Upon returning from their trip to Cuba, Montgomery County officials said lifting the embargo against the island will create investment opportunities for businesses in Montgomery County.
Council members Nancy Navarro and Roger Berliner and County Executive Ike Leggett spent five days in Cuba along with other regional leaders to establish a rapport with the island’s leaders.
According to Navarro, this trip was more like an “expression of interest” to explore what business expansions can be done in Cuba. Navarro said the Greater Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the mayor of Washington, D.C., led this delegation.
“We have been involved in a pursuit of regional, economic development opportunities, really marketing and branding the region versus just one jurisdiction over another,” Navarro said.
Leggett said he saw business potential in possibly helping Cuba with its infrastructure. He also said the current embargoes against Cuba make it impossible to take on opportunities such as these. Leggett said he thinks there should be a different approach regarding the United States’ relationship to Cuba.
“There are great opportunities for hotels, building infrastructure, in technology, and a lot of basic infrastructure in constructions and roads, a whole bunch of things. But the problem right now that continues to exist is that we have these embargoes,” Leggett said.
Berliner said U.S.’ treatment toward Cuba needs to change.
“I would say that the notion that we treat Cuba as though it were North Korea seems to me to be wrong. We have normal relations with China. I don’t see a big distinction between China and Cuba,” Berliner said.
Leggett and Berliner mentioned specific companies that the embargoes hold back from expanding into Cuba, including Marriott Choice Hotel and M Luis Construction. Berliner also said health care representatives were on the trip seeking opportunities.
“The president of Suburban Hospital was there, (the president) of Sibley Hospital was there, (the president) of John Hopkin Institution was there. They (Cuba) do great health care work, particularly in primary care. But health care IT is something that they don’t have a lot of,” Berliner said.
According to Navarro, she, Berliner, and Leggett, along with others on the trip, met with several ministers in Cuba as well as with the mayor of Havana.
Navarro said the trip also consisted of walking through the Cuban neighborhoods and looking into some schools and clinics.
“We also visited several restaurants, both privately owned as well as state-owned, which are called ‘paladares,’ and we were able to walk around all (of) Havana (to) kind of take a look and see how things are going with their revitalization processes,” Navarro said.
Navarro also said possible partnerships and investments in Cuba are “pending” and depend on what happens in the U.S. elections. She said several jurisdictions are still showing interest just in case “things begin to loosen up.”
According to county spokesperson Patrick Lacefield, the county paid for Leggett and his assistant’s cost to travel to Cuba. According to Leggett, the costs were approximately $7,000.
Navarro said she had paid for her trip herself.. Berliner said the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments covered his expenses, which amounted to slightly more than $4,000.