Mississippi in Cuba
6/6/2007 10:57:51 AM
Mississippians were prominent last week at a groundbreaking trade
meeting in Havana, Cuba, with American agri-business interests promoting
the legal, cash sales of U.S.-grown products, including catfish, forest
products and cotton, to the communist island nation.
Mississippi products should be marketed and sold in every legal market.
Agricultural goods, food and medicine have been excepted since 2000 from
the general trade embargo against Cuba.
Bill Hawks, a former Hernando farmer, state senator and one-time
Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and, later, a U.S.
undersecretary of agriculture for President George W. Bush, and Philip
Whitehead, a Booneville attorney and investor, were in the 30-member
Mississippi delegation marketing state agriculture.
Hawks is a partner in a Washington firm that stands to profit in
representing private interests, and Whitehead is an investor in
Tishomingo Products Co., which also could profit from agri-business trade.
The delegation was not an official, state-backed group. A spokesman for
Mississippi's Department of Agriculture and Commerce said it had no role
in the trip, and neither did the private-sector Catfish Institute, which
generally represents the catfish industry.
The larger trade group in Cuba included a bipartisan group of five
congressmen, who made the trip without prior announcement. The group
also included agriculture officials of some other southeastern states.
Whitehead said Mississippi farmers and forest products industries stand
to reap a huge cash harvest in direct sales to the official Cuban
export-import company, with payments backed by the full faith and credit
of the Cuban government.
The trade embargo was imposed when Fidel Castro's communist guerillas
toppled the regime of Fulgencio Batista y Zald'va, the island nation's
longtime dictator, and Castro later confiscated the private property of
U.S. citizens and corporations. The embargo was imposed by President
John F. Kennedy and has had strong bipartisan support.
Whitehead and Hawks were among more than 200 people representing 114
American companies or associations from 25 states attending the meeting
in Havana. It was the first major trade meeting between American and
Cuban interests since the embargo was put in place.
Mississippi's interests, led by Hawks, held a catfish fry for Cuban
officials to promote Mississippi farm-raised catfish, described in one
report as a "Cuban favorite."
Whitehead said the delegation came home with a $1.2 million contract for
Mississippi cotton, pending contracts for Mississippi catfish, and
progress made on selling forest products from Homan Industries, a
Fulton-based family of companies dealing in Southern pine.
The official embargo prevents almost all kinds of commerce between the
two nations, separated by 90 miles of ocean off the tip of Florida.
American citizens are generally forbidden to travel to Cuba for any
reason except under special arrangements and visas (journalists can get
special visas for specific coverage).
Whitehead said the Mississippi group endorsed a statement during the
conference that trade and tourism between Cuba and the U.S. should be
mutually free and open.
That will happen in time, as the Castro regime fades into history.
Meanwhile, Mississippi's private sector has an opportunity to make money
in legal trade with Cuba, just as many industries already profit from
trade with China, the largest communist nation.
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Appeared originally in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal,
6/6/2007, section B , page 4