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Gov. Andrew Cuomo Meets With Top Officials In Cuba

HAVANA (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Monday Marked Gov. Andrew Cuomo's first day on his official trip to Cuba, in which he became the first American governor to visit the island nation since the recent thaw in relations with the ruling communist regime.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Cuomo on Monday night was exploring ways for U.S. companies to do business in Cuba. Earlier in the day, Cuomo traveled to the Hotel Nacional, where he met with Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top negotiator in meetings over re-establishing diplomatic ties. He had meetings planned with officials from the Cuban government and Catholic Church.

PHOTOS: Gov. Andrew Cuomo In Cuba

CBS2's Kramer was on the plane with Cuomo and New York business leaders seeking to develop bio-tech, agriculture and even finance businesses in Cuba. As one person told Kramer, "it's a brave new world," as Cuba has been hermetically sealed from the U.S. for more than five decades.

Cuomo called the trip "a tremendous stepping stone'' that will "help open the door to a new market for New York businesses.''

Cuomo's delegation includes other state lawmakers and executives with various businesses, including JetBlue, MasterCard, Pfizer and Chobani.

"It really is exciting, and it's a classic first for New York," Cuomo told journalists aboard the chartered flight.

As Kramer described it, Cuomo was making a high-level pitch asking Cuba to "call on New York first" once the trade embargo is officially lifted.

Some streets in Havana were crowded with classic American cars, buses, pedestrians, round-topped bright yellow cocotaxis for tourist, and bici-taxis – or bicycle-pulled rickshaws.

But in other areas, buildings were in disrepair – with broken windows, crumbling balconies, and wall crutches that Cubans use to brace walls – sending an SOS to the U.S. that Cuba is ready for the 53-year-old trade embargo to be lifted.

And indeed, the New York state delegation received a warm embrace in Cuba. Some stayed at the Hotel Saratoga -- where an American flag flew out front -- and American flags adorned T-shirts, pants and bici-taxis.

As for Cuomo, who prides himself on buying, fixing and selling classic American muscle cars, the streets of Havana were downright tantalizing.
The governor bragged about getting his first Cuban cigar, Kramer reported.

"I'm going to smoke it right after this, so pardon me if I talk fast," Cuomo said.

Cuomo and other New York lawmakers also met with Cuba's minister of trade and foreign investments, a move that has polarized some voters.

Cuomo also reminded the Cubans that his late father, Mario, met Fidel Castro in the 1980s.

But Cuomo and other New York lawmakers' meeting with Cuba's minister of trade and foreign investments, a move that has polarized some voters.

"It's fine to help Cuba, but I don't know what good they're going to do because they're not changing their policies or anything like that," Karen Staschower told CBS2's Janelle Burrell at the airport. "So what's the point?"

"I know there's been comments about that it's a ploy and so on," said Mark Shapiro. "But hey, it can't hurt. I'd rather see them go to Cuba and maybe help the state of New York out."

Cuomo is not expected to meet with Fidel Castro or his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro.

The agreement between President Barack Obama and Raul Castro comes after more than half a century of estrangement between the two nations.

The president is reopening the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, lifting travel restrictions for family and governmental visits and allowing Americans to bring small amounts of Cuban goods into the U.S.

"They're not gonna get off the sanctions list anytime soon, Congress isn't gonna do that," former Secretary of State Colin Powell said. "But it's good to have an ambassador there who can tell the Cubans 'this is what comes if you start to respond in a positive way.'"

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Heading To Cuba Following Recent Thaw In Relations

Sen. Charles Schumer said it's time for a new approach, noting that the Castro regime has survived 50 years of U.S. isolation.

"Look, I think the Castro regime is a bad regime, but the best way to bring them down is to open them up and show the Cuban people there's another way to live," Schumer told WCBS 880.

New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox called the trip a stunt to raise the governor's national profile.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican, also took issue with the trip.

"I don't see that there's a real gain from this trip," Malliotakis told 1010 WINS. "As a matter of fact, if you were so concerned about the businesses in our state and helping them grow, we should be looking to address the business climate, which currently we're ranked 49th out of 50 in terms of the worst business climate in the country. We can't even compete with other states."

While some Cubans in the Tri-State area welcome the new diplomacy, others believe it sends the wrong message.

"It's better for the country of Cuba," said Union City, New Jersey, resident Maritza Rodriguez.

"I think it's a disgrace," Union City, New Jersey, resident Miguel Perez said.

Stay with CBS2 for continuing coverage of Cuomo in Cuba.

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