Gov. Rick Scott made it perfectly clear last week that any Florida port that signed a trade pact with Cuba, run by brutal dictator Raul Castro, would not receive state funds for improvements.
A delegation from Cuba visited the Port of Palm Beach on Friday, but a memorandum of understanding was not signed due to the governor’s statements.
Now Scott has taken the stance a step further. His proposed 2017-18 $83.5 billion state budget released Tuesday says $176 million designated for port infrastructure projects cannot go to any port that expands trade with Cuba.
None of the funds may go to projects “that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship because of their continued human rights abuses,” the budget states.
Since 2011 Scott has overseen the investment of $1.2 billion in port infrastructure investments support.
While businesses based at the Port of Palm Beach do not trade directly with Cuba, Crowley Maritime Corp. transports goods from Port Everglades to Cuba, and has 16 for years.
“Crowley is authorized to ship licensed cargo to Cuba. Currently, we are sailing to Havana, Cuba from Port Everglades, FL and Jacksonville, FL as an alternate port every week,” the company states on its website.
Asked whether those ports would be cut off from state funds due to Crowley’s activities, the governor’s office issued this response: “While the Governor does not support doing business with the Castro regime, ports receive state funding and private businesses do not.”
In October 2000, the U.S. Congress passed legislation, later signed by the President into law on October 28, 2000, which changed the U.S.-Cuba trade relationship by enacting certain exceptions from U.S. sanctions legislation for agricultural and medical exports.
The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 was not comprehensive and some prohibitions remain. The ban on U.S. imports from Cuba was not changed by this legislation.
John Kavulich, president, U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc., said that since the first exports of agricultural commodities and food products in December 2001, the total value of exports has exceeded $5.2 billion. Since 1992, more than $16 million in healthcare products has been exported under provisions of the Cuban Democracy Act.
Since 2010, the U.S. has exported more than 4.8 million tons of products to Cuba. Of that, 737,155 tons went to Cuba from Florida ports.
Kavulich said that during the Obama Administration, imports were authorized by changes to regulations. Agricultural commodities included coffee and charcoal, with sourcing restrictions (a non-Republic of Cuba government component) and textiles and crafts created by independent business owners.
There are no specific “bans” on imports from the Republic of Cuba, however, there are statutory impediments relating to duties and tariffs, Kavulich said.