The death of Fidel Castro represents a “moment that I believe needs to be seized,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday.
Speaking to reporters, Hutchinson said the death Friday of Cuba’s longtime leader is a “momentous occasion … that gives us an opportunity we’ve never had before.” That includes an opportunity to sell Arkansas’ agricultural products, and an opportunity for the Cuban people to experience more freedom, leading to better relationships between the United States and Cuba.
“That’s the moment that I believe needs to be seized,” he said.
Hutchinson’s comments came after President-elect Donald Trump earlier in the day tweeted, “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”
Asked if he was concerned Trump would roll back some of the diplomatic openings that have occurred in recent years between the two countries, Hutchinson said, “President-elect Trump has had a hard line toward Cuba, and that’s understandable, but it’s a different day and time, and I hope that we do not go back to the simple, straightforward, rigid embargo that we have tried for 50-plus years. It is time for a change, but that it is change that should not come without an enhancement of freedom on the part of the Cuban government and changes that we would expect there.
“So we need to balance keeping the pressure on Cuba, but at the same time, expressing to them a willingness to re-engage as we see freedom and opportunity changing in that country.”
Castro’s death elicited a variety of responses from Arkansas elected officials. Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said, “Fidel Castro created hell on earth for the Cuban people. He will now become intimately familiar with what he wrought.”
Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, meanwhile, tweeted, “I hope the death of Fidel Castro marks a new beginning for an American-Cuban partnership and brings light to democracy in #Cuba.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, whose 1st District would benefit from selling rice and other agricultural products to Cuba, issued this statement: “The passing of Fidel Castro is yet another reminder that a new day is dawning in Cuba. As the remaining vestiges of the Cold War continue to fade, the United States has a chance to help usher in a new Cuba; a Cuba where every citizen has the rights, freedom and opportunity they deserve. Instead of continuing down a path of isolation and exclusion, now is the time for Congress and the new administration to work with the Cuban people and assist in the transition to a democracy and market economy that will improve the lives of the 11 million Cubans living just 90 miles off our coast.”
Hutchinson’s comments came after he participated in an announcement by the Delta Regional Authority of $26 million in workforce, infrastructure and economic development grants for 15 projects.
The federal-state partnership was created by Congress in 2000 to invest in 252 counties and parishes across eight states in the Mississippi Delta region. The investments primarily were made through the agency’s States’ Economic Development Assistance Program. The Authority’s leadership works with the governor of each state to identify which projects receive SEDAP funding and coordinates directly with six planning and development districts in Arkansas.
The largest investment, $855,000, is going to the city of Marvell to rehabilitate sewer pumps and a housing project sewage system. Other grants include:
• $500,000 to construct a new wastewater treatment facility in Bulls Shoals.
• $200,467 to construct additional manufacturing space for Excel Boat Company in Stone County.
• $200,000 to construct an extension of Scogin Drive/Arkansas Highway 83 to create connectivity to the Health and Education Complex.
• $200,000 to establish a community-based clinical education consortium with medical and health institutions that will train at least 30 medical residents annually.
• $200,000 construct a 9,000-square-foot facility for classrooms and training space to support industry programs at SouthArk College in El Dorado.
• $200,000 for radiological equipment in the new McGhee Rural Health Clinic.
• $194,853 to pave a Delta Heritage Trail access road in Arkansas City, expanding the city’s recreational, historic, and cultural assets.
• $194,000 for Restore Hope Delta, an initiative to reduce the number of children in foster care and reverse the state’s growing rate of incarceration.
• $158,000 to start three new EAST (Environmental And Spatial Technology, Inc.) programs in the Delta.
• $150,000 to construct an aquatics and multipurpose center in downtown Pine Bluff.
• $105,000 to purchase three pieces of mammography equipment for Chicot Memorial Medical Center.
• $100,000 to improve an access road and parking lot to accommodate River Ridge Equipment Company in Cleveland County.
• $37,275 to complete the interior construction of the Cherry Valley Food Pantry and construct a parking lot.
• $25,200 to repair part of Clarendon’s sewer system damaged by a sinkhole.