PRAIRIEVILLE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana leaders see great possibility – and lots of money – in potential trade with Cuba. However, a new wedge between the U.S. and the island nation has put that dream in jeopardy.
"It's a little bit distressing to see that we are now de-evolving in our relationship," said Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department announced they will be kicking 15 Cuban diplomats out of the country. The news comes after a handful of American diplomats on the island received mysterious, unexplained injuries. The new strain on relations is a road bump in what many hoped was the fast-track to normalized relations.
One year ago Tuesday, Governor John Bel Edwards led a trade mission to Havana in hopes of setting the groundwork for a partnership down the road.
"I think we were a matter of weeks of actually reestablishing the trade relationship," said Strain, who was on the trip. Strain says if the embargo were lifted, Louisiana could potentially make hundreds of millions of dollars each year exporting food to the island.
"It would be a tremendous boon for us. Those people like our rice," said Kevin Berken, a fourth-generation rice farmer from Jefferson Davis Parish.
Berken has about 900 acres of land and says he and other farmers stand to benefit from any expanded trade with Cuba. Watching the news Tuesday, Berken expressed frustration that things had stalled. "I'm hopeful that we can still get something done over there, it's not going to be something right away," he said.
For now, Strain says he encourages the Trump administration to keep talking to Cuba. "Let's put this out on the table, let's have an open and forthright discussion," said Strain.
Louisiana, he says, has too much to lose otherwise.