Posted on Mon, Apr. 09, 2007
Idaho governor going to Cuba
By JOHN MILLER
BOISE, Idaho —
(AP) — Like other states before it, Idaho is turning to Cuba in search
of new markets for its products.
With Cuba's communist dictator Fidel Castro ailing, Idaho Gov. C.L.
''Butch'' Otter is among those optimistic that political change will
help turn the island's 11 million residents into big consumers. In
March, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was the latest U.S. official to visit
Cuba, which bought $340 million (euro254.2 million) in U.S. farm
products in 2006.
Otter and his 35-member entourage are scheduled to travel to Cuba on
Tuesday for a four-day trade mission,
''He's going down there to sell groceries,'' said Jon Hanian, Otter's
spokesman. “It's an opportunity to make some sales.''
In a speech last month, Otter told reporters he had a ''respectful''
relationship with Castro. The United States has a trade embargo with
Cuba that exempts food, and does not allow residents to visit the island
nation. It accuses Cuba of jailing political dissidents.
''The thing that irritates me the most about the State Department's
policy toward Cuba is that it is not a policy toward Cuba,'' Otter said
at an Idaho Press Club-sponsored event. “You're a free American, you
should be able to travel anywhere you want, whenever you want.''
This will not be Otter's first visit there: has already been to Cuba
three times as a Republican U.S. House member on lobbyist-funded trips.
In 2004, on a mission to Cuba with Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, of
Idaho, Craig and Otter signed a potential $10 million (euro7.5 million)
nonbinding deal with Cuba for Idaho agricultural products. Still, the
Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor has on record just $22,616
(euro16,912) in sales to Cuba in the last decade — a shipment of frozen
Otter maintains Cuba is trying to expand its oil and natural gas, and is
experimenting with turning some of its sugar into ethanol. When the
natural resources take off, Otter says, so will demand.