State Politics

Governor wants funds cut for South Florida ports that ink Cuba deals

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, pictured here in Miami in August, wants to retaliate against seaports that sign business agreements with the Cuban government.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, pictured here in Miami in August, wants to retaliate against seaports that sign business agreements with the Cuban government. AP

Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government.

Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

“We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social-media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.”

Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba — artisanal charcoal — in more than half a century arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach.

The first legal exports from Cuba to the U.S. in more than 50 years arrived at Port Everglades Tuesday. The shipment is small, just two containers of artisanal charcoal, but the importer hopes it will be the harbinger of more trade to come.

Jackie Schutz, a Scott spokeswoman, said the governor doesn’t oppose private shipping companies bringing Cuban cargo, as Crowley Maritime did to bring the charcoal to Port Everglades. He only takes issue with the ports themselves inking memorandums of understanding with the Cuban government.

The governor will make his request to the Legislature, which ultimately sets the state budget and can ignore Scott if it wishes. The Florida Department of Transportation’s budget shows more than $37 million budgeted for Port Everglades projects over the next five years — including $23 million for a dredging the port has sought for three decades — and $920,000 for the Port of Palm Beach.

The ports did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Port of Palm Beach spokeswoman said the executive director would respond to questions later Wednesday.

Jim Pyburn, Port Everglades’ director of business development, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, before Scott revealed his position, that the port’s deal with the National Port Administration of Cuba — in the works since early 2016 and ready to sign since last May — could lead to joint marketing studies and training.

“We would like to see U.S. exports to Cuba increase,” he said. “Imports are good, too.”

A Cuban delegation plans to visit a number of ports over the coming week, including Port Tampa Bay, which does not have an imminent deal with the country in the works.

“Our port has taken a very cautious approach to Cuba,” said Ed Miyagishima, Port Tampa Bay’s vice president for communications and external affairs. “The port itself is Cuba-ready, in the sense that we’re ready with work with all the entities, but we’re taking a very conservative approach. We are not signing an MOU with the Cuban government, just because there’s so much ambiguity in Cuba policy right now.”

Executive orders issued by former President Barack Obama over the past two years eased some Cuba-related trade restrictions, making shipping agreements possible. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked Tuesday if President Trump planned quick Cuba action of his own, perhaps to reverse some of Obama’s work, as Trump said he would do absent a more favorable arrangement for the U.S.

“We’ve got nothing that we’re ready to announce,” Spicer said.

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