On the Hunt for Bilaterals

Politico

By: Adam Behsudi

Leading lawmakers in the state of Virginia are taking steps forward to try to boost economic engagement and commerce with Cuba. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced on Monday the launch of the Engage Cuba Virginia State Council, a group designed to build statewide support for pro-Cuba legislation and to push members of Congress to continue former President Barack Obama’s efforts to lift the economic embargo against the island nation. McAuliffe will become the honorary chairman of the group, which Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine welcomed.

”I’m honored to serve as honorary chair of the newly announced Engage Cuba Virginia State Council, an important step in continuing our efforts to lift the embargo against Cuba and promote mutually beneficial trade between the Commonwealth and Cuba,” McAuliffe said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Our Virginia businesses have been hampered by more than 50 years of failed policies of economic and political isolation against Cuba. It is time for Congress to lift the financial, trade and travel restrictions which impede normal commerce and trade between our nations, and allow our businesses to forge new partnerships and capitalize on new investments in this growing market.”

The announcement comes after Virginia’s Port Authority earlier this month signed an agreement with Cuba’s newly constructed Port of Mariel to boost trade between the two and increase agricultural exports from Virginia. Virginia Commonwealth University also signed a higher education agreement this month with the University of Havana aiming to develop “cooperative programs” between the two schools.

FROM DENVER TO HAVANA: In other Cuba news, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will head south later this week for a trip to the island nation with a delegation called the Biennial of the Americas, a group that aims to connect Denver with parts of North, South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. The trip, which will last from Feb. 2-5, will lay the groundwork “for cultural and economic exchange between Colorado and Cuba,” a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said in an email to Morning Trade.

The trip will make Hickenlooper the 15th governor to visit Cuba since 1999, according to John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Nine of those visits have occurred within the past two years.