DC Mayor Says City Will Soon Reap Economic Rewards From Cuba

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Washington D.C.’s mayor said the district could soon see the economic benefits of open relations with Cuba in the form of construction contracts in the communist nation.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is on an exploratory trip with fellow politicians from the D.C. metro area in an effort to establish permanent ties with Cuban officials and secure an economic foothold in the nation. The Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GWHCC) organized the diplomatic trip, hailing it as a historic step in creating a lasting relationship between the two governments, reports The Washington Times.

“The Cubans are pretty focused on the projects they need to do,” Bowser said to reporters Tuesday on a conference call. “And they’re concentrating on the time when relations between Cuba and the United States become normalized.”

A timetable is unclear at this point, with the U.S. trade embargo still in place. Consumers in Cuba also have minimal spending power and the economy as a whole remains short on cash. Bowser remains hopeful that once markets open up contracts will start coming through, reports WAMU.

“What we’ve been told time and time again is that it’s good that you are here early, it’s good that you are getting the lay of the land so that when these opportunities become available, you’ll be ready,” Bowser said.

Maryland’s Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones have been touring the country with Bowser since they arrived Saturday. On Sunday Bowser met with Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chargé d’affaires for the United States in Cuba and discussed education and healthcare systems in the U.S. and Cuba.

The GWHCC said before the trip it was looking forward to learning from the Cuban government to help better Washington D.C. It’s particularly interested in learning the techniques and strategies of the Cuban government on education and healthcare.

“The delegation will visit primary and secondary schools and the University of Havana to learn lessons on how literacy, graduation and retention rates, and other educational successes remain consistently high,” read a statement from GWHCC Wednesday, Feb. 17. “Delegates will tour research hospitals and local clinics to learn about strategies that achieve high health standards amid a scarcity of resources.”

Bowser’s trip to Cuba has also drawn criticism, particularly from Cuban-Americans who feel relations with the communist nation will allow the Cuban government to continue to oppress citizens. Critics hoped the mayor would meet with Cuban dissidents, but no such events are planned.

Enrique Pumar, a Cuban-American and professor at Catholic University told WAMU, “Human rights are actually getting worse in Cuba.”

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