leaders in the state that have an interest in this,” Williams said during an event on Thursday, according to the Texas Tribune.
With the recent change in relations, Williams’ group is working to convince Congress to pass legislation that would allow for more trade between Cuba and the U.S. and would end the longtime travel embargo between the countries.
But for some products, Texas is already there. The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, a 2000 law that allows certain goods to be sold in Cuba, has served Texas particularly well: The state exports hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural products to the country each year.
“While we’ve done business in Cuba over the years … we believe there is a lot of upside for not only the state of Texas, but the Houston region,” noted Theldon Branch III, a member of the Port of Houston Port Commission, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Engage Cuba’s local commission, which includes university leaders, business leaders, and trade group officials, is particularly notable because it’s from a state whose most prominent politician at a national level, Cuban-American Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has been a major critic of President Obama’s efforts to ease the relationship between the two countries.
Other members of Texas’ Congressional delegation, including Cruz’s Senate counterpart John Cornyn and a number of House members from both parties, have called for a repeal of a Clinton-era immigration policy that has allowed thousands of Cubans to legally enter the country through Texas’ ports.
Williams told the Texas Tribune that although Engage Cuba is not focused on that specific issue, the group is aware.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to address [immigration] until we deal with the more core cause, and that’s our economic embargo on Cuba,” he told the Texas Tribune.