By ALAN SAYRE | Associated Press Writer
Saying that Gov. Kathleen Blanco will give legitimacy to a “dying monster,” a group of Cuban Americans called on Louisiana’s chief executive Friday to cancel a planned trade trip to Cuba next week.
George Fowler, the New Orleans head of the Cuban American National Foundation, said there is very little real trade to be had with the impoverished island nation and Blanco stands only to give Fidel Castro a propaganda coup that can be used against U.S. interests - and the Bush administration, which has adopted a harder line against Cuba.
“Castro is a dying monster and if the governor goes over there, she will tie Louisiana to this dying monster forever,” Fowler said.
Blanco is leading a state delegation to Cuba for four days beginning Tuesday. She said she wants to win business for Louisiana ports and companies seeking to expand trade with Cuba, which has been controlled by Castro’s communist regime since 1959.
At the Louisiana School Boards Association meeting in Alexandria, Blanco said other states already had been in trade contact with Cuba. She said she understood the concerns of Cuban Americans, but she wanted to make the trip to help Louisiana’s economy.
“The purpose of this trip is to help Louisiana farmers,” Blanco said. “I would hate for Louisiana to miss out on this opportunity.”
The governor’s economic development secretary, Michael Olivier, made a similar trip in December that stirred up complaints that Louisianians should not be making formal visits to a country designated by the U.S. State Department as supporting terrorists. The relaxation of a trade embargo three years ago allows the sale of U.S. food, agricultural, medical and some wood products to Cuba.
During a news conference, Fowler repeated the same criticisms that were aimed at Olivier.
“This trip will make Louisiana the laughing stock of the nation and bring shame upon this state,” Fowler said.
The call for Blanco to cancel her trip comes as the Bush administration, seeking to deny Castro U.S. dollars, has tightened the trade embargo, making it harder for Americans to travel to or do business with Cuba. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has described Cuba as being among the world’s “outposts of tyranny.” Castro has called Bush “deranged.”
Although the governor’s office has said no direct meetings are planned with Castro, Fowler said that the dictator “gets what he wants” and might be able to see Blanco, despite her intentions.
Asked if Cuban Americans in Louisiana would be angered by the visit, Fowler said: “Oh no, not just in Louisiana, all over the world.”
“There are a lot of Cubans who have businesses and investments in Louisiana. They are very angry,” he said.