Press Pool Report #2: Governor Abbott’s Business Development Mission To Cuba

December 1, 2015 | Havana, Cuba | Press Release

Pool report provided by the Austin American-Statesman

Gov. Greg Abbott’s trade delegation to Cuba had dinner Monday night at La Fontana Paladar. The dinner was sponsored by the Houston Airport System, which is looking forward to do the day, still uncertain, when there will be direct commercial air service between Havana and Houston.

The restaurant was well vetted by a Houstonian, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, who with her husband, Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) dined at La Fontana on their fifth wedding anniversary Havana holiday in 2013.

According to the website, Havana Insider, La Fontana in the city's Miramar district,was established in 1995 and “worked its way up to become what people now are referring to as the `celebrity kitchen,’ where American A-list stars such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Rhianna flocked for the city’s best grill.”

Before dinner, the guests heard a comprehensive, off-the-record review of the current Cuban scene by Scott Hamilton, the deputy chief of mission for what is now the United States Embassy in Havana, whose gentle brogue betrayed his Scottish origins. He is originally from Edinburgh.

After dinner, they heard from a Cuban quintet, Son 3Men2,with a repertoire that ranged from Buena Visa Social Club to a Cuban take on Hotel California, which had the Texans singing along. The group’s album, Tradicional, includes the song, “No se puede.”

The meal was preceded by mojitos, and finished with espresso and flan.

Tuesday morning the delegation is visiting the Mariel Development Zone, about an hour’s drive from the city.

According to a critical staff report issued this week by the Cuba Transition Project of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, the Port of Mariel is “the exception” to Cuba’s inadequate port infrastructure.

From the report:

“With the exception of the mega transshipment Port of Mariel, with a draft up to 49 feet and a capacity to store over 3 million containers, Cuba’s principal ports (Havana, Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos) are unable to accommodate large, modern vessels."

"The modern Port of Mariel, just 45 km West of Havana, is designed to serve super-container ships. However, the future possibility of serving as a container transshipment facility for a U.S. (post-embargo) commerce has major competition from high-tech Port of Miami, the closest American port to the new Panama Canal expansion. The Port of Miami enlargement has a dredge of up to 50 feet in depth and is capable of berthing even the largest container vessels in the world, including the future Maersk Triple E Class, which will have a draught of 47 feet and will be nearly 200 feet wide."

"The mega Port of Miami has completed an under-the-bay tunnel for trucks to bypass Downtown Miami, doubling the port’s traffic capacity. So, why would the Pacific exporters choose the Port of Mariel if they could bring their cargoes directly into the U.S. via the excellent highway infrastructure of the Port of Miami? This fact should be a major concern for the Port of Mariel investors.”

Presumably, the delegation will hear the other side of the story this morning. In the afternoon, the delegation has three meetings in succession.

First, they meet with Héctor Oroza Busutin, a former colonel in the Cuban military, who is now president the Cuban Export-Import Corporation, or CIMEX.

Then it’s a meeting with Alexis Trujillo Morejón, the first deputy minister of tourism. And, after that, they meet with Wilfredo González Vidal, the deputy minister of communications.