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D.C. Officials’ Trip To Cuba Offers Unclear Benefits

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is in Cuba on an exploratory mission with other leaders from the D.C. region. The mayor has been meeting with Cuban officials, such as her counterpart in Havana.

I asked Mayor Bowser during a conference call from Cuba what immediate benefits a trip to the island brings the District. Bowser says Cuban officials have invited D.C.-based businesses to several trade fairs later this year.

"What we've been told time and time again is that it's good that you are here early, it's good that you are getting the lay of the land so that when these opportunities become available, you'll be ready," Bowser said.

But it's not clear just how real those opportunities are, at least in the short term. Cuba's economy is cash-strapped, most consumers have limited spending power and Congress hasn't shown a willingness to lift the trade embargo against the island.

Some local Cuban-Americans, such as Catholic University professor Enrique Pumar, are unhappy the mayor did not meet with Cuban political dissidents.

"Human rights are actually getting worse in Cuba," Pumar says.

But José Pertierra, a Cuban-American attorney with close ties to the Cuban government, says the trip is another indication of improving relations.

"Times have changed. Both countries are moving in a different direction. They've gone from enemies to neighbors, in a sense," Pertierra says.

And Pertierra sees a time when the neighbors could become trade partners. But the two countries still have many outstanding issues to settle, including differences in how they view human-rights issues and tension over the economic damage the trade embargo has done to Cuba.

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