Updated: McAuliffe travels to Cuba to promote Virginia products
The Washington Post's Thomas Heath reports that former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe launched his own trade mission to Cuba last week with several Virginia businessmen. McAuliffe journeyed to Cuba from April 12 through 15, where he persuaded the Cubans to accept more Virginia poultry, apples and soybeans -- and, for the first time, Virginia wine.
"There is a tremendous opportunity to create jobs in the U.S. by doing business in Cuba," said McAuliffe, who chaired Hilary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and is a close friend of former President Bill Clinton. "Most importantly, we got them to agree to open up the market for Virginia wines. We are going to export Virginia wines to Cuba for the first time ever." The group met at the Havana offices of Alimport, the Cuban entity that signs all contracts with U.S. food and agriculture companies which sell to Cuba.
McAuliffe, 53, said the Cubans agreed to hold a Virginia wine exposition at a date to be decided, where Cuban government officials will host Old Dominion winemakers.
Accompanying McAuliffe were Jon Bowerbank, president of EMATS Inc., a utility infrastructure company from Southwest Virginia (Bowerbank unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat last year for Virginia lieutenant governor); James Reyes of Reyes Beverage Group of Northern Virginia, who discussed sales of U.S. beer to Cuba; Hani Masri, president of McLean-based Capital Corporation, who talked with the Cubans about selling them telecommunications equipment; and Blaze Wharton, a partner of Vigilant Worldwide Communications, who went to Cuba as a representative of Immune Tree, a Utah company which produces dairy products.
McAuliffe's group spent all four days in Havana, staying at the legendary Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
The trip came one day after he returned from visiting five Middle East countries, promoting his investments in green technology.
So are these kinds of trade missions, designed to create jobs for Virginians, a prelude to another run for the governor's mansion?
"I always keep my options open," said McAuliffe.
Update: Tucker Martin, Gov. Bob McDonnell's spokesman, tells us that Mcauliffe informed the governor's office of his trip. He issued this statement:
"This office was informed by Terry McAuliffe about his trip to Cuba after Mr. McAuliffe apparently met with Jorge Bolaños, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. It is our understanding that Mr. Bolonas, who has a close working relationship with Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Todd Haymore, suggested to Mr. McAuliffe that he contact the Secretary due to his previous trade missions to Cuba while he was Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) under Governor Tim Kaine. Secretary Haymore gave Mr. McAuliffe an overview on Virginia's agricultural trade relationship with Cuba since 2003, connected him to the VDACS marketing director who further briefed Mr. McAuliffe on the Commonwealth's marketing efforts, and gave him the same information any Virginian going to Cuba on a trade mission would receive. We hope that information was helpful to Mr. McAuliffe and his business associates who traveled to Cuba.
Secretary Haymore has led three successful trade missions to Cuba since 2007 which featured prominent members of Virginia's, soybean, apple, poultry, and wine communities. On behalf of Governor McDonnell's mandate to create as many jobs and economic opportunities as possible for all Virginians, he is working with the Cuban officials in Washington and Havana to plan a fourth, and potentially fifth, trade mission for later this year. Virginia agricultural exports to Cuba have grown from about $800,000 in 2003 to more than $55 million in 2009. During the last eight years, Cuba has become one of the top importers of Virginia's diverse agricultural products. Out of the 50 states, Virginia is now the third largest exporter to Cuba .
We greatly appreciate that business and look forward to growing it in the future."
April 20, 2010; 1:38 PM ET
Categories: 2009 Governor's Race , Terry McAuliffe | Tags: Cuba, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Terry McAuliffe
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