‘A win-win relationship’

Cuban minister visits Portes in Marshalltown, supports normalized relations with U.S.

T-R PHOTO BY JEFF HUTTON
Cuban Economic and Trade Office Minister Counselor Rubén Ramos Arrieta, left, visits with former U.S. Ambassador to Latin America Carlos Portes, during a recent meeting at Portes’ Marshalltown home.

T-R PHOTO BY JEFF HUTTON Cuban Economic and Trade Office Minister Counselor Rubén Ramos Arrieta, left, visits with former U.S. Ambassador to Latin America Carlos Portes, during a recent meeting at Portes’ Marshalltown home.

Despite President Donald Trump’s announcement in June stepping back from an Obama-era thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba, an official from the Caribbean nation believes trade would benefit Iowa.

“We need to have a civilized relationship,” said Cuban Economic and Trade Office Minister Counselor Rubén Ramos Arrieta during a visit to Marshalltown from the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. “If you look at the language, if you look at the wording of [Trump’s] statement, it’s like going back to the Cold War, it’s completely ‘out of time.'”

Ramos was in Marshalltown to visit former U.S. Special Ambassador to Latin America Carlos Portes late last week. Portes, who was born in Cuba and raised from the age of 9 in Marshalltown, is also a supporter of normalized relations between the two countries.

During their conversation, Ramos said normalization is inevitable because it is supported heavily in both Cuban and American public opinion.

He said Iowa produces many products the Cuban people need. Corn, soybeans, pork, farm equipment and more are in demand on the island.

“Cuba is a potential market for Iowa … we can import from Iowa many agricultural products,” Ramos said. “I can tell you that it’s a win-win relationship.”

He said he was happy to be in Marshalltown. He passed by the Lennox Industries location and JBS, Swift and Co. plant while in town, and toured the Main Street area.

In his dealings with American, and Iowan, government officials and private sector leaders, Ramos said there is a great deal of support for normalized relations between Cuba and the U.S.

He met with several officials in Des Moines earlier this week, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, Secretary of Agriculture BIll Northey, state Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, House minority leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, state Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and others.

He also visited with members of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and toured a John Deere factory.

Trump’s announcement, Ramos said, does not reflect that about 75 percent of Americans want a more open relationship.

“This is the area in which I work every day,” he said. “I’ve been meeting with many, many, many companies here in the United States … the business sector wants to open the door, open trade.”

Additionally, Ramos said the vast majority of Cubans want normalized relations with the U.S. He said negotiations between the two should be mutually respectful and civilized, while recognizing the political differences that exist.

Logistically, he added it makes sense for Cuba to trade with the U.S. rather than buy the same products from China or Europe. While it takes several weeks to ship needed goods from China, it would take days to ship the same types of goods from a southern U.S. port, like Houston. Trade with the U.S., he said, would lower transportation costs import goods.

Currently, if the Cuban government wants to import American products, they must pay 100 percent in cash and go through a third-party country, which can increase overall cost.

“We respect, and we want to be respected; we want respect for our country, for our sovereignty,” Ramos said. “We want to advance in this process on the basis of mutual interest and respect, but let’s find out what the consequences are of the implementation [of Trump’s announcement].”

Trump’s stated reasoning for wanting to step back from more normalized relations with Cuba was that, in his opinion, the Obama-era policy enriched the Castro regime in Cuba, not its people.

“We can have political differences … we are not the only ones that have political differences,” Ramos said, adding the U.S. has relations with other countries it is at odds with. “If you look at the products that we need … soybeans, corn and pork, and the quality of the products you have here, and the prices, we need it.”

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com