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Louisiana companies contemplate new business prospects with Cuba

Louisiana and Cuba once were among each other’s most important trading partners, but the Cold War ended their close relationship.

Last December—more than 50 years after the United States imposed a trade and travel embargo on its island neighbor—President Barack Obama announced his desire to normalize relations with Cuba. On Aug. 14, Secretary of State John Kerry called for democracy in Cuba while opening the U.S. embassy in Havana.

“Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country,” the White House says. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.”

Saul Newsome, a Baton Rouge attorney focused on international trade and foreign investment, is half-Cuban on his mother’s side. As a child he lived for 10 years in Miami, a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment, and he’s well aware of the crimes of the Cuban regime.

But in this moment, Newsome sees a chance to help Louisiana’s economy and the Cuban people.

“Increasing and liberalizing trade will lead to reform,” he argues. When the United States gives the Cubans a taste of capitalism, “I think we empower them,” he tells Business Report in its new cover story on business prospects in the Caribbean nation.

Cuba’s economy is mostly state-run and sluggish. Most Cubans are poor and have limited ability to buy American goods. Cubans lack political and economic freedom, and often defect when given the chance.

Obama’s critics, including members of Congress whose approval would be needed to lift the embargo, say bolstering Cuba while crackdowns on dissidents continue only rewards the oppressors.

But the relationship between the United States and Cuba is beginning to thaw. If that warming trend continues, Louisiana businesses will have a chance to profit from change.

Read the full cover story, and check out a partial listing of the Louisiana business sectors that could benefit from improved relations with Cuba, as well as a rundown of what has actually been changed by Obama’s executive authority to improve relations with Cuba. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

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