More than 40 Prince George’s County businesses and organizations are headed to Cuba next week on an inaugural trip with County Executive Rushern Baker III. Their goal is to cultivate business and cultural connections on the Communist island.
The 42 individuals represent the healthcare, education, construction, information technology, arts and humanities, non-profits, and engineering sectors. It marks the largest delegation to ever go on one of Baker’s mission trips.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is leading a delegation to Cuba to learn about the country and establish relationships. (Courtesy photo)
“I thought we would get maybe about 20 business delegates,” said Jim Coleman, president and CEO of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation. “We had to cut it off because people were saying ‘I still want to go.’”
The main point of the five-day trip is to understand Cuba’s needs, find out how the county can help, and build relationships to pave the way for future business opportunities between the county and Cuba.
The delegates are scheduled to meet with Marta Hernandez Romero, mayor of Havana, and officials from the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba, the Ministry of Commerce and Foreign Investment, the University of Havana, and the Polyclinic of Vedado, among others.
The delegation will target the following industries: information technology, hospitality, engineering, construction, medical/life sciences, and agriculture. While there, the group will also meet leaders from Cuba’s education and art scene for future exchanges and collaborations.
Coleman reiterated that this trip is all about building relationships and exploring opportunities, not cutting deals. The hope is that Cuba remembers the county for future business dealings if Congress lifts the decades-old embargo against the island. “It’s a courting process and we want this courting process to lead to matrimony,” said Coleman.
Baker, along with five members of his team, will lead the delegation – private contributions financed their trip, as well as Coleman’s. Everyone else paid the $5,850 it costs for the trip. The price tag includes round-trip airfare from Ronald Reagan National Airport to José Marti International Airport in Havana (by way of Miami), accommodations for five nights at the historic Hotel Nacional, meals, security, transportation, entertainment and more.
The trip comes almost two years after President Barack Obama announced détente with Cuba at the end of 2014, following more than 50 years of hostility between the former Cold War enemies. Obama’s subsequent Cuba policy eased the decades-old embargo in the areas of travel, trade, telecommunications, financial services, and remittances.
Following Obama’s historic announcement, business and government-led delegations from across the United States and the world, flooded Cuba, seeking deals of their own with the communist country. The overall embargo continues to block most U.S. trade with the island and vice versa. It can only be lifted with Congressional action, and Congress has indicated it will not act on any of the Cuba-related bills during the lame-duck session.
The Cuba mission trip is part of Baker’s long-term plan for international business development that he released this year. Future trade missions will involve a return trip to China, and trips to Canada, Mexico, Colombia, South Africa, and South Korea. The Cuba trip will likely be the first of several to the island.
“I want to make sure that Prince George’s County is in the forefront of the new opportunities in Cuba for business and cultural exchanges,” Baker said in a statement. “We want to ensure that as Cuba begins to look at the United States and the Washington, D.C. region, it understands Prince George’s County’s proximity to the nation’s Capital and all that the County has to offer.”