City of Miami

Miami’s Gort seeking approval to lead trade mission to Paraguay

Wifredo “Willy” Gort wants to lead a trade mission to one of the poorest and most isolated countries in South America, and he’s asking for permission so the Latin Chamber of Commerce — which receives tens of thousands of dollars a year from Miami — can foot the bill.

Gort, who has presided over CAMACOL’s yearly hemispheric conference for more than a decade, would fly to Paraguay with representatives from 13 South Florida businesses between Oct. 27-31, and mingle with Paraguayan dignitaries about possible trade opportunities.

Paraguay is way down the list of Miami trade partners. In 2010, according to shipping news website World Port Source, $70,049 worth of goods traveled from Paraguay through Miami’s ports, while Miami shipped out $26.9 million worth of goods to Paraguay.

The tiny landlocked nation of just under 7 million people produces clothing, raw sugar and steel.

It’s tough to tally the cost of Gort’s four-day trip. CAMACOL said his flight would cost $931.40, but it wasn’t sure how much hotel, food and registration fees would cost.

Before Gort departs, however, he must receive majority support from Miami commissioners. A vote, scheduled for Thursday, is needed because the city follows the Miami-Dade County code of ethics, which doesn’t allow elected officials to accept transportation, lodging, meals or registration fees from any contractor, vendor, service provider, bidder or proposer.

The rule, however, can be waived with a majority vote of the commission. Miami gave CAMACOL $106,450 from various economic development programs in the past year.

Gort, who has avoided CAMACOL trips in the past, wasn’t exactly sure what Miami had to offer Paraguay, or vice versa, when asked Tuesday. He said past trips to other countries have helped foster Miami’s film industry and brought merchandise to local grocery stores.

Patricia Arias, CAMACOL’s managing director, said the Latin Chamber is a staunch advocate of free trade and that the two yearly gatherings are “considered the premier event in promoting international trade in the Americas.”

She said the sheer number of people who attend the yearly conference in Miami — this year 550 people participated at the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables — brings significant money to the city, county and the state. In June, a trade mission to Istanbul involving PortMiami Director Bill Johnson cemented a trade agreement with Turkey.

Gort’s decision to seek commission approval for the Paraguay trip comes on the heels of a pair of ethical lapses on the Miami dais the past year. Last November, Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff was reprimanded by the county’s ethics commission for not disclosing that the Miami-Dade Convention & Visitors Bureau paid for a trip to Brazil for his wife to watch the start of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Separately, Commissioner Frank Carollo is currently fighting a finding of probable cause that he used the power of his office to avoid a traffic ticket in Coconut Grove by calling the city’s police chief. That hearing hasn’t concluded.

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