NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Nearly 80 business leaders from the area are prepping for the first non-stop flight from New Orleans to Cuba since 1958.
The delegation from the Crescent City will spend time at the "Cuba Hoy" or Cuba Today conference in hopes of building a path to economic trade with the Cuban people.
"This is a foot in the door mission, is what we call it, obviously I don't think it's the kind of mission where people will come back with contracts in hand, it's just a way to get to know people, get to know what's available, get to know what you can and can't do under the existing embargo," said Romualdo "Romi" Gonzales, who's taking the trip to Cuba.
Gonzales is the Chairman of the International Cuba Society and thinks the mission could be the first step to securing a large market of trade for the state of Louisiana.
"There's 12 million people down there, that's a huge market, if Cuba was one of our states it would be our 7th most populous state, that's a lot of business there," Gonzales said.
The Port of New Orleans is already on board with the idea of trading with Cuba, making visits to the island nation to begin the process that could secure crucial trade through the Port.
"They have a lot of needs, they have a lot of consumption that isn't being met right now and a lot of people in this area think they have a a lot of goods that they would like to enjoy consuming and that includes chicken and rice to eventually more consumer oriented goods," said Robert Landry, with the Port of New Orleans.
But not everyone is pleased to see the delegation take flight.
George Fowler, III, believes the current embargo won't be lifted any time soon and the trip is a waste of time. He's also concerned the delegation's goodwill efforts will fall directly into the hands of Fidel Castro.
"All the money that's going to come from this trip is going to end up in Castro's hands, because Fidel and Raoul own everything, tourism is owned by Castro's thugs, so I don't think it's a good idea to go to Cuba," said Fowler.
The United States still considers Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, one reason why Fowler thinks major changes need to happen before lifting the embargo.
"The United States has to devise a policy to oust the Castro brothers as opposed to having a policy to engage with them on friendly terms," Fowler said.
But those ideas won't stop the delegation from laying a foundation that could benefit Louisiana and the Cuban people.
"I think the hatred of the Castro brothers is so great in a certain segment of the Cuba American population, that they tend to forget that there are 12 million people who live on that island who are innocent to what is going on around them," Gonzales said.