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VIDEO: New Orleans could benefit from new openess | wwltv.com

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NEW ORLEANS - President Obama's historic visit to Cuba this weekend could usher in a new era of openness between the United States and the communist island nation.

That openness is expected to lead to new business and cultural opportunities for New Orleans.

There was Triple A baseball in Cuba at the time of the communist revolution there 50 year ago, and New Orleans Zephyrs owner Lou Schwechheimer now has the exclusive rights to return minor league baseball to Havana.

Attorney Walter Leger is an investor in the Zephyrs and Schwechheimer's Caribbean Baseball Initiative.

"We believe and, in fact, we're seeing that baseball has been an instrument of American diplomacy, in helping loosen the tensions between the two countries," Leger said. "Baseball is by far the big sport in Cuba. The Cuban people have a tremendous interest in major league and professional baseball here in the United States."

Leger believes President Obama's trip to Cuba is an important step in opening the Cuban market to U.S. exports, including baseball.

"Minor League baseball is going to play a big role," Leger said. "In fact, we're working right now on bringing the Cuban National team to New Orleans to play a game against the New Orleans Zephyrs, possibly this season."

The New Orleans music scene could also benefit from a new openness in Cuba.

Musician and cultural ambassador Damon Batiste hopes the easing of tensions will lead to a musical exchange in Cuba.

"Music has been the natural exponent with trade, culture and tourism," Batiste said. "That's going to be a great exploration of culture to create diversity, innovation and just a better world."

Batiste is already working to bring Cuban musicians to the historic Carver Theatre in Treme.

"Even during the embargo times, the music had such a strong connotation because of Afro-Cuban heritage, the Latin rhythms, the rumbas," Batiste said.

But some New Orleans business owners still have reservations about Cuba.

Greg Rusovich's international shipping and logistics company Transoceanic Development, did business in Cuba before the Castro regime rose to power.

He maintains that any opening of free trade should be tied to Cuban human rights reforms.

"They are at a five year high right now in terms of arresting innocent political prisoners," Rusovich said. "They need to release them and they need to improve their human rights record, which we should be very focused on."

Rusovich believes trade with Cuba could be a net gain if the U.S. uses its political leverage to insist on personal and economic freedoms for the Cuban people.

Back on the diamond, Leger maintains baseball diplomacy could be a homerun when it comes to fostering the types of reforms many Americans still want to see in Cuba.

He revealed that the Zephyrs could play some games in Cuba as early as next season.

"Why wouldn't we be taking the opportunity to build a relationship with people who are so close to us in many ways culturally and certainly in terms of geography?