Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he will lead a state delegation to Cuba next week, just less than a year after President Barack Obama resumed relations with the communist country.
During a three-day trip starting Monday, Abbott will meet with officials from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, the Port of Mariel as well as Cuba's Chamber of Commerce and two Cuban state companies, Cimex and Alimport.
Texas was once a leading exporter to Cuba in a quiet partnership that helped produce hundreds of jobs and millions in revenue for the Lone Star State. Even following the implementation of the U.S. trade embargo more than 50 years ago, the relationship continued to thrive for decades. Trading with Cuba is still legal under the provisions of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which allows U.S. businesses to ship a limited amount of products to Cuba for profit.
“With a new era of eased trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba – and as the 12th largest economy in the world — Texas has an opportunity to capitalize and expand its economic footprint at home and abroad,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Opening the door to business with Texas will expand free enterprise and the freedom that flows from it. I look forward to expanding business opportunities for both Texas and Cuba.”
The trip is being paid for by TexasOne, a quasi-governmental agency that Abbott's predecessor, Rick Perry, launched in 2003, in large part to fund the governor's promotional trips. TexasOne CEO Tracye McDaniel will join Abbott on the trip, along with "various business and economic leaders," according to Abbott's office.
Obama announced last December that the United States was normalizing relations with Cuba and opening an embassy in Havana. The move immediately drew biting criticism from some Republican leaders, most notably U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, both presidential candidates of Cuban descent.
“Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly needed economic lifeline from President Obama," Cruz said at the time. "We have seen how previous Obama administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened. Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros, blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power."
Requests for comment from Cruz's and Rubio's campaigns were not immediately returned.
Perry, Abbott's predecessor, was also highly critical of Obama's decision to resume relations with Cuba.
"President Obama has failed to account for what the Castro regime has done in the last several years that warrants such an enormous shift in a longstanding U.S. policy of economic embargo and diplomatic isolation," Perry said in July. "There is no indication that further normalization will do anything to actually liberate the Cuban people or advance American interests.”