HAVANA — Waving a Cuban cigar and speaking a bit of Spanish, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo became the first governor to visit Cuba since the Communist-run island and the United States agreed to restore normal relations.
Cuomo arrived in this capital city Monday for what he called the first stage of his “Global New York” strategy to expand state business opportunities around the world. His 24-hour tour will include meetings with Cuban government officials, a walking tour of Old Havana, a get-together with New York college students studying in Cuba and a meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
“Isolation has not worked,” Cuomo said at the start of a roundtable discussion, flanked by members of the state assembly and leaders of New York-based companies such as MasterCard, JetBlue and Pfizer. “Engagement and full relationships is the best way to have a dialogue on the issues that we agree with and on the issues that we disagree about.”
Cuomo told the Cubans that re-establishing relations after more than 50 years, announced by President Obama in December, was a family affair for the Cuomos. When Congress was tightening the U.S. embargo on the island in the mid-1990s, Cuomo’s father, then-governor Mario Cuomo, was fighting against the move. The elder Cuomo died in January.
“So it’s only fitting that I’m here today … doing everything we can now that we have the opportunity to finally normalize the relationship,” he said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be part of this moment in history.”
The New York delegation is taking part in a round of discussions with Cuban officials that focuses on Cuba’s new foreign investment law and identifying ways to take advantage of it.
Earlier this month, Obama removed Cuba from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing the way for joint business ventures. Many hurdles remain, however, including trade restrictions Congress must lift and rules Cuba imposes on an economy tightly controlled by the government.
It’s also a special honor to be the first governor representing the first state to be here,” Cuomo said. “I would say it’s only fitting that it’s New York, but that would be too arrogant a thing — the stereotype of a governor of New York.”
Although Cuomo is the first governor to visit Cuba since Obama and Cuban President Rául Castro announced plans to normalize relations, New York is not the first state to send a trade delegation. Missouri wins that distinction. Georganne Nixon, wife of Gov. Jay Nixon, led a business group to Cuba last month.
By Alan Gomez, USA Today
April 20, 2015