Threatening Tweets From Florida Governor Kill Planned Agreements with Cuba

Port Everglades spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy said "the Cuban government realized there was sensitivity and they said [signing the memo] wasn't important."

by Ron Hurtibise, Sun Sentinel / January 27, 2017

(TNS) -- In light of threatening tweets by Gov. Rick Scott, ports in Broward and Palm Beach counties have canceled plans to sign an agreement for cooperation with the National Port Administration of Cuba.

But spokeswomen for both ports said planned meetings between the seven-member Cuban delegation and local trade and business officials would continue as scheduled.

Port Everglades had planned to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Cubans at 2:30 p.m. today, while the Port of Palm Beach had planned a signing at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Port Everglades spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy said "the Cuban government realized there was sensitivity and they said [signing the memo] wasn't important."

Jarra Kaczwara, spokeswoman for the Port of Palm Beach, said that port "at this time is not scheduled to sign the memorandum of understanding in light of the governor's request," adding, "We are still looking forward to welcoming the Cuban delegation and providing our tenants with the ability to learn more about opportunities to do business [with the island nation]."

Adopting a communication style similar to newly inaugurated President Donald J. Trump, Scott took to the social networking app Twitter on Wednesday to threaten withdrawal of funding if the ports proceeded with plans to sign the agreements.

"Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship," Scott wrote in a series of tweets Wednesday. "I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget. We cannot condone Raul Castro's oppressive behavior. Serious security/human rights concerns."

Scott has been a critic of former President Barack Obama's efforts to restore relations with Cuba's communist government. Trump has not yet announced whether he will overturn Obama's executive orders normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. His aides have said the current policy is under review, Reuters reported. Before taking office, Trump threatened to reverse Obama's moves unless a "better deal" could be stuck.

Kennedy said the memo of understanding was "largely ceremonial and not legally binding."

Entering into memorandums of understanding, she said, is like becoming sister cities. "It's like, 'If we ask you for information, will you share it with us?' We don't share anything proprietary."

A draft copy of the memorandum Port Everglades planned to sign states “the parties believe it is in their mutual interest to establish an alliance of cooperation aimed at generating new business by promoting the all water route” between Port Everglades and the ports of Cuba.

The parties would also agree “subject to their respective laws and regulations” to “undertake joint initiatives” that would include joint marketing activities, exchanges of data, exchanges of marketing studies, and sharing of information on modernization and improvements, training programs and technological capabilities and programs.

Shared information in market studies “that may be of interest to the other party” would be “treated in a confidential manner, to the extend allowed by the parties’ respective laws and regulations.”

Kennedy compared the agreement to a decision to become “sister cities,” saying, “It’s like, ‘If we ask you for information, will you share it with us?’ We don’t share anything proprietary.”

She pointed out that the Cuban delegation is meeting with various ports in the U.S., including Houston and New Orleans.

Humanitarian trade between Port Everglades and Cuba, through the cargo and terminal operator Crowley Maritime Corp., has been ongoing since 2001, Kennedy said.

But on Tuesday, Port Everglades hailed the arrival of artisanal charcoal aboard a Crowley container ship, calling it "the first truly commercial shipment" from a Cuban cooperative to a private U.S. business since the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo was established more than 50 years ago.

Crowley is licensed under the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to ship U.S. agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices and other products to Cuba. But shipments from Cuba to the U.S. were made possible only under rules established by the Obama adminstration.

John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., asked in an email whether Gov. Scott would also oppose funding for ports that assist with exports to China, Vietnam, Turkey and countries in the Middle East.

He noted that $5.3 billion in agricultural and food products has been exported from the United States to Cuba since 2001. More than a million metrics tons of goods moved through Florida ports, Kavulich said.

©2017 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.