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World Trade Center Palm Beach said it is organizing a humanitarian, educational and information exchange mission to Cuba in June. Business interests are present, but organizers indicated they will remain dormant under the current Cuban government.

The group said its trip, co-sponsored by the Palm Beach County Film and Television Institute, is designed to identify and assist in the humanitarian needs of the Cuban people.

"We hope to exchange information about several key resources found in Palm Beach County: agriculture, ranching and food processing; water purification, irrigation and related technologies; transportation; and medicine and life sciences," said Lou Haddad, World Trade Center Palm Beach president.

Haddad said the WTC Palm Beach is working with its counterpart in Cuba, the World Trade Center in Havana, to organize the 30-person trip.

As far as business, Haddad pointed out there was a pre-Castro relationship between the Port of Palm Beach and Cuba.

"We believe that Palm Beach County can reestablish former ties and assist the island to develop its economy while at the same time familiarize the right people in that country about the positive aspects of trade and industry in our area," he explained.

Lori A. Baer, executive director of the Port of Palm Beach, said people in maritime commerce look forward to the day when normalized trade relations with Cuba can resume.

"In particular, we at Port of Palm Beach are hopeful that we may take up anew a vital role in serving this nation of more than 11 million people," she added.

Other industries are interested in someday having relations with Cuba, as well.

Dr. Brent Schillinger, a board member of World Trade Center Palm Beach and a past president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society, said he hopes to establish a serious dialogue with his counterparts in Cuba.

"Cuba has a highly sophisticated and successful medical delivery system, but a serious lack of resources," he explained. "The United States has very much the opposite situation. The upcoming mission presents a unique opportunity to explore how the doctors from the two countries can work together to improve health care on both sides of the Florida straits."

Several local politicians may also join the delegation, Haddad said. He also said the PB Film Institute is planning to make a documentary about the trip.

As far as permits, Haddad said the appropriate U.S. government agencies have been notified about WTC Palm Beach's intentions. He said trip logistics are through an authorized U.S.-Cuba travel agency in Miami.

He also said the delegation does not plan to meet with any Cuban government agencies or officials, "just everyday people like us, exchanging information and getting to know each other's cultures better."


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