IN CUBA: Asa Hutchinson met press today at Havana hotel. (This photo is a joke, folks, from a Godfather Havana reference remembered by @weeklyarkansas).
Gov. Asa Hutchinson
THE REAL THING: Asa Hutchinson on Cuban trade trip.
called home this morning from Cuba.
He said he was building a "foundation" for future trade.
He acknowledged resistance by some to doing business with a Cuba under Castro family control. He said there are "legitimate concerns" about life in Cuba. But he said after 55 years of embargo it was a "reasonable step" to say "let's try something different."
He said he hoped the Cuban government would lessen centralized control and that "expanded political freedoms" would result from expanded trade.
Hutchinson said his own overture was "measured" and "reasonable."
He said he'd seen some sights in Cuba and planned some basketball with Cubans today. He noted the scarcity of chicken in a Havana supermarket, one area of interest for Arkansas.
He made positive observations about the country, including a family-centered culture and a low crime rate. But he spoke, too, of rules that limit business, such restricting restaurant seating capacity.
Riceland, Tyson and Simmons are represented on the trip, as well as a candle maker from Fayetteville and a biotech company. He said the American Taekwondo Association, based in Little Rock, was interested in a convention in Havana.
All see obstacles, Hutchinson said, but they also see benefits in doing business there. Rice and poultry have been sold there in the past, but only on a cash basis. The opening of credit relationships could restore that trade.
Hutchinson said he'd put Arkansas among the top five states seeking business in Cuba.
To a question about President Raul Castro's mention of reparations from the U.S. for the years of embargo, Hutchinson said the issue had not come up in his visit. He said he preferred to look forward to future opportunities, not back.
PS: A reader asks about Cuban turnout at the press event at Havana's Hotel Nacional. The governor also posted the photo below on his Twitter account.