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Iowa delegation pleased with trade mission efforts in Havana, Cuba

February 17, 2016
By Jeff Hutton - Managing Editor- Marshalltown Times-Republican , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

HAVANA, Cuba - Trust, confidence and forging lasting bonds that will benefit both Iowans and Cubans.

That's the message from Iowa legislators and participants who just returned from a trade mission to Havana, hoping to create economic and business agreements between Iowa business owners and entrepreneurs and the Cuban people.

An 11-person delegation, led by two Marshall County residents - State Sen. Steve Sodders of State Center, and Marshalltown businessman and former Ambassador Carlos Portes - met with Cuba ministry officials in a series of meetings outlining possible trade opportunities between Iowa and the country just 90 miles south of Key West, Fla. Sodders represents Tama and Marshall counties and a portion of Black Hawk County in the Iowa Senate.

Article Photos

A scene from Old Havana - a popular tourist destination for those visiting Cuba.
T-R?Photo/Jeff Hutton

"I thought it went very well. We were able to make contact with the ministers of foreign affairs, industry, foreign trade and investment and the chamber of commerce. I felt that everyone in the Iowa delegation was able to make a pitch for their item of interest," said Sodders, who believes this trek to Cuba is just the first of many trips Iowans will make to Havana in order to ink deals.

Jim Rouse, the executive director of the Iowa Crop Improvement Association and a member of the Iowa delegation, agreed with Sodders' assessment.

"I believe our visit was an important step toward establishing connections with Cuba," he said. "It was a privilege to be involved with the delegation, and an honor to meet so many Cuban officials. I'm looking forward to additional discussions and building lasting relationships that will benefit agriculture in both Cuba and Iowa."

Fact Box

Cuba program

Iowa Valley Continuing Education's Creative Retirement Program will present "A Perspective on Travels to Cuba" featuring Senator Steve Sodders and Carlos Portes on Friday, Feb. 19, from 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m.

The event will be at Iowa Valley Continuing Education, 3702 S. Center St., Marshalltown in Dejardin Hall. To register for this luncheon or to learn more about Creative Retirement, visit : or call IVCE at 641-752-4645 or 800-284-4823 and refer to course # CRT 1036.(2).

Agriculture was certainly part of the discussions, but the Iowa delegation also noted that agriculture is just one of the priorities the Cuban government is looking at in revitalizing its economic future.

"This is still definitely a country in need of assistance - infrastructure, especially technology - things some folks here take for granted," Sodders said. "They talked about a new economic model and they realized that they need to change how they do business."

Sodders said during the discussions he stressed agriculture, biotechnology and wind energy - Iowa is No. 1 in agriculture and wind energy - they should partner with the state in those areas.

Sodders also pointed out direct trade with a state like Iowa could prove beneficial for both Iowa businesses and the Cuban people.

"We made the point that we understand other states are also visiting, but how many of them said they wanted to buy stuff from Cuba," the senator said. "We're not only talking about Cuba buying products from us, but Iowa making investments in Cuba, making purchases. This has to be back and forth. That's what sets Iowa apart from other states."

Iowa delegation member Terry Mogensen, the chief operating officer for Meskwaki, Inc., echoed Sodders' statement.

"The trip to Cuba was very informative and exciting; the reception of the Cuban government officials was very positive," he said. "We believe that there will be opportunity to develop long-term business relationships with the Cuban government. These relationships would benefit the state of Iowa, the Meskwaki Nation and the Cuban government with each experiencing new economic activity. The need for Cuba to create an economy of scale beyond its borders is great. It was very encouraging to see the level of enthusiasm displayed by the Cuban officials toward the delegation."

Mogensen said Meskwaki, Inc., the tribe's economic development entity, is interested in a number of ventures with Cuba, including the distribution of Cuban tobacco, rum and coffee as well as other possible ventures.

Of course, any future deals established most likely won't happen unless the U.S. embargo on Cuba is lifted or through executive action by the president. Cuban officials also told members of the Iowa delegation that any ideas about American capitalism changing how communist Cuba operates should not be a consideration.

"We're not here to change a regime," Sodders emphasized. "We were there to see what we can provide and what deals we can make to benefit both Iowans and Cubans. I do get the sense, however, that they understand they need to change how they do business and embrace a new economic model, which includes some capitalism."

Portes, who is extending his stay in his native Cuba in order to meet with more officials, said now is the time for Iowa and Cuba to forge new alliances in order to move Cuba forward and economically and for Iowans to explore new markets for their goods and services.

"This is good for everyone involved," he said.

Sodders reiterated Portes' comments and said he is pleased with this first effort in establishing ties with Cuba.

"They are so excited about the possibilities," he said. "I think they have a positive impression of Iowans, and that we are open and honest and that we want to work with them in the future."


Contact Jeff Hutton at 641-753-6611 or


A scene from Old Havana - a popular tourist destination for those visiting Cuba. Last week, an Iowa delegation, led by state Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, and Marshalltown businessman and former Ambassador Carlos Portes, traveled to Havana to meeting Cuban government officials about possible trade deals.



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