As Cuba develops its ports, the Port of Seattle hopes to be a role model.
In January, Port of Seattle commissioners and its then chief executive met with Cuban transportation officials in Havana. The occasion was the opening of the first direct west coast service to Cuba by SeaTac based Alaska Airlines.
"I think there's a real opportunity to bring executives from Cuba to Port of Seattle to learn best practices, to learn about the airport, the seaport, and the cruise business," said Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman. "A little known fact people don't really recall...Cuba was the number one importer of peas and lentils before the embargo."
The Port of Seattle considers itself to be unique with a cargo seaport, cruise ship terminals, and a large airport all under one government entity. The Port of Seattle says it can offer help and guidance in any one of those areas.
"They're looking to becoming a major trans shipment point for the Caribbean. And that's where we can offer our expertise, on the marine cargo side of the business," Bowman said.
"They're in a very tough place. They're dying for foreign investment," said Commissioner Fred Felleman, who was also on the trip. "They want to open their doors, and we want to help them do that. Meanwhile, they don't have the infrastructure in place to absorb that crush."
The crush Felleman and many Cubans are concerned about is what if the nearly six decade old series of economic embargoes placed on the regime of Fidel Castro were to quickly go away and open the island's economy to an on rush of American tourists. Politically, the U.S. and Cuba have been on opposite poles since the 1959 communist revolution, even though the island is just 90 miles away from Florida.
Felleman, a longtime Seattle-based environmentalist, particularly in the area of marine mammals, says the Port of Seattle's environmental initiatives could help the Cubans manage that impact.
"Sustainable development is the only way these guys can prosper for the long haul," Felleman said. "I think they understand they have something very special. The question is, can they get in front of the curve?"
In 2014, relations between Cuba and the United States grew closer with the re-establishment of embassies in both capitals and installations of ambassadors. The so called "embargo," which is actually a series of sanctions, is still in place, but with special permissions and licensing arrangements issued by the U.S. government. There has been growing levels of business interaction with Cuba.
Now, what will the new administration of President Donald Trump do? Thus far, the administration has said little about Cuba other than it's being studied. During the campaign, candidate Trump made statements that ranged from vowing to undo the Obama administration's opening to saying that 50 years of sanctions was enough.