Cuban government officials visit Wilmington Port, Congressman Rouzer expressing concerns about visit

Cuban government officials visited the Wilmington Port on Sunday, Feb. 26 to meet with U.S. Coast Guard officials.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 3:04 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Cuban government officials visited the Wilmington Port on Sunday, Feb. 26 to meet with U.S. Coast Guard officials. Cuba’s Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Foreign Relations toured the port as part of the International Port Security Program.

“The International Port Security Program seeks to reduce risk to U.S. maritime interests, including U.S. ports and ships, and to facilitate secure maritime trade globally. Reciprocal visits like this occur with many of our international partners around the world,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said. “Through reciprocal port visits, including the discussion and sharing of port security best practices, both U.S. port security and the security of the global maritime transport system are enhanced.”

Laura Blair, Vice President for Administration and External Affairs for the North Carolina State Ports Authority said this visit was requested and coordinated by the USCG Sector North Carolina. Blair added that this was not an Authority-initiated or sponsored event, the Port only provided the access and support as requested by the USCG.

“The Cuban delegation is meeting with USCG counterparts and joining supervised tours of port facilities in North Carolina. This coordination is not new, nor does it represent a change in U.S. policy. The U.S. Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guard have had a collaborative relationship for decades that focuses first and foremost on maritime safety. The most recent visit of a Cuban delegation as part of the International Port Security Program took place in 2019,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said. “We have communicated to Cuban officials that they cannot expect a substantially improved relationship with the United States without addressing human rights concerns. We have repeatedly called on the Cuban government, publicly and in private, to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.”

Congressman David Rouzer spoke on the House floor about his concerns surrounding the visit, saying this was a national security risk.

“Mr. Speaker, I found out on Friday of this past week that Cuba’s Border Guard and Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been hosted in the North Carolina congressional district that I am honored to represent. The Wilmington port facilities visit was planned and authorized by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.

“As one of our nation’s oldest adversaries and a state sponsor of terrorism, Cuba’s communist government is no friend of the United States or anyone else who believes in freedom. Cuba has a history of being a strategic Western asset to our greatest adversaries, including China, Russia, and Iran. And they regularly cooperate with narcotics traffickers bringing cocaine, fentanyl, and other deadly drugs to our country.

“Now I’m told this trip, as well as others in the past, have been arranged as part of a reciprocal relationship to turn back Cubans fleeing to the United States. So, we apparently have this arrangement where we view their ports and security protocols, and they view ours.

“Now, there is no reason any nation with a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation should be hosted by the United States, let alone be allowed to analyze sensitive coastal and maritime security protocols. Ironically, the decision to designate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and the decision to authorize this trip were made by the same agencies. This action flies in the face of the purpose of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and makes a mockery of American strength against our adversaries.

“The shores of North Carolina’s Seventh Congressional District are used and enjoyed by its residents and countless tourists from across the country. It is our responsibility to ensure the security of our maritime borders, and our Coast Guard often serves as the first line of defense against these threats.

“This visit, Mr. Speaker, was a clear national security risk. I don’t know how one could view it otherwise. Mr. Speaker, bottom line is this visit should have never happened and the American people deserve to know what steps were taken to protect our national security interests. I yield back.”

WECT has reached out to the USCG Sector North Carolina for more specific details about the visit.