Gov. Rick Scott’s threat to deny state funds to seaports that establish any type of trade arrangement with Cuba put the brakes on pending and potential deals. And he doubled-down on that warning in his proposed state budget unveiled last week.
The pro-jobs, business-friendly governor intends to block trade with the communist nation. Those would be high-paying port jobs, one of Scott’s key pursuits. His budget outline requests $176 million for port infrastructure projects, and even a small portion of that would put a port behind the competition for the coming increase in shipping to the East — mostly from China.
The governor issued his warning in a series of tweets: “Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any arrangement with Cuban dictatorship.” “I will recommend restricting state funds for port that work with Cuba in my budget.” “We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior. Serious/human rights concerns.”
Tucked away deep in his budget — page 220 of the 363-page document — a line bars state money going to “infrastructure projects that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuba dictatorship because of their continued human rights abuses.”
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The international airports in Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando allow direct flights to Cuba, but the governor never threatened to withhold state money for infrastructure. His 2017-2018 budget proposal seeks $251 million for aviation projects.
His inconsistency extends to trade with China, another communist country well know for human rights abuses. But a huge trading partner. Selective principles are convenient, especially in politics. The governor’s stand: China, yes. Cuba, no.
Cuba is mostly seen as a way station for the generation of mega Panamax ships delivering thousands of containers. But those massive ships need deep water in order to dock, and Port Manatee lacks that.
But our port can be the destination of the smaller ships that will pick up those Panamax containers. But Scott’s threat puts Florida at a competitive disadvantage to ports along the Gulf Coast, East Coast, Carribean islands and Central America in signing agreements with Cuba.
Port Manatee has high hopes of becoming one of the delivery stations for the goods unloaded in Cuba. Currently, the port does not any agreements with Cuba. The port has one deal still in the works: shipping cargo and ferry passengers to the communist nation via Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale. Several years ago the company promised to base future passenger service to the Cuban port of Mariel here.
Why pick on ports? The optics of the timing look political as Scott lays the groundwork for an expected run for the U.S. Senate. He could have announced his strong opposition to breaking the Cold War trade embargo to the communist nation months ago — after then-President Obama lifted travel restrictions as a part of his policy on normalizing relations with Cuba, launched in 2014. What suddenly occurred that drove the governor to this stand?
President Trump once appeared concerned with business. In November, he tweeted: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.” Before he announced his candidacy, saying “the concept of opening with Cuba 50 years is enough — the concept with Cuba is fine.”
Also on the campaign trail, Trump reversed his position and threatened to terminate normalization over human rights.
A majority of older Cuban Americans favor the U.S. trade embargo, but those who fled the island nation later hold the opposite view. The majority of Cubans who arrived in America between 1995 and 2014 support diplomatic relations with Cuba. If Scott is angling for Cuban American votes in 2018, his total haul appears dicey.
There’s no denying Castro is a brutal dictator, and human rights don’t exist in Cuba. The United State first imposed an embargo on all Cuban exports in 1962. By any measure, it has failed. It’s time to try something else: trade. Scott should more concerned about Florida than an unsuccessful policy.