Jeb Bush appeals to Ventura over Cuba trip
Florida governor: 'Consider other options'
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Citing a lack of "basic freedoms" in Cuba, Gov. Jeb Bush urged Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura to reconsider his plans to attend a trade exposition there next month.
"While I don't expect you to cancel your trip, I strongly believe doing so would be the right thing to do," Bush said in a letter, dated August 29, to Ventura. "I encourage you to consider other options as you look for opportunities to expand international trade for your state."
But a spokesman for Ventura said the Minnesota governor did not agree with Bush's "isolationist approach" and would not alter his plans.
Ventura will help promote the sale to Cuba of Minnesota-produced food and agricultural products at the U.S. Food & Agribusiness Exhibition, to be held September 26-30 in Havana, his office said.
Exhibit organizers predict 18,000 to 20,000 people will attend the expo and that more than 150 companies, organizations and government offices from 30 states and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico will participate.
Ventura's announcement brought a swift response from his counterpart in Florida, home to a large Cuban exile community opposed to trade with the communist nation.
President Bush's brother urged Ventura to bear in mind during his trip that Cuban President Fidel Castro denies the 11 million Cuban people rights that Minnesotans -- and political independent Ventura -- take for granted.
"Speaking out against government policies, fighting for what you believe, or attempting to change the established order in an effort to create a better society will gain you the label of an 'independent' or 'maverick' in the United States," he wrote.
"In Cuba, you are called a 'dissenter' and an 'enemy of the revolution' -- and then summarily thrown in jail."
Money made from trade will be used by Castro and the Cuban government "to finance his oppressive regime to ensure its continued existence," Jeb Bush said.
The island nation "simply is a bad credit risk," the Republican governor continued. He urged the former wrestler to meet with dissidents during his trip.
John Wodele, a spokesman for Ventura, said the governor would proceed with his trip to Cuba.
"On a personal level, he likes Governor Bush, but he just happens to disagree with Governor Bush's hardline positions," Wodele said.
"He believes that building a strong economic relationship will do a whole lot more to build government and cultural reforms than the isolationist approach Governor Bush endorses."
Organized by Westport, Connecticut-based PWN Exhibicon International LLC, the exhibition is licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury for representatives of U.S.-based companies and organizations.
A three-decade-old embargo on U.S. trade with the communist nation was altered by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000. It authorized the export of food and agricultural products from the United States to Cuba.
Since last December, U.S.-based companies have sold to Cuba-based entities $109 million worth of agricultural and food products, the conference organizers said.
This year, Cuba ranks 54th of 180 countries in terms of agricultural product purchases from United States-based companies, up from 138th last year and 180th in 2000, the organizers added.
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