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Many Cuba-related events cancelled in wake of tensions
CubaNews / June 2003

By Larry Luxner

A number of trade missions, fact-finding visits and other Cuba-related events have been postponed or shelved in the wake of worsening relations between Washington and Havana.

At least 100 Georgia politicians and business leaders were planning to charter a Delta jet from Atlanta to Havana for the historic “Georgia-to-Cuba 2003” trip, set for Jun. 1-8. But politics got in the way, said George Brown, executive director of the Georgia Council for International Visitors.

“The Treasury Department has announced the elimination of the category of license we applied under,” Brown told CubaNews. “We’ve been caught high and dry.”

Brown added that “with the crackdown on dissidents in Cuba and the harder U.S. line, it seems like right now is a very difficult time for this program. If the situation changes, we’ll put it back on the itinerary, but we’re not too optimistic.”

In a similar vein, a Maryland agriculture trade mission set for May 23-28 was also cancelled at the urging of Gov. Bob Ehrlich. The trip was to include a stop at the Port of Havana by the Pride of Baltimore II.

Ehrlich, Maryland’s first Republican governor in 36 years, said in a press statement that “Maryland wishes to continue supporting federal trade policies in regard to Cuba. At such time when the climate is better, we will be ready to assist Maryland companies in promoting [agricultural exports] to Cuba.”

Even business conferences that didn’t involve travel to Cuba were doomed by the worsening climate.

New York’s Pace University, which sponsors an annual World Trade Week, axed a session on Cuba last month in which CubaNews had been scheduled to participate.

“Unfortunately, we were forced to cancel the session,” said Donna Sharp, executive director of Pace University’s World Trade Institute. “The U.S. Commercial Service was our partner for this event, and they were advised that they are not permitted to provide any assistance to U.S. companies regarding trade with Cuba. I discussed the matter with the Office of the General Counsel at length. However, in the end, it was non-negotiable.”

Stephen Kimmerling, a New Jersey lawyer and consultant on Cuba policy, said he was “flummoxed” by the decision.

“The U.S.-Cuba trade panel would have only addressed lawful agricultural and medical sales and, secondarily, merely speculative trade given different sets of hypothetical conditions such as regime change, removal of the embargo and the like,” said Kimmerling, who was to speak at the event. “Such matters are well within the parameters of U.S. law and in no way assist, facilitate or encourage unlawful trade with Cuba.”

Other events that were cancelled included a Key West-to-Havana sailboat regatta scheduled for May 3-9, and a May 21 “Cuba-New England” networking conference in Boston.

Yet the Texas-Cuba Trade Alliance decided to go ahead with its May 15 “Doing Business With Cuba” event in Austin, despite pressure from out-of-state opponents to call it off.

“As time passes, we’re increasingly glad we went forward with it,” Cynthia Thomas, the alliance’s founding president, told CubaNews. “This was our first event, and participants are now planning our first Texas trade mission to Cuba in July, provided we get the license.”

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