Though he'll be there just 26 hours, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday his trip to Cuba makes a statement about "aggressively marketing New York" for future business with the island nation.
"We want Cuba to know, as a country, we were there very early," the governor said aboard a chartered Jet Blue flight carrying business leaders and other politicians to Havana.
The governor downplayed criticism that Cuba would be a limited trade partner and that his trip was more for show.
"Different geniuses have different opinions on the rate of opening up Cuban markets but nobody says there are no opportunities. They're arguing the 'when' and I'll take that," the governor said.
Cuomo and his entourage will not meet with Cuban President Raul Castro nor his brother, former President Fidel Castro. Cuomo is slated to meet with Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Cuba's director-general of foreign affairs; Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, minister of trade and foreign investments; and Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino of the Archdiocese of Havana.
Cuomo tends to favor whirlwind trips. Last year, he traveled to Israel but was on the ground about 28 hours. He flew to Puerto Rico and back on the same day for a political gathering. He maintained the short trip to Cuba is still important.
"It's about showing up," the Democrat said.
Cuomo wasn't scheduled to be the first American governor since President Barack Obama announced in December the easing of relations with Cuba. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was supposed to go in March but backed out when that state's auditor died unexpectedly. Instead, Nixon's wife led the Missouri trade mission.
Other states have been exporting products to Cuba for years, so New York won't be first in that regard. Still, Cuomo contended Cuba will need things such as "access to financing, access to credit card financing" and information technology that New York might provide.
The governor, a champion of same-sex marriage, has been criticized for saying he wouldn't address human rights on the trip, but just stick to business promotion. Monday, he said "there's no doubt Cuba has progress to make on human rights" and said he would address the topic "when appropriate."
He praised Obama for beginning to normalize relations.
"President Obama said, to his credit, isolation doesn't work," Cuomo said. "It's not having the desired effect."