Advocacy Group Launches Engage Cuba Iowa State Council

~ Announcement coincides with joint visit of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Cuban Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero to Iowa ~

DES MOINES, IA. – Leading advocacy organization Engage Cuba today launched the Engage Cuba Iowa State Council to build statewide support for Congressional action to end the travel ban and trade embargo on Cuba. The council will be made up of prominent leaders across Iowa from a broad range of sectors including agriculture, business, manufacturing, education, energy and health care, as well as government and religious leaders. Members of the council seek to expand trade with Cuba in order to provide opportunities for Iowa businesses and empower the Cuban people.

"We’re very pleased to work with all of our Engage Cuba Iowa State Council members to lift the embargo that is costing Iowa jobs and preventing economic development for the Cuban people. It's time to end 50 years of failed, isolationist policies toward Cuba," said President of Engage Cuba, James Williams. "Iowa businesses are stuck on the sidelines as our foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba's growing markets. Opening up trade with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for Iowa's agriculture and manufacturing sectors.”

“One in five jobs are related to agriculture in the state, and we rank number one in corn, soybean, hogs, and egg production,” said President of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Craig Hill. “I’m looking forward to supporting the efforts of the Engage Cuba Coalition here in Iowa so we can continue to push for expanded trade with Cuba and help bolster Iowa’s economy and improve the lives of farm families across the state.”

Cuba depends heavily on agricultural imports, which average two billion dollars annually, and this number will continue to grow given the increasing purchasing power of 11 million Cubans. There is also an immediate need for infrastructure improvements to meet the rising demand of foreign travelers. Agriculture and manufacturing make up the number one and two sectors, respectively, of the state’s economy, thus Iowa is strongly positioned to fill commodities gaps in Cuba and create jobs throughout the state.  

Additionally, Iowa is a national leader in clean energy production, including natural gas, wind power, and biodiesel. Cuba has publicly declared its commitment to shift toward renewable energy and is poised to reap the benefits of Iowa’s energy exports.

Engage Cuba co-published a poll with the Atlantic Council, which found that a majority of Iowans support free trade and travel to Cuba, including 64% who support lifting the travel ban.

The Engage Cuba Iowa State Council is made up of leaders across industries and localities in Iowa. While Engage Cuba will continue to add members, the current list includes:

  • Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture
  • Bishop Richard Pates, Catholic Diocese of Des Moines
  • Bob Hemesath, President, Iowa Corn Growers Association
  • Chad Kleppe, President and CEO, Master Builders of Iowa
  • Charlie Norris, Director, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation
  • Cheryl Langston, Chair, Iowa Association of Community College Trustees
  • Craig Hill, President, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation
  • Daniel Seufferlein, Partner, Ackley, Kopecky & Kingery LLP
  • David Holm, Executive Director, Iowa Institute for Cooperatives
  • Dimy Doresca, Director, University of Iowa Institute for International Business
  • Downing Thomas, Associate Provost and Dean of International Programs, University of Iowa
  • Dr. Wendy Wintersteen, Dean, Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Evan Berquist, Attorney, Fredrikson and Byron
  • Farzad Moussavi, Director of Global Programs, University of Northern Iowa
  • College of Business Administration
  • Grant Kimberley, Executive Director, Iowa Biodiesel Board
  • Jay Byers, Chief Executive Officer, Greater Des Moines Partnership
  • Jerry Mohr, Chair, Iowa Corn Growers Association
  • Karey Claghorn, Chief Operating Officer, Iowa Soybean Association
  • Kirk Leeds, Chief Executive Officer, Iowa Soybean Association
  • Kurt Hora, Vice-President, Iowa Corn Growers Association
  • Leslie K. Wilson, Dean, University of Northern Iowa College of Business Administration
  • Mark Settle, Educational Consultant, Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Mike Tousley, Executive Vice President, The Weitz Company, LLC
  • Rand Fisher, President, Iowa Area Development Group
  • Ryan Carroll, International Trade Manager, Greater Des Moines Partnership
  • Steve Dickinson, Shareholder, Fredrikson and Byron
  • Steve Dust, President and CEO, Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and TechWorks Campus
  • Tim Woods, President, Central Iowa Chapter, International Traders of Iowa
  • Tom Chapman, Executive Director, Iowa Catholic Conference
  • Tom Swegle, CEO, MedCara Pharmaceuticals
  • Valerie Newhouse, President, Iowa Lakes Community College
  • Wes Ehrecke, Board Member, Travel Federation of Iowa

In addition to Iowa, Engage Cuba has launched state councils in Georgia, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana. This growing network of state councils will mobilize grassroots support across the country for lifting the Cuban embargo.

Engage Cuba is advocating for the bipartisan Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015 to allow American farmers to offer financing to Cuban importers and recapture lost market share. Additionally, Engage Cuba is working to lift the travel ban through the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would expand Cuba’s already growing markets and provide additional opportunities for U.S. agribusiness to export to Cuba. More information on both pieces of legislation is available here.