For McAuliffe, Cuba trip to promote Va. products was a bust
By Peter Wallsten and Carol D. Leonnig, Wednesday, October 30, 1:59 AM
Terry McAuliffe has always fashioned himself a master salesman. He could
Then he went to Cuba.
McAuliffe said he journeyed to the island to sell Virginia wine and
apples. Yet the Cubans scoffed at his propositions during the April 2010
visit, unmoved by the full-frontal style of persuasion that has long
powered McAuliffe’s success as an investor and political rainmaker.
Cuban officials not only rejected McAuliffe, but in meeting after
meeting lectured him about the supposed ill effects of the U.S. trade
embargo on the island nation.
In many ways, the three-day adventure was classic McAuliffe, offering a
taste of the freewheeling, even impulsive, style the Democratic
candidate for Virginia governor could bring to the executive mansion if
he is elected next week.
He was, in effect, winging it — relying largely on personal charm and
hoping for the best, even as many of those around him say they saw
little chance for success.
The trip had been intended, at least in part, to erase the sting of
McAuliffe’s dismal showing in the gubernatorial race the previous year
while showcasing his deal-making skills and home-state advocacy in
advance of a second run for office. After it all fell apart, McAuliffe
stayed in his permanently upbeat sales mode even as his travel
companions privately lamented a journey that was more fiasco than triumph.
McAuliffe returned from Havana with a rosy report: “We got them to agree
to open up the market for Virginia wines,” he told The Washington Post
at the time. “We are going to export Virginia wines to Cuba for the
first time ever.”
In reality, the sales trip was a bust.
“It was like, ‘What just happened?’ Were we rolled?’?” said Blaze
Wharton, a McAuliffe friend and Utah-based lobbyist who organized the
trip for McAuliffe and a handful of politically connected business friends.
“We were all under the impression that it would work out,” Wharton said.
But, he added, “it went nowhere.”
Why McAuliffe chose Cuba, a communist-led island with a moribund
economy, as the place to prove his mettle as a champion of Virginia
commerce is a curiosity. Any trip to Cuba, which is still designated a
state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government, brings complications
— particularly for a figure with McAuliffe’s deep ties to America’s
political elite. He is a close friend and adviser to Hillary Rodham
Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the Cuba trip and,
should she run for president, would be courting Cuban-American voters
wary of contact with the regime there.
McAuliffe, now waging a campaign in which he presents himself as a
skilled deal-maker and cheerleader for Virginia businesses, rarely if
ever mentions his one venture since the 2009 campaign to sell Virginia
McAuliffe’s campaign declined to make him available for an interview.
Neither his campaign nor the organizers of the trip could provide the
paperwork that McAuliffe was required to file with the U.S. Office of
Foreign Assets Control to obtain a license to travel to Cuba, saying
they no longer had copies. An OFAC spokesman said the office does not
comment on specific licenses.
Source: “For McAuliffe, Cuba trip to promote Va. products was a bust –
The Washington Post” –