When the idea of bringing Latin American, Caribbean, and African countries together in Florida’s Broward County in 2014 to explore trade and cultural relations sprung up, the team behind the proposed annual event had to overcome a heavy dose of doubt and skepticism.
But they tried it and it worked. The idea caught on and it has been growing each year.
The 7th Annual Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCE) unfolded October 19-20 in Fort Lauderdale and surrounding locations.
Paola Baraya, Director of Program Events for the conference, was elated at the recent conference turnout.
“This year, we slightly surpassed our goals with 2,084 attendees and 62 countries over the two days,” she said.
Baraya is the Economic Development Specialist for International Trade with Broward County’s Office of Economic and Small Business Development.
Most of Latin America was represented and began building strategic trade lines with Port Everglades and Broward County, she said.
In addition to the many former presidents of Latin American nations who regularly attend, the current Vice President of Honduras and royalty from Ghana and Cameroon participated this year. Representatives of the United Nations also engaged in two new discussion groups – the Youth Engagement and Sustainability panels.
FITCE’s impact on its supporting nations has been noteworthy in a number of cases. The development of the Ecuador Trade Center and Guyana’s agreement with the World Trade Center were begun at FITCE. Guyana signed the agreement for the World Trade Center last year at FITCE.
Another noteworthy event took place when the US-Florida-Congo Chamber of Commerce was officially launched at FITCE 7.
The significance of this Chamber of Commerce tie goes far beyond Broward County, a spokesperson said. It will provide a direct link with the DRC to establish business and trade relations on an official basis.
Former Broward County Mayor Dale Holness founded the FITCExpo in 2014. Although he is no longer the mayor or commissioner of Broward County, he retains close ties with his creation. From the beginning, Holness said, he expected it to attract more and more states and business groups from around the world. His dream has become a reality.
“With this year’s FITCE, the ties between Africa, America, and the Caribbean have become very vibrant,” he said. “A huge benefit derived from this conference is that we’re seeing that it’s tying the African Diaspora together. It reminds me of what Marcus Garvey attempted to do a hundred years ago. Garvey said let’s look back at Africa and see how we can tie ourselves to African nations and help develop their industries and commerce with us in the diaspora. Hence, the Black Star Lines with five fleets that would traverse between Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. We are seeing more of this in the United States and the rest of the world where Blacks are united together.”
From the very beginning of the planned trade and cultural exchanges, Holness kept in mind the concept of “triangulation,” wherein Florida and the coastal United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, and Africa would form a “triangle of interests” and would plan and discuss the outlines of business deals and cultural activities that would aid in mutual growth and understanding for all.
“FITCE is about empowering people and their countries to their fullest potential and to create prosperity,” Holness said. “If you create greater prosperity amongst people who have been left out, everyone will benefit as a result, because prosperity doesn’t just stay within one group or one community. It spreads.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana were very well represented this year, he said. “We had a Sustainability Fashion Show where you could see the native folks from Latin America with their bright colors similar to those worn by the people of Africa and the Caribbean. And Sister Cities International is hoping to build the bridge further. That’s part of the work we’ve accomplished with FITCE.”
Will long-established mega-business operations allow the new prosperity to develop?
Holness dispels the idea that established agribusiness interests will stifle the emerging new businesses because of the competitive threat they might pose to the status quo.
“We don’t have to look at it that way,” he said. “Right now, there is a looming food crisis in the world. There’s still a tremendous opportunity to ensure there will be food security everywhere. We need to look at the fact that there is a lot of land in Latin America and Africa that can produce a greater yield on crops because of the favorable conditions that exist there.”
Holness said he has seen many examples of how the idea of triangulation works on an individual scale as well as at the national level.
“I can point to this brother who is now doing a lot of business with Kenya and Ghana,” he said. “He went with me on a trade mission to Ghana in 2020, before the lockdown from COVID. And now he’s looking to do business, possibly, with Panama and other parts of Central America. There’s a real opportunity there.”
DeWayne Boyd, the official Minister of Agriculture for the State of the African Diaspora (SOAD), 6th Region, began laying the groundwork years ago for bringing the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the U.S. with agricultural, high-tech, and business schools onto the world stage and putting them in touch with their peers in Africa and some of the developing countries where business and trade opportunities would soon exist.
Boyd had been a special aide on the staff of the late Congressman John Conyers. His duties under Conyers consisted of developing both business and trade relations for African and African American farmers. When the African Union granted the African Diaspora a legitimate place among African countries as the State of the African Diaspora (SOAD) – 6th Region in July 2018, Boyd was installed as the Minister of Agriculture.
“The development of ties between America’s HBCUs, the Black Belt farmers and the farmlands of Africa, the Caribbean, and South America is earthshaking,” Boyd said.
“We established the initial Sister-City relationship between Tuskegee and the Congolese city of Mbuji-Mayi, and now because of that relationship, other HBCUs such as Prairie View have realized the agribusiness potential for the Black colleges and universities,” he added. “In the near future, we will be trying to bring on board Jackson State, Alcorn, and Mississippi Valley State as members of this special group.”
SISTER CITY LINKS
Donna Scantlebury, State of Florida Representative for Sister Cities International, is working on plans that will establish links between Latin American and Caribbean farmers on the one hand and with U.S. Black Belt farmers and HBCU business and technology centers on the other.
“Right now, my passion is agricultural,” she said. “My goal is to bring in the HBCUs because they have agricultural schools. And if we have these agriculture schools, maybe they can offer scholarships and fellowships to Afro descendants in Latin America.”
Scantlebury is a representative for the Southern Diaspora Center based at Medgar Evers College in New York, as well as representative for the Florida Chapter of Sister Cities International.
A native of Panama, Scantlebury has a particular interest in establishing links between the youths of the three continents.
“I’m most interested in our youth from Latin America, which is our future,” she said. “It’s also coincidental that the dean of the School of Agriculture in Panama is of African descent. So, we can have a very good, productive conversation with the deans of the schools of agriculture at our HBCUs and see how we can work together in education and in business and trade in order to enhance markets throughout the United States and Africa and Latin America.”
Scantlebury said she is working with a group called 1,000 Black Women of Ecuador.
“This is a group of women Afro descendants who are looking for scientists because they have a product that comes out of our African tradition that cures a lot of topical skin diseases and infections. My background is health care. And knowing that all bacteria are right now becoming resistant to antibiotics, this is a product that the world needs. It’s almost like the COVID vaccine, but at a higher level of effectiveness.
“This medication has existed for 400 years and has been passed down from generation to generation,” Scantlebury said.
“At FITCE 7,” she said, “I met someone who has contacts with a group of scientists and when I told him about this medical plant, they said, ‘let’s go tomorrow.’”
Scantlebury said she is looking forward to an Export-Import Bank conference on exporting agricultural and engineering technology to developing countries that’s scheduled for December.
She says the HBCUs should spearhead this conference.
“The main function of the Ex-Im Bank is to make loans for investment in U.S. Technology and U.S. services,” she said. “Our country’s greatest exports are our services and our technology. So, imagine all these HBCUs assisting the African countries to produce as much rice as they can through the Ex-Im Bank. If the HBCUs are the ones leading that effort, they should benefit financially because all the technology and production is going to come through them.”