Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been in Cuba this week talking trade. He arrived in Havana on Monday with a delegation of 25 people to explore business opportunities between the formerly embargoed country and the Lone Star State.
The governor’s three-day trip wraps up this evening. Austin American-Statesman reporter Jonathan Tilove has been following Abbott’s visit to Cuba and joins the Standard from Havana.
“I think his agenda is introducing himself and Texas to people here,” Tilove says. “I think he sees a day when the embargo goes away and he wants Texas to be first in line.”
Tilove says the governor is asking Cuban business leaders about what needs to happen in order to have a “close economic relationship” with Texas, at least through travel and tourism.
“There’s very little … political posturing by him,” Tilove says about Abbott. “He’s not lecturing them about anything, he’s here to figure out how to do business, and they appreciate that.”
Restarting the once-lucrative rice trade would make sense, Tilove says, but the competition – Vietnam – offers more than a year’s credit time to pay.
“I don’t know that he’s going to solve any of that while he’s here, but certainly, he’s positioning the state,” Tilove says. “And symbolically, I think the idea of the Texas governor coming to Cuba and saying ‘let’s do business’ is certainly different some of what you might hear from other political figures on the right.”
While Tilove says that there wasn’t a lot of fanfare for Abbott’s arrival, establishing connections with Cubans could be a measure of success.
“[Abbott] was presented a painting last night by a local artist who said that he was moved by the fact that a Republican governor of the United States was in Cuba,” Tilove says. “[The artist] said, a few years ago, he would have thought that was the devil incarnate – and here he was, enjoying a dinner in old Havana.”