Friday, November 27, 2009

State, business leaders take trip to Cuba

State, business leaders take trip to Cuba
Nov 27, 2009 (The Macon Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information
Services via COMTEX)

The first time Tony Sellier went to Cuba he was 15.

He was leaving his home in Venezuela at his parents insistence and
flying to a new life in America. The plane stopped at the Havana
airport, and the powers that be wouldn't let him or his four siblings
get off the plane.

He watched from a window as Cubans boarded, filling every empty seat.
Men with machine guns took their luggage, their necklaces, "everything
they owned," Sellier remembers.

Once the plane touched down in Miami, the Cubans kissed the ground.
Sellier, who would eventually become a pilot, marry a girl from Crawford
County and become a state representative here in Middle Georgia,
"realized that these people had given up everything they owned for the
freedom that we have in America."

Sellier, R-Fort Valley, went back to Cuba this month as part of a
delegation of Georgia politicians and businessmen who travel there
occasionally with the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Even Sellier's brief experience nearly 50 years ago was enough to back
up a sentiment visitors often take away from the island country: Cuba is
frozen in time.

"The airport is absolutely identical (to 1960)," Sellier said. "It was
like a flashback ... the color was even the same. It was the same
picture that I had in my mind."

Georgia does quite a bit of business with Cuba, and is poised to do more
if U.S. economic sanctions against the communist country are eventually
lifted, as many believe will occur in the near future. Already Pilgrim's
Pride, which has three plants in Georgia, furnishes 47 percent of the
country's poultry, Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Terry Coleman said.

Federal sanctions allow the sale of agricultural products. The U.S.
Treasury Department approves licenses allowing people to travel to Cuba,
despite general restrictions on Americans visiting there.

Georgia took a group of about 15 people there for an annual trade show
this month, carrying samples of Georgia peanuts and pecans.

Coleman, Sellier, former state Rep. Robert Ray and Duke Lane, of Peach
County's Lane Packing Co., were part of the group. Coleman said the
state only paid the way for Department of Agriculture employees, with
legislators and business people covering their own costs.

Lane said his company's pecans were a hit as he met with high-ranking
officials in the Cuban government. He said the people down there aren't
familiar with pecans and peaches, which need a bit colder weather to

But Lane said he expects that to change within his lifetime as economic
policies change, more markets are opened and the Cuban people find
themselves with more disposable income instead of depending on
government food rations.

"We're shipping pecans left and right to China." Lane said. "We'd like
to be doing business (in Cuba)."

Like Sellier, Lane found Cuba to be frozen in time. Cars from the 1950s
are common. Cab drivers, who work for the communist government, are
"tickled to death" to get $20 a day, he said. Farming is often done by
wooden plow, powered by hand and oxen.

"My, oh my, what a tractor factory could do down there," Lane said.

Coleman said his department wants to market Georgia peanut butter in
Cuba, as well as vegetables. The country's poverty, though, makes it

"When it gets better, we'll stand a real chance to sell a lot more
product," Coleman said.

Sellier, who speaks fluent Spanish, said the Cuban people he met love
America. But the government owns everything, buildings and decades-old
equipment are decaying, people buy groceries with government issued
ration cards and the government tracks how much they get, he said.

Sellier said he'd like to see various U.S. blockades against Cuba
lifted. He called Fidel and Raul Castro's regime "basically toothless"
now and said the Cuban people are "ready to make peace with Americans."

"My position," Sellier said, "is we ought to do business with them."

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.

RBC Wealth Management (28 November 2009)

No comments: