NEW ORLEANS, LA (WAFB) - Efforts to create business ties between Louisiana and Cuba continued Wednesday, when a delegation of Cuban economic leaders visited New Orleans to talk trade.
The Cuban officials met with several heads of Louisiana industry at the Port of New Orleans. The visit comes several months after Gov. John Bel Edwards led a delegation of Louisiana political and business leaders on a trade mission to the island.
"I'm hoping we can get back to how we used to do it, back in the 40s," said Eddie Gaspard, who manages a rice farm in Abbeville.
During a roundtable discussion with the Cuba delegation, Gaspard expressed a desire to see things return to how they were before the embargo was put in place. At that time, the Bayou State was a top trader with the island nation. He said he envisions sending much-needed rice to the island and even expressed interest in building a silo there where rice could be packed.
"I think the rice industry would really take off if we could get Cuba to open up, if we can sell to Cuba. We used to be their number one sales partner," Gaspard said of eliminating the embargo.
Louisiana and Cuban leaders alike view the Port of New Orleans as a potential gateway for trade, with goods ranging from lumber and rice, to farm machinery passing through en route to the island.
"We're all business people here. We have a futuristic view with forward thinking and hoping that everything will get to better terms," said Ana Teresa Igarza, through a translator. Igarza serves as the general director of the Office of Mariel Development Zone. Mariel is a port outside Havana that is currently being expanded.
Of course, the future of relations between Cuba and the United States is very much up in the air. The Obama administration made strides to normalize relations with the island, largely through executive orders. New President Donald Trump has expressed concerns about human rights in Cuba and has threatened to roll things back.
In November, Trump tweeted:
Still, Gaspard said he is optimistic, suggesting that economic forces will overcome politics. "We're going to have trade, tourism, and I think it'll open up pretty quick, and I don't think they can hold that back," he said.
The Cuban delegation finished their day off with a dinner with port officials before heading back to Cuba on Thursday.