Ga. governor heads 43-member trade mission to Cuba
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press Writer
HAVANA -- Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue met Monday with officials from
Cuba's Chamber of Commerce and its food import company, part of a
two-day visit to explore his state's trade and tourism possibilities here.
The Republican governor is leading a 43-member delegation that includes
state lawmakers, port officials and representatives from agribusiness
and the University of Georgia.
The meetings were "as much about building a relationship with (Cuban
officials) as learning about the business environment there," spokesman
Bert Brantley said.
Perdue's schedule did not include a meeting with President Raul Castro
or his brother Fidel, who once regularly met with visiting U.S.
politicians but has seen far fewer visitors since undergoing emergency
intestinal surgery and disappearing from public view nearly four years ago.
Washington's 48-year-old embargo prohibits most trade between the two
countries. But sales of American food and farm items to Cuba have been
allowed since 2000, and the U.S. has been the island's top source of
agricultural goods since 2004.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Georgia ranks third among
states in exports to Cuba, including nearly $16.3 million so far this
year in goods such as poultry, soybeans, pork, sausage and margarine.
In a statement, Perdue said Georgia could one day be a hub for Cubans
visiting the U.S. via Atlanta's international airport - though it is
hard now to imagine droves of islanders vacationing in the U.S. since
overseas travel requires expensive, often hard-to-obtain official
However, U.S. tourism to Cuba - outlawed in most cases under a federal
travel ban that bars American tourists from coming to the island - rose
24 percent last year, according to Cuban government statistics posted
The National Office of Statistics reported that more than 52,000
American tourists visited last year, with most presumably coming through
third countries like Mexico, Canada and Jamaica, compared with about
42,000 in 2008. It gave no explanation for the increase.
That figure does not include Cuban-Americans, who have been able to make
unlimited trips to visit family on the island since the Obama
administration eased restrictions in April 2008.
Visits by U.S. governors are fairly common, most recently by New
Mexico's Bill Richardson last August. Most duck questions about lifting
the embargo since it is currently written into federal law.