Florida Gov. Rick Scott, positioning for a 2018 run for U.S. Senate, is threatening to choke off state funds for Sunshine State ports benefiting from trade with Cuba.
The Republican governor’s threat initially came in a Trumpesque manner via Twitter on Jan. 25, causing officials of two South Florida ports – Port Everglades and Port of Palm Beach – to
hastily scuttle plans for signing of memorandums of understanding with Cuban officials visiting the state.
“I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget,” Scott tweeted on Jan. 25.
The next week, Scott, who alleged security and human rights concerns, followed up the social media warning with a statement on page 221 of his 362-page state budget proposal saying there should be no state funds for any Florida port where infrastructure enhancements would “result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship.”
Scott’s proposed $10.8 billion transportation budget for the new year includes more than $176 million for Florida ports. Since assuming office in 2011, Scott, praised by Sunshine State port leaders for his support, has included more than $1 billion in port infrastructure funding in state budgets.
Not only did the two South Florida ports cancel MOU signings, but embarrassment was heaped as officials of the Alabama State Port Authority, which operates the Port of Mobile, signed their own MOU with leaders of the National Port Administration of Cuba on Feb. 2 in, of all places, Tampa – in the hotel where a port conference hosted by Port Tampa Bay and presented by entities including the American Association of Port Authorities and the U.S. Maritime Administration was taking place.
The gubernatorial Twitter threat came the day after Crowley Maritime Corp. containership K Storm delivered to Port Everglades a shipment of fancy charcoal, representing what Crowley officials called the first truly commercial shipment from a Cuban cooperative to a private U.S. business since the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo was imposed in 1962.
Fact is, under license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, authorized by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, Crowley has since 2001 been providing regularly scheduled common carrier services to Cuba for licensed cargos such as agricultural commodities and medical goods.
And this year multiple cruise lines are launching itineraries to Cuba from ports including Port Everglades, PortMiami and Port Tampa Bay. Indeed, Pearl Sea Cruises’ 210-passenger Pearl Mist departed Port Everglades on Jan. 17 on a 10-day cruise to Havana, a voyage it was on at the time of the governor’s Trumpy tweet.
Trump has promised to revoke actions taken during the Obama administration to lift the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo, leaving further uncertainty for Florida ports that, whether Scott likes it or
not, are hoping to derive increasing benefit from commerce with Cuba following the November 2016 death of Fidel Castro – a passing that for decades Florida port officials and Caribbean region carriers have awaited as a go-ahead to fully dust off plans for lucrative Cuba trade.
In addition, Trump’s threats to impose a 20 percent tax on Mexican products coming into the United States has cast a further pall over Florida ports, which have recently seen significant increases in imports of cars and other cargo from Mexico.