Governors got little flak for Cuba visits, but travels were different
than N.J. lawmakers’
FEBRUARY 6, 2016, 9:02 AM LAST UPDATED: SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2016,
BY JOHN C. ENSSLIN
STATE HOUSE BUREAU | THE RECORD
Within the last 10 months, Republican Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas
and Greg Abbott of Texas and Democratic Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York
and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia all have led trade missions to Havana
with representatives of various business interests in their states.
But for the most part, none of them faced the kind of criticism leveled
at eight New Jersey Assembly members and two state senators who took
part in a threeday fact-finding mission to Cuba that had community
groups and police unions crying foul.
The governors’ visits had several other things in common that the New
Jersey trip did not: They were all officially sanctioned trade missions
and they included business representatives. Hutchinson, for example,
talked to Cuban officials about the possibilities of Arkansas exporting
rice and chicken to the island. Cuomo brought along representatives of
JetBlue, MasterCard and several other companies.
“What we long to do … is export the Texas brand, freedom and free
enterprise,” Abbott said in a brief video of his trip posted to his
Those trips also were different in that they were publicized in advance
and during the visits, whereas the New Jersey lawmakers did not
publicize their travel plans in advance, and news of the trip broke only
after it was over. But unlike officials from the other states, the New
Jersey legislators paid their own way.
Abbott’s trip did draw criticism from a Texas legislator, a
Cuban-American group in Florida and the conservative website
Breitbart.com. But the trip generally drew kudos from the editorial
boards of newspapers in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin.
Texas, however, does not have the same mix of demographics and history
as New Jersey, which has the third largest Cuban-American population in
the nation with 88,607 counted in the 2010 census. It also has the
bitter legacy of Joanne Chesimard, a fugitive granted asylum in Cuba
after escaping from a state prison where she was serving a life sentence
for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.
For the New Jersey lawmakers, the trip was a personal effort. The
lawmakers each paid $2,100 to a Cuban travel agency. That fee covered
their flight on a JetBlue charter out of New York City plus hotel and
meals for three days. The lawmakers had to pay cash for any other
The group included Assembly members Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale; Tim
Eustace, D-Maywood; and Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American opposed to President
Obama’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba, said that while the
lawmakers had every right to travel to Cuba, they would be wrong to seek
out business opportunities.
“The reality is if you’re thinking about doing business with a country,
Cuba is not the place I’d be thinking about, because you’re doing
business with an oppressive regime,” Menendez said Monday.
“You cannot do business with the Cuban people,” he added. “I would love
to see that, but the reality is that there are really only two entities
that you can do business with,” and they are both controlled by the
Castro family, he said.
But several of the lawmakers pointed out that companies in other states
are positioning themselves to do business in Cuba. They also pointed out
that New Jersey is home to IDT Corp., a Newarkbased telecommunications
company that won a contract in March to provide direct long-distance
phone service to Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, Cuba’s national
Previously, callers to Cuba had to go through a third-party provided
outside of the United States, said Bill Ulrey, a spokesman for the
company that until 1999 was based in Hackensack.
“We’re clearly hoping that this is just the start of opening the telecom
market for other services that the U.S. companies could provide,” Ulrey
said Tuesday. He said his firm was not involved with the lawmakers’ trip.
Several lawmakers said they were interested in touring a Cuban biotech
center that claims to have developed a promising cure for treating
diabetic foot ulcers.
State Sen. Nia Gill, D-Montclair, said she was particularly interested
in the treatment.
“For me that’s important because we spend millions for the treatment of
diabetes,” Gill said, adding that AfricanAmericans are three times more
likely to be diagnosed than the rest of the population.
Source: Governors got little flak for Cuba visits, but travels were
different than N.J. lawmakers’ – News – NorthJersey.com –