By DAVID TORTORANO | THE SUN HERALD
Officials from the ports of Gulfport and Pascagoula felt they got what they expected out of their recent trip to Cuba.
Don Allee, director of the Mississippi State Port at Gulfport, came back with a guarantee that Cuba will use Gulfport as much this year as last. Pascagoula received “every indication” it will continue to play a large role in trade with Cuba.
Allee and Rafael Quesada, trade development manager for Pascagoula’s port, were among 250 people at the event hosted by Alimport, the agency in Cuba that handles foodstuffs.
Allee said there were port officials from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia, as well as representatives from more than 100 firms at the event just before Christmas.
Before leaving for Cuba, Allee said he hoped to return with a guarantee that Gulfport would be used as much in 2004 as in 2003. He came back with a letter of intent in which Alimport agrees to move the same volume of cargo “or higher.”
Allee said the agreement also has Alimport working to identify opportunities where Gulfport could be used for commodities not now being transported.
Port of Pascagoula Director Mark McAndrews said the feedback from Quesada, who works out of Miami, was “generally positive” about the visit.
He said his representative received some “pretty good indications that we’re going to continue to participate at a relatively high level.”
Pascagoula’s port has shipped more than 100,000 tons of poultry to Cuba, said McAndrews, adding that the port is considering other commodities as well.
Allee said going to Cuba, especially on short notice, demonstrates to Cuban officials that Gulfport wants to be a shipment center.
McAndrews said face-to-face meetings are crucial, and he’ll continue to send representatives to Cuba when opportunities arise.
“Virtually everything in the maritime industry is based on personal contacts,” McAndrews said.
For Allee it was his sixth trip to Cuba, but it was the first time he met Fidel Castro, who has ruled the island nation since 1959.
Allee said he found out after getting there that there would be a dinner Dec. 16 hosted by Alimport at the Palace of the Revolution. The guest speaker was Fidel Castro, who talked at length about the Cuban economy.
“I thought it was appropriate. It never became a political lecture,” said Allee, who went up to greet Castro after the talk.
“I introduced myself as the port director of Gulfport, and he knew where that was,” said Allee.