MIAMI – The first Cuban exports since the embargo went into effect more than 50 years ago arrived at Florida's Port Everglades Tuesday as port officials prepared to receive a business delegation from Cuba later in the week.
The delegation also plans to visit the Port of Palm Beach, which is located in Riviera Beach, Fla., and Port Tampa Bay in a swing through the United States that has already included a stop at the Port of Houston. Also on the itinerary are visits to the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Virginia in Norfolk, and meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C., members of Congress and the American Association of Port Authorities.
Two containers of artisanal charcoal made from Cuban Marabu, an invasive woody species from Africa that is considered a nuisance on the island, arrived at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., port aboard a Crowley Maritime ship called the K-Storm Tuesday morning. The charcoal exports, which are produced by private worker-owned cooperatives, are legal under a rule change by the Obama administration that allows the importation of some products produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs.
In Cuba, Marabu has taken over wide swaths of idle agricultural land and strangled other plants. But it makes a hardwood charcoal that is winning acceptance as a fuel for pizza and bread ovens in Europe and the Middle East. It will be sold under the Fogo Charcoal brand by various U.S. retailers.
The charcoal deal was put together by Coabana Trading, a subsidiary of Reneo Consulting, a firm chaired by Scott Gilbert, the Washington lawyer who represented Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who was jailed by Cuba for five years.
"This is truly a momentous occasion," Gilbert said when the deal for 40 tons of charcoal was announced earlier this month. "Now U.S. consumers will be able to purchase this product, as have Europeans and others for many years. More importantly, this marks the beginning of a new era of trade between the United States and Cuba."
The agreement was struck with CubaExport, a Cuban government entity that develops trade opportunities, but Scott said that the Marabu plant is cut and the charcoal produced by private Cuban cooperatives.
The embargo still remains in effect, but executive orders issued by former President Barack Obama over the past two years have eased some Cuba-related travel and trade restrictions.
Although the transaction was negotiated under the Obama opening, the historic Cuban exports are arriving during the Trump administration. Trump has said he might roll back some of Obama's executive orders on Cuba unless Cuba offers a better deal to the United States and Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson has said that all Obama's executive orders on Cuba will be reviewed.