With air service to Cuba set to return to George Bush Intercontinental Airport before the end of the year, Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz was part of a 30-member delegation that traveled to the island nation on a three-day investment and trade mission.
Led by City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Greater Houston Partnership Board Chair Jamey Rootes, Diaz joined several City Council Members as well as representatives from the Texas Medical Center, Houston Port Authority, Houston Community College, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, United Airlines and a number of other Houston-based companies on the historic trip.
The trade delegation’s itinerary includes meetings with U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis and the Cuban Ministers of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Energy and Mines, Tourism and Public Health as well as the Cuban National Institute of Sports.
“We can’t say that Houston is a world class city unless we are reaching out and establishing international relationships,” Mayor Turner said before becoming the first Houston Mayor to visit to Cuba. “This trip speaks to the special connection Houston has with Latin America. With the changes brought about by the Obama Administration and the new direct flight between Houston and Cuba, there are opportunities to explore in the areas of healthcare, sports, energy, trade and the arts. I want to begin the delicate process of drawing Houston and Cuba closer together.”
On July 20, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba restored full diplomatic ties for the first time in 50 years when they reopened their embassies in each other’s capitals. United Airlines begins nonstop flights to Cuba from Bush Intercontinental Airport on November 29.
“We are proud to play an important role in bringing nonstop service from Houston to Havana, and are proud to be the only airport in the southwest region of this country to be awarded this historic route,” said Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz. “George Bush Intercontinental already is established as United’s gateway to Latin America, and a connection with Havana will add to the more than 90 nonstop flights to more than 50 destinations across Latin America that United Airlines provides from Houston. This all speaks to the level of cultural diversity of Houston, of its global profile, and will eventually provide very signiﬁcant economic and consumer benefits to Houston-area residents, travelers, businesses and entrepreneurs.”
The U.S. and Cuba are natural trade partners, especially in the area of U.S. agricultural exports. In 2014, Cuba imported nearly $2 billion of agricultural products. It is estimated that shipments between Texas and Cuba will increase to $18.8 million. These exports to Cuba would have a total economic impact of nearly $43 million. Cuban imports from Texas also include oil, machinery, automobiles, iron and steel. The Port of Houston would likely be a major benefactor of this increased activity.