The great possibilities of Cuba for Nebraska

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By Byron Barksdale

The theme of the Cuba Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City was “The Great Possibilities of Cuba.” As we enter 2008, perhaps a Nebraska theme for Cuba should be: “The Great Possibilities of Cuba for Nebraska,” if a feasible implementation can occur to allow additional sectors, both public and private among Nebraskans, to more openly access trade representatives in Cuba; not only for agricultural sales of which Governor Heineman has conscientiously pursued for several years but also sales of medical products and services… all of which are allowed under current U.S. laws.

Traditionally, since the discovery of Cuba by Columbus in 1492, the economy of Cuba has been commodity based. While biotechnology and tourism have recently been engines of growth for a New Cuban economy, the historical commercial exports of Cuba remain sugar, tobacco, coffee, seafood, citrus and tropical fruits. Today, Cuba has produced a very effective vaccine against Type B Neisseria meningococcal meningitis, which international pharmaceutical giants hope to reproduce. Health-care professionals in Nebraska can learn a lot from Cuban successes in HIV/AIDS and infectious disease control.

For decades, prior to the 1998 Papal pilgrimage, freedom of religious expression was severely constrained in Cuba. Christmas was abolished for over three decades. During the Papal visit of Pope John Paul II, many Cubans were allowed to see and hear the Pope, and even the Cuban government stated that “religion in Cuba was like a genie out of its bottle, and there was no reason for religion to return to its bottle.” More Catholic priests have since been allowed into Cuba. Christmas was permanently reinstated in 1998. Outreach to Cuba from religious groups within Nebraska is possible under U.S. laws, and outreach will create tremendous goodwill between Nebraska and Cuba.

Since Cuba has become more active in the pursuit of commercial trade with U.S. businesses, the time is ripe for Nebraska to expand allowable trade with Cuba. The State of Nebraska and the Cuban government have jointly pursued mutually beneficial outcomes in regard to agricultural sales to Cuba from Nebraska farmers and ranchers. Perhaps this successfully tested template can be replicated to further build and expand Nebraska trade with Cuba. Nebraska firms that are willing to open a dialogue with Cuba concerning trade between Nebraska and Cuba may indeed profit from “The Great Possibilities of the Nebraska in Cuba” in 2008.

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