Clarksburg businessman Joseph Oliverio is working to improve relations with Cuba and hopes that one day West Virginia products will be the first to make their way to Cuba's shore.
Cuban Diplomat Jose Luis Noa paid a visit to Oliverio at his home in Shinnston on Thursday, to discuss the future of trade and the economic advantages for West Virginia and Cuba that could result.
Noa and Oliverio met in Washington D.C., during Oliverio's campaign for governor and have been friends ever since. Oliverio ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Cecil Underwood in the Republican primary in May.
"I think this is a good idea," Noa said. "I wanted to come and meet with the wonderful people of West Virginia and improve the relationship between Cuba and America."
Oliverio and several other businessmen are planning a trip to Cuba in February to meet with agriculture, economic, arts, health and education executives. He plans to take a package of West Virginia products like apples, vegetables and beef to Cuba to show officials what the state has to offer.
"If the sanctions are someday lifted, I want them to consider buying West Virginia products first," Oliverio said.
Noa discussed Cuba's economic hardships with Oliverio and cited the 40-year American trade blockade, increasing financial tensions and unfavorable weather such as hurricanes and droughts as areas of concern.
Noa encourages Americans to not be too hasty when judging Cuba.
"I tell them to go there and see for yourself," he said. "I think when they come back they have a different opinion from meeting people on the street and seeing what we have to offer."
When Oliverio travels to Cuba in February, he hopes to raise public and governmental awareness of the economic possibilities.
"I hope to meet Fidel Castro and that people realize we should start trading with Cuba," he said
"I want to help the people of West Virginia. It doesn't matter that I'm not an elected official," he added. "I may have lost the race but I can still make a difference."
Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.