LOUISVILLE, KY - Today, Ryan Quarles, the Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, and Jonathan Blue, CEO of Blue Equity, led a bipartisan group of Kentucky leaders to launch the Engage Cuba Kentucky State Council, a grassroots effort to promote stronger U.S.-Cuba ties. After 55 years of failure, the Engage Cuba Kentucky State Council seeks to advance pro-Cuba engagement policies that support Kentucky jobs and empower the Cuban people.
Members of the council, including prominent Kentucky government, agriculture, education, and business leaders, believe the U.S. embargo on Cuba is hurting Kentucky farmers, Kentucky businesses and the Cuban people. For that reason, the group seeks to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba in order to boost Kentucky's exports in major job-creating industries, including agriculture and manufacturing.
The council will operate as the Kentucky chapter of the Engage Cuba coalition, a national advocacy organization working to advance federal legislation to lift the U.S. travel and trade embargo on Cuba. Kentucky is the 17th state to join the coalition.
“I strongly support lifting the Cuban Trade embargo. This measure is one that would be good for the agriculture community and the first district of Kentucky. The crops Cuba needs to import like soybeans and poultry are all major crops in Kentucky," said U.S. Congressman James Comer, an honorary co-chair of the council. "As a result, our country could have better access to products like coffee and tropical fruits coming from Cuba. Lifting the Cuban trade embargo is a win-win for American farmers and consumers."
“Kentucky's manufacturing and agriculture industries are economic drivers and job creators in the Commonwealth. Opening up trade with Cuba would provide significant opportunities for Kentucky businesses and farmers across the state. However, Kentuckians are stuck on the sidelines as our foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba’s growing markets,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. “We are very pleased to have a diverse list of dynamic and engaged Kentuckians willing to step up and call on Congress to lift the embargo that is costing Kentucky jobs and preventing economic development for the Cuban people. It’s time to end fifty years of failed isolationist policy towards Cuba.”
"International trade is critical to the well-being and sustainability of our family farms in Kentucky and throughout the country. We see agricultural trade with Cuba as an opportunity to expand our trade initiatives," said Mark Haney, President of the Kentucky Farm Bureau. "In Kentucky, some of our top commodities including poultry, soybeans, wheat and corn happen to be top agricultural imports in Cuba. Therefore, normalization of trade and travel with Cuba would be beneficial to our industry as well as to the people of Cuba. We look forward to future discussions about the possibilities of opening up these trade avenues."
Expanding trade with Cuba would support Kentucky agriculture, which has generated over 280,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. Cuba imports nearly 80% of its food, amounting to about $2 billion a year and Kentucky’s leading agricultural commodities including, poultry, soybeans, wheat and grain, are all top imports in Cuba. Kentucky could be a national leader in agricultural trade with Cuba. But because of arbitrary U.S. restrictions that prohibit private financing for the sale of agricultural commodities to Cuba, Cuba buys top Kentucky exports from halfway around the world.
Kentucky's auto manufacturing industry, which ranks third in the United States, stands to benefit significantly if we lift the U.S. travel and trade embargo on Cuba. Cuba, which is known for restored classic 20th century American cars, needs auto manufacturing parts to maintain this lucrative private tourist industry. Currently, U.S. auto manufacturers are losing out to Chinese competitors, which now make up 50 percent of Cuba’s car imports, while the Russian Lada also maintains a strong presence on Cuban roads.
Members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation have been leaders in working to remove trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. Republican Senator Rand Paul co-signed a bipartisan Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act along with 54 additional Senators that would remove restrictions on traveling to Cuba as a tourist. Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY 04) has signed onto a similar bill in the House. After traveling to Cuba, Congressman James Comer (R-KY 01) signed onto the bipartisan Cuba Agricultural Exports Act which would remove arbitrary restrictions on offering private financing for the sale of agricultural commodities to Cuba. More information on pro-engagement Cuba bills in Congress is available here.
While Engage Cuba will continue to add members, the founding members of the Engage Cuba Kentucky State Council are listed below and here:
James Comer, U.S. Congressman (Honorary chair)
John Yarmuth, U.S. Congressman (Honorary chair)
Ryan Quarles, Commissioner of Agriculture, State of Kentucky (Co-chair)
Jonathan Blue, Chairman & Managing Director, Blue Equity (Co-chair)
Robert Brown, Chairman, District Export Council of Kentucky (Vice Chair)
Richard Grana, Owner, Impex (Vice Chair)
Nathan Cryder, Director, Edelen Strategic Ventures (Vice Chair)
Steven Beam, President, Limestone Branch Distillery
Barbara Boyd, Chair, Kentucky Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression
Keith Bundy, President, Silent Brigade Distillery
Lisa Crutcher, CEO, Catholic Charities of Louisville
Adam Edelen, CEO, Edelen Strategic Ventures
Dr. Robert Farley, Professor, University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy
Jim Gray, Mayor, City of Lexington
Craig Greenberg, President, 21C Hotel and Museum
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Secretary of State, State of Kentucky
Mark Haney, President, Kentucky Farm Bureau
Phil Holoubek, CEO, Lexington Real Estate Company
Interfaiths Path to Peace
Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz, Archdiocese of Louisville
Bill Miller, Executive Director, Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority
Sam Rock, Cofounder, Bluegrass Distilling
Sister Cities of Louisville
Jonathan Steiner, CEO, Kentucky League of Cities
Griffin Van Meter, Founder, Kentucky for Kentucky
Bryan Warren, Director of Globalization, Louisville International Organization Network
J. Edwin Webb, President & CEO, World Trade Center of Kentucky
Xiao Yin Zhou, Director, Kentucky World Affairs Council
Kaveh Zamanian, President, Rabbit Hole Distillery