New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo landed in Cuba Monday, heading a high-powered trade mission as part of the process of renewing relations between the island and the United States, and he told EFE that he wants to be present in Havana "from the start of the adventure."
"We're witnessing the start of a transition in relations between the two countries, which is going to have significant economic benefits for both parties," he said on his arrival at José Martí International Airport in Havana, where he was received by Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, general director of Cuba's U.S. Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Cuomo is heading a business delegation that includes top executives of major U.S. companies like MasterCard, JetBlue Airways and Pfizer pharmaceuticals, all interested in doing business on the island.
The governor said the purpose of his visit is to work at "building relations between the business community of New York and that of Cuba," since the companies are "very excited about what Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama began" last Dec. 17 when they announced the renewal of diplomatic relations between the two countries that had been broken off since 1961.
Obama loosened restrictions between the two countries with a series of executive actions that allow easier U.S. travel to Cuba, more remittances to the island and, at least on paper, U.S. exports to support the island's relatively new private business sector.
Obama has also moved to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror, removing a barrier to access to the global financial system. Cuban officials have been pressing him to go further with measures that could include more specific federal licenses for U.S. businesses to trade with Cuba in ways currently prohibited.
"The president of the United States has the ability to grant licenses to businesses so that businesses can actually start developing right now in select areas and those are areas that we want to pursue," Cuomo said.
The first point on the delegation's agenda was a working lunch with Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, and during the day they were also to meet with Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canal and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, top representative of the Catholic Church on the island.
Other companies in the delegation to Cuba are the software firm Infor, Regeneron pharmaceuticals, yogurt-maker Chobani and the Plattsburgh (N.Y.) International Airport.
The trade mission arrived in Cuba on a charter flight of JetBlue Airways, one of the first to show an interest in operating direct flights to the island from various cities around the U.S. since the renewal of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The delegation is also made up of the heads of institutions like the Genomics Research Center and New York University, as well as state political representatives like N.Y. state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
EFE and the Associated Press contributed to this report.