Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ended his Cuba trip Wednesday heralding trade opportunities with an eagerness that closer aligned him with the Obama administration than top 2016 GOP presidential contenders.
Abbott left Havana without announcing new partnerships but suggested some are in the works. He also defended making a relationship-building trip to Cuba after having previously vowed to limit business travel to when there is a deal to make, unlike his globe-trotting predecessor, Rick Perry.
Cuban officials told Abbott a day earlier that there were little opportunities for Texas businesses on the island at the moment, and Cuba-U.S. trade remains frozen in almost every area except tourism.
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Texas has traded some goods allowed under the embargo with Cuba for years but sees the potential for more as the U.S. and Cuba normalize relations after a half-century of hostility. Abbott would not say whether he supports ending the trade embargo but seemed pleased with the doors opened by the White House.
The governor, who brags about suing the Obama administration 30 times when he was attorney general, said those disputes were over his beliefs that the law was being broken.
"Sitting here right now, I cannot say they are doing that with their current decision" to normalize relations, Abbott said during a conference call with reporters from Havana.
But Republican presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- who calls Abbott a mentor -- favors a more hardline stance with Cuba and return to old restrictions, as does fellow GOP candidate Marco Rubio. Both have blasted the White House over easing tensions with Cuba, and Cruz has accused Obama of legitimizing Cuban President Raul Castro.
A spokeswoman for Cruz, who once worked under Abbott as Texas solicitor general, did not return an email message seeking comment.
Cuba's minister of foreign trade and investment told Abbott Cuban officials don't think the White House's next occupant will affect the countries' relations.
"We think whoever gets elected president this process will continue," said Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, according to a press pool report of the meeting.
Abbott did not meet with Castro. Nor did two other U.S. governors, Arkansas Republican Asa Hutchinson and New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo, during their visits to Cuba earlier this year.
Cuomo visited in April and announced that a Buffalo cancer institute had signed an agreement with a Cuban medical center to develop a lung cancer vaccine. Abbott said Cuba is also interested in forging new medical technology partnership with Texas.
Hutchinson returned in September adamant in his views that the embargo should be gradually eased. He has called on Congress to relax travel and financial restrictions that he once enforced as the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Cuban officials have been using visits by U.S. politicians as opportunities to advocate for Congress to lift the half-century-old embargo. Abbott, however, declined to take a stance.
"I consider this to be an issue of federal prerogative," Abbott said. "It's not within the parameters of my job to be able to set the rules. But it's my job to play within those rules."