By ANNE WALLACE ALLEN | Associated Press Writer
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie just returned from a trade mission to Cuba, and he’s already planning his next trip - this time with 100 Vermont heifers.
Dubie traveled to Cuba earlier this month as part of a trade mission to promote U.S. agricultural products. On the trip, hundreds of U.S. farm representatives met with Cuban leaders - and attended a lunch with Cuban President Fidel Castro - in the hopes of building trade relationships that until recently were outlawed.
After the talks, Cuban authorities said at least $80 million in sales were arranged. While most of those deals were for rice, wheat, corn and grain from other states, the sales included Vermont apples, whey, and powdered milk, Dubie said at a briefing he held Thursday in the Statehouse.
Vermont’s first-term lieutenant governor is known for his enthusiasm, and he didn’t hold back at his press conference, which was attended by several dozen elementary school children from Ascutney who happened to be passing through the room on a tour of the Statehouse.
“I have four children, so it doesn’t bother me in the least; that’s a great sound,” he reassured a mother as she left the room with a screaming baby.
Dubie enjoyed his trip to Cuba, and he returned with a new conviction that a U.S. ban on travel between the United States and Cuba, recently strengthened, is a bad policy.
“I think travel and trade would be a good thing for Cuba and the USA,” he told the crowd.
Dubie was accompanied on his trip by Armando Vilaseca, a Cuban native and longtime Vermont resident who was recently hired as superintendent of the Colchester school system. Vilaseca moved to the United States in 1964, at the age of 8, and on the recent trip to Cuba served as Dubie’s translator.
Like Dubie, Vilaseca has high hopes the new trade initiative will help the Cuban people and Vermont farmers.
“Cuba has an incredible shortage of everything,” said Vilaseca, who still has family in Cuba. “One thing the Vermont farmers could do is to help provide those basic elements, such as Vermont dairy, such as apples.”
Finding a new market for those products will also be good for Vermont farmers, he noted.
“Cuba can pay for it,” added Vilaseca, who plans to return to Cuba next fall with Dubie when 100 Vermont heifers are delivered to the nation to assist with a dairy farming program there.
Martha Hanson, Dubie’s assistant, also went on the trip to Cuba. All three paid their own way, Dubie said.
Dubie was in his element in a room jammed with restless children. A small circle of kids formed around the podium where Dubie stood and listened as he spoke, and a boy with a nametag that said “Ted” raised his hand to tell Dubie that he was a farmer.
“Well, Ted, we need people like you,” Dubie said. “The farmers of Vermont help feed the people of the world.”