Engage Cuba enlists Idaho


By: Brian Holmes

BOISE - The call to end the Cuban trade and travel embargo just got another voice, with the launch of the Engage Cuba Idaho State Council.

It's a group of the state's agricultural and business leaders being led by Gov. Butch Otter, a longtime proponent of easing trade restrictions against Cuba.

Last March, President Barack Obama made the first turn to open the door to trade when he visited the island nation.

The goal of the trip was to continue the work of reopening diplomatic ties to the communist country.

On Thursday, that task took root in the Gem State with the announcement that Idaho will be the 11th state to join the Engage Cuba coalition.

"There's huge interest," said Luke Albee, senior adviser for Engage Cuba. "There's interest from the ag folks, there's interest from the business community, there's interest from the university community and there's just overall interest in being part of changing history in a positive way."

Albee says that positive change will need two things. The first would be continuing to ease travel restrictions, policies that have been in place for more than five decades.

The second phase would be trade. Right now, Albee says, Cuba, a $2 billion market the rest of the world has access to, can only pay in cash for American goods, limiting their ability to import products from places like Idaho.

"To us, it's a matter of fairness, it's a matter of freedom, and there are economic opportunities for idaho businesses," added Albee.

That's the same sentiment shared by Gov. Otter, absent from Thursday's gathering, who will lead the contingent that hopes to further break down political barriers by way of economics.

Engage Cuba claims the island would be the number-one Caribbean destination for Americans should travel restrictions be lifted.