Espy urges Mississippians to cash in on change in Cuba

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Mike Espy describes trade opportunities between Cuba and the United States at Koinonia Coffee House in Jackson.

Kendra Ablaza, Mississippi Today

Mike Espy describes trade opportunities between Cuba and the United States at Koinonia Coffee House in Jackson.

On the day the Obama administration further relaxed restrictions on trade between the United States and Cuba — from allowing more collaboration on medical research to lifting monetary limits on cigars and rum imports — Mike Espy encouraged Mississippians to get in on the economic action.

“Those of you who are in telecommunications, agricultural commodities, (or in) paper processing, (Cubans) need everything,” Espy said. “Eleven million people, highly educated, they need everything. All we have to do and they have to do is get their disposable income up. You can’t afford a cell phone on $20 a month. We are going to be getting to do that.”

Espy, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and former U.S. congressman from Mississippi’s 2nd district, spoke Friday at a community forum about the complicated history between the U.S. and Cuba and how the two countries can form a better business relationship.

He detailed for about 25 people gathered at Koinonia Coffee House his own visits to Cuba and how residents there “want to be part of the global experience,” such as carrying cell phones, having internet cafes and traveling to the United States to experience its culture.

Since a new course in relations between the United States and the Communist government of Cuba emerged in 2014, some Cubans have experienced freedoms Americans take for granted, such as owning property and less-restricted personal travel.

Espy said these changes are altering Cuba’s business climate with future generations as beneficiaries.

“Just like the young people in Miami don’t care about the old ways, young people in Cuba don’t care about the old ways of Castro,” Espy said.

Espy, now an attorney, counselor and agricultural adviser based in Jackson, has visited Cuba multiple times as a representative of the U.S. government and a private citizen.