Miami International Boat Show director Larry Berryman

Miami International Boat Show director Larry Berryman addresses the media preceding the event opening last February with city of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez on the right.

Photo by Raquel Garcia/ISLANDER NEWS

Boat Show possible Cuba ties may complicate long term stay on Virginia Key

The city of Miami Commission's recent focus on whether entities contracting with the city have done business with Cuba may complicate efforts by the Miami International Boat Show to stay on Virginia Key on a long-term basis due to evidence of what appears to be interactions with Cuba at a time when the city is focusing its attention on ensuring that those it contracts do not have ties to the communist led government of the island ninety miles away.

The NMMA website ( indicates that it hosted Cuban Commodore José Miguel Díaz Escrich, a retired Cuban Naval official, at the Miami International Boat Show. Commodore Escrich, now director of Havana’s Marina Hemingway and President of Marlins SA, the Cuban monopoly that runs a majority of Cuba’s marinas, gave a seminar on business and tourism opportunities in Cuba focusing on “current market conditions and usage patterns for Cuba’s recreational boating industry.”

The site also indicates that it has undertaken a series of three exploratory trips to Cuba to introduce vendors to the Cuban market and that the 4-day/4-night trips were intended to give vendors firsthand knowledge about Cuba and its boating industry.

The trip description states: “We will visit key tourist sites in Havana, a recently built marina in Varadero, older marina complexes and existing boating sites throughout the central region. Cuban experts will speak to our group throughout the visit. Our goal is that by trip's end, you will have gained a good understanding of Cuba's culture and market potential.”

Mark Burns, lease manager at the city's Department of Real Estate and Asset Management recently told the Virginia Key Advisory Board that the boat show was interested in staying long term on Virginia Key and is seeking a 10-year commitment from the city. National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA), the company that operates the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key, currently has a year-to-year license agreement that is revocable by the city.

The boat show moved to Virginia Key in 2016 from the Miami Beach Convention Center, when renovations began on the convention center.

Operations in preparation for the boat show opening last February.

Operations in preparation for the boat show opening last February.

Photo by Raquel Garcia/ISLANDER NEWS

Julie Balzano, senior director of export development at NMMA, did not respond to a request for comment, but described the Cuban trips in media reports as an effort to prepare the recreational boating industry for opportunities in Cuba.

“We were able to assess some of the existing infrastructure and establish some key contacts that we hope will be of value to our members," she is reported as saying.

The NMMA website also indicates that its representatives visited Havana: "to represent the U.S. recreational boating industry at the Hemingway International Yacht Club's 25th anniversary celebration." A press release recently announced that the Hemingway International Yacht Club in Havana is a member of NMMA.

As reported in last issue’s Islander News, the city commission chose not to award the winning bidder of an RFP a contract to redevelop Rickenbacker Marina in part because of concerns the winning bidder had conducted business in Cuba.

The issue arose after it was revealed that the first place bidder had stated in a 2016 bid for redevelopment of the city of San Diego Marina: “most recently they have been awarded large waterfront developments in Cuba.”

This decision not to award the contract was made despite the lawyer for the winning bidder vehemently denying the allegation and providing letters from the US State and Treasury Departments in support of his categorical denial.

The controversy surrounding the Rickenbacker Marina was not surprising as the city has historically adopted a “zero tolerance” policy with regard to entering into contracts with entities and individuals doing business with the Cuban regime, taking the attitude that even if the activities with Cuba were legal, they had the right to choose not to do business with entities and individuals involved in Cuba.

In fact, the city commission recently unanimously passed a resolution seeking congressional approval to allow it to ban Cuban artists from performing in privately owned venues located in the city. The commission wants the proposed ban to stay in place "until freedom of expression is restored for all Cubans."

Mayor Francis Suarez and each of the city commissioners did not respond to a requests for comment on the boat show’s activities in Cuba and the hosting of Cuban Commodore Escrich in Miami to promote nautical tourism in Cuba.

NMMA senior vice president Ellen Bradley and director of communications Kelly Kaylor did not respond to requests for comment.


“The Miami International Boat Show has no business in Cuba nor do we have any planned business in Cuba or any Cuba-related components planned for upcoming events. When travel and business regulations were changed under the previous administration, like other U.S. industries, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the non-profit trade association for the U.S. recreational boating industry, scheduled exploratory tours for members interested in learning about recreational boating in Cuba. As part of its education efforts for the U.S. marine industry, in 2015, NMMA included a representative from the Cuban marine industry at the Miami Boat Show to speak and answer questions about recreational boating in Cuba at that time. Neither the NMMA nor the Boat Show conduct business with Cuba or the Cuban government.

The City of Miami’s Virginia Key is home for the Boat Show. As we approach our 79th anniversary, Virginia Key has become a key partner in helping us create a world-class event for the boating and angling community while showcasing Miami’s recreational boating heritage around the globe. We are excited to continue to work with the City of Miami, Key Biscayne, and the entire Miami community on the 2020 show and beyond, bringing another $854 million in economic activity to South Florida.”

Larry Berryman, director of the Miami International Boat Show