Cleveland, Ohio became the latest city to sign a port agreement with Cuba this week, making it the first agreement since the US State Department’s decision to remove American diplomats from Cuba and request the removal of Cuban diplomats from Washington.
The so-called “Memorandum of Understanding” was signed by the Darrell McNail, president of the Board of Administration of the port of Cleveland and Captain José Joaquín Prado, general director of Cuba’s Maritime Administration in Havana last Friday.
The benefits of the deal aren’t entirely quantifiable as of yet, but is meant to strengthen the trade relations, friendship, and cooperation with Cuba. Other ports that have signed agreements with Cuba include those in Virginia, New Orleans, Lake Charles, South Louisiana, Alabama, Gulf Harbor, Pascagoula, and Houston. Other benefits to the agreements include the exchange of studies and information exchange to improve ship services in the region.
The agreement is significant because it comes at a time when political tensions between the US and Cuba are running high, due to a series of mysterious, unsolved attacks on US diplomats operating out of Havana. However, the deal between Cleveland and Cuba seems to be far from politically motivated. As McNail said in Havana last week, “We are not politicians. Our job is not to try and interpret what our government has to say. We do feel that the trade relationship will perhaps take a bit longer to boost because of this week’s events, we don’t have a crystal ball to know it. But we understand that relations will develop over time, if not today, maybe tomorrow.”
He confirmed that the Port of Authority’s only intention is “to continue promoting business with Cuba.” Prado echoed McNail’s sentiments, saying that “Cuba and U.S. ports have common interests in maritime development” and that he was sure “sooner rather than later” more bilateral relations will develop.
McNail did acknowledge that “there are challenges to the development of trade with Cuba,” in reference to recent tensions with Cuba and the message coming from the Trump administration. President Trump’s stance on Cuba in a speech from June hasn’t seemed to change: “To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores.”
Speaking about the Obama-era move to improve US-Cuban relations, Trump said, “The outcome of the last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement.” Despite the strong words from Trump, the most significant move the US has made has been the recent reduction of diplomacy between the two nations in response to the recent attacks against US diplomats in Cuba.
Although many of these agreements aren’t able to develop to their full potential under the embargo, the symbolic gesture towards trade and friendliness between the two nations makes both parties hopeful.