The Roswell Park Cancer Institute and software company Infor struck deals with their Cuban counterparts on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s trade mission to the Communist island nation.
Roswell Park, based in Buffalo, will work with the Center for Molecular Immunology in Havana to bring a lung cancer vaccine to the U.S., while Manhattan-based Infor will provide healthcare software to a Cuban university, the companies’ chief executive officers said Tuesday at a news briefing at Jose Marti Airport in Havana.
Such accords will help end the half-century U.S. embargo of Cuba, Cuomo said before the delegation departed for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City after a two-day visit.
“It affirms the feeling I had coming down that normalization of relationships between our special countries is the exact right way to go,” Cuomo said. “There’s no doubt that developing these mutual business relationships that are proven, that assist Cuba and also work for the companies, is a big part of moving forward.”
On Monday, Cuomo became the first U.S governor to visit Cuba since President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions. The almost 27 hours on the ground placed business leaders from New York-based companies including Pfizer Inc. and MasterCard Inc. in direct contact with Cuban executives in the same fields.
Cuomo, a 57-year-old Democrat, met with First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Almaino along with Cuban trade officials.
Under its deal, Roswell Park will be able to begin clinical tests of the vaccine, CEO Candace Johnson said.
“This would not have happened without this trade mission, which provided that face-to-face finalization of the agreement,” Johnson said.
Infor CEO Charles Phillips said his accord was reached while eating a dinner of rice and beans at Atelier Restaurant, one of 500,000 private business licensed to operate legally. The restaurant sits on the top floor of a converted home.
“I was surprised and impressed in the level of expertise they have in healthcare technology,” Phillips said.
Cuomo said he agrees with Obama that the best way to change Cuba is to engage with President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, whose 1959 revolution and seizure of property and interests owned by U.S. businesses led to the trade sanctions. Cuomo didn’t meet with Raul Castro.
Business leaders met with their Cuban counterparts into Monday evening. Cuomo then left to visit Cardinal Ortega, thanking him for his work on human rights in Cuba. The governor gave him a New York-made humidor and a New York Mets baseball hat.
From there, Cuomo went on walking tour that culminated in a look under the hood of a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. The original engine had long since died, and with the embargo in place, owner Julio Alvarez said he was unable to find the U.S. parts needed to fix it. So, Alvarez replaced it with a diesel Toyota engine.
Cuomo called it “an innovative and creative adaptation” and cited it as an example of why the embargo should end.