Cuomo to Be First Gov. to Visit Cuba as Ties Reopen

ALBANY (AP) -

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heading to Havana, the first American governor to visit Cuba since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation. Whether his trade mission generates anything more than headlines, however, remains to be seen.

The formal state visit on Monday and Tuesday is meant to foster greater ties between New York and Cuba. Cuomo will be joined by lawmakers and a group of business leaders for what he has called “a tremendous stepping stone” that will “help open the door to a new market for New York businesses.” Trade experts say New York could profit from improved relations with the Caribbean nation. New York farmers could export apples, powdered milk and other dairy products. Businesses could invest big in Cuba’s developing information technology infrastructure. Hoteliers could build resorts to prepare for the increase in American tourists.

But any significant economic relationship will take time, according to Joe Schoonmaker, the chairman of the New York District Export Council. He predicted that tourism would be the first sector of the Cuban economy to open up and that it will be some time before Cuba is engaging in robust trade.

“It’s not going to be like opening up China,” he said. “As far as hundreds of millions of dollars of products going down to Cuba, I don’t see it at this time. They’re not going to be buying a lot of stuff.”

Critics say Cuomo’s visit legitimizes a dictatorship and is more about politics than exports. State Republican Chairman Ed Cox dismissed the trade mission as a political stunt “meant to bolster his national profile.”

Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, whose mother is a Cuban exile, said any efforts to normalize relations must be accompanied by significant concessions from the Castro regime.

“I do not understand the purpose of this trade mission or see any concrete benefit for the state of New York,” said Malliotakis, who represents portions of Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said that greater engagement with Cuba will “do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values” than “continuing a policy of isolation which has failed for the last 50 years.”

“As the door begins to open between the U.S. and Cuba, we want New York businesses to be first out of the gate when it comes to building trade partnerships and establishing a strong position in this new market,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday. “That is what this trade mission … [is] all about.”

Those expected to join Cuomo on the trip include Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, the CEOs of JetBlue and Chobani Greek Yogurt and executives from Pfizer, biopharmaceutical company Regeneron and a Finger Lakes dairy company.