Following on the heels of last’s week threatened retaliation against Florida ports that sign agreements with Cuba, Gov. Rick Scott has tucked another anti-Cuba provision into his proposed state budget that is even more far-reaching.
Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach backed off plans to sign what’s known as a memorandum of understanding with the National Port Administration of Cuba last week after Scott tweeted that he would ask state legislators to cut off funding for any Florida ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship.”
In a Twitter post, the governor said he had “Serious security/human rights concerns” about Cuba.
The two ports received visits from a high-level maritime and business delegation from Cuba last week, but both port directors put plans to sign any MOU with Cuba on hold.
However, that didn’t prevent Scott from putting wording in his new budget, released Tuesday, that says no money can be “allocated to infrastructure projects that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship because of their continued human rights abuses.” The reference can be found on page 221 of Scott’s 362-page 2017-2018 budget recommendations.
[No money can be] allocated to infrastructure projects that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship...
Gov. Rick Scott
It’s up to Florida legislators if they want to include the governor’s recommendations in the budget they will craft during the legislative session, which begins in March.
At stake is $176.56 million for port improvements that Scott has stipulated shouldn’t be funded if they lead to expanded trade with Cuba.
It’s unclear if the budget reference also includes trade in services and would impact Florida ports that have cruise service to Cuba or potentially ferry service to the island. Several ferry ventures have proposals before the Cuban government to offer ferry service from Florida to Cuba.
Carnival’s Fathom Line currently offers cruises from PortMiami to Cuba and Pearl Seas Cruises has scheduled 11 Cuba cruises through April from Port Everglades. Royal Caribbean International plans to offer a sailing to Cuba from PortMiami on April 19 aboard the Empress of the Seas and then switch the ship to Tampa where it will offer two more cruises to Cuba in April and May.
The proposed state budget was released the same day as a shipment of Cuban charcoal arrived at the Hialeah warehouse of Fogo Charcoal. Two containers of the hardwood charcoal, which is made by private worker cooperatives in Cuba, arrived at Port Everglades aboard a Crowley Maritime ship last Tuesday. It was the first legal maritime shipment from Cuba to the U.S. in more than 50 years.
It’s up to Florida legislators if they want to include the governor’s recommendations
Port Everglades Director Steven Cernak said last week that the port leases space to its tenants and does not get involved in decisions about their trading partners or how they operate. Crowley is Port Everglades’ largest customer.
Potentially, Port Everglades could lose as much as $125 million in state funding over the next five years if the state imposes the governor’s recommendation.
“The bottom line is that [trade with Cuba] is really private-sector-driven. Crowley has been doing business here with Cuba for the past 15 years,” said Ellen Kennedy, a Port Everglades spokeswoman.
“It’s a question for the ports in this case,” said a Crowley spokesman.
“The infrastructure projects planned at the port are mostly to better handle the big ships that are coming from South America and Europe,” Kennedy said. “The expansion is not specific to trade with Cuba.”
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi