CubaNews / May 2005
By Larry Luxner
NEW ORLEANS — Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s recent trip to Havana was a moral outrage, charges one of Louisiana’s most prominent Cuban-Americans.
George Fowler III, a New Orleans attorney and vice-president of the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, told CubaNews that the trip accomplished little in the way of business while angering much of Louisiana’s Hispanic population.
“There are many reasons why the governor of Louisiana shouldn’t go to Cuba. The first is that the State Department lists Castro’s Cuba as a terrorist nation, much like Syria and other enemies of our country. In every speech, Castro speaks against the United States.”
Fowler, 54, was interviewed on the 30th floor of a skyscraper overlooking downtown New Orleans and the Mississippi River. His corner office is decorated with U.S. and Cuban flags, photos of himself shaking hands with President George Bush Sr., and a framed letter of thanks from the late CANF founder, Jorge Mas Canosa.
Those mementoes should leave little doubt where Fowler stands on the issue of doing business with Fidel Castro.
“By going to Cuba, you condone the regime and the atrocities,” he said. “You don’t go visit a terrorist in the middle of a war on terrorism, particularly a deadbeat who has no money.”
The Havana-born attorney, who fled with his family to the United States at the age of 9, today runs one of the nation’s largest maritime law firms. Several years ago, Fowler helped organize a protest at the Port of New Orleans, from where the first U.S. food shipment was sent to Cuba under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, also known as TSRA.
Fowler said he first got wind of Blanco’s Cuba plans after Michael Olivier became Louisiana’s secretary of economic development.
“I was one of the hosts of an event at the World Trade Center, during which Olivier indicated that [Gov. Blanco] would go to Cuba. So I said, ‘you and I need to talk.’ That got a big laugh.”
Fowler said he contacted the head of the Louisiana Democratic Party as well as Blanco’s office, warning her that the trip would be “a terrible idea.” He said this view was shared by the vast majority of Louisiana’s 10,000-strong Cuban exile community, and certainly by CANF’s 500 or so supporters throughout the state.
In addition, Fowler said the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — which is composed mostly of Mexican and Central American businessmen — came out strongly against the trip.
“I don’t want to insult anybody, and I’m sure this governor meant well, but I tried to dissuade her from going,” he told CubaNews. “I gave her a list of dissidents and urged her to see them. [Oswaldo] Payá went to the U.S. Interests Section to meet her, but she snubbed him.”
Fowler says he can’t understand why Blanco agreed to have lobster with Fidel, especially when the potential payoff for Louisiana — at least in the short run — appears to be so insignificant.
“You don’t go to a foreign country to pick up a $15 million deal over an 18-month period,” he complained. “I know Cuban-Americans who do that much business in a month.”
Fowler claims that by traveling to Cuba in the first place, Blanco accepted the notion that she’d probably end up meeting Fidel Castro.
“She didn’t think she would have to, which is indicative of a lack of knowledge of Cuba,” he said. “It’s sheer ignorance. How could you go to Cuba as a governor and not meet with Castro?”