U.S. Reactions to Trump Reversals of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies                                                                   

On June 16, as noted in a prior post, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Now we look at U.S. reactions to this change of policy. Subsequent posts will examine Cuban reactions and conclude with this blogger’s opinions on the subject.

 Overall Assessment of Changes[1]

As many sources have pointed out, the announced changes do not affect most of the important elements of Obama’s normalization policies. The U.S. will continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba and operate the U.S. Embassy in Havana (while Cuba continues to operate its Embassy in Washington). U.S. airlines and cruise ships will continue service to the island. Cuban-Americans can still send money (remittances) to relatives and travel to the island without restriction. U.S. farmers can continue selling their crops to the Cuban government (with restrictions against credit for sales). There was no change to next year’s budget for the State Department that eliminated the undercover or covert “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. will continue to reject the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil “with dry feet,” but was terminated late last year by President Obama; Trump’s speech endorsed this termination as designed to protect Cubans who were exposed to dangerous journeys by land to the U.S. Various bilateral arrangements facilitating cooperation on multiple issues were not mentioned and, therefore, are not directly affected by this announcement. Nor did the announcement say that the U.S. would reinstate its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The prohibition of U.S. businesses having interactions with Cuban businesses owned or controlled by the Cuban government or military presents more of a problem because such entities are involved in all sectors of the economy. According to Cuban economists, the government conglomerate (GAESA) boasts dozens of companies that control anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of the Caribbean island’s foreign exchange earnings.

U.S. Businesses Reactions[2]

Many U.S. businesses opposed the changes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, typically supportive of GOP presidents, predicted the changes would limit prospects for “positive change on the island.” Others with similar views include ENGAGECuba, the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, National Farmers Union and the National Foreign Trade Council.

These business opponents were supported by non-business groups, including the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office of Latin America, Church World Service and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The changes will have negative impacts on U.S. jobs and income. The increase in U.S. trips to Cuba has helped the U.S. hospitality industry with Delta Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue and others flying to at least six Cuban cities daily and Carnival cruise lines taking American citizens to port in Havana. All told, the group Engage Cuba estimates that restricting the rights of United States citizens to travel and invest in Cuba would cost the American economy $6.6 billion and affect 12,295 American jobs.

U.S. hotel businesses also expressed concern about the potential impact of the change on the island’s hotels.  The Gran Hotel Manzana, for example is managed by a Swiss company (Kempinski Hotels) but owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military-run company. An U.S. company, Marriott International, through its subsidiary Starwood runs the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in the Havana suburb of Miramar. Would they be off-limits for American travelers or would they fall under a vaguely promised grandfather clause for existing deals? Or would the change force American travelers to Cuban hotels run by civilian tour organizations, including Gran Caribe and Cubanacan? There is even speculation that the change economically benefited Mr. Trump by neutralizing rival hotel companies’ ability to gain an early advantage over the Trump hotels, which previously had expressed interest in developing hotels on the island.

Congressional Reactions[3]

Many members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, have expressed opposition to the changes.

Representative Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), who’s been one of Trump’s most enthusiastic backers on Capitol Hill while also being the author of a bill to end the embargo (H.R.442—Cuba Trade Act of 2017), said Trump’s new Cuba policy “will hurt the United States economically, making it harder for our nation’s farmers to access new markets and cutting the knees out from under our travel and manufacturing industries.” Emmer also said the new policy will not keep the American homeland safe and could threaten new bilateral agreements with Havana to combat human trafficking, illicit drugs and cyber crimes.

Representative Rick Crawford, (Rep., AR), the author of a bill to promote U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba (H.R.525—Cuba Agricultural Exports Act), said Trump’s shift is more than just a missed opportunity for rural America, which would benefit from greater access to Cuba’s agricultural import market. He said Trump’s policy may put U.S. national security at risk as strategic competitors move to fill the vacuum the uncoupling could create. “Further U.S. disengagement opens up opportunities for countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea and China to gain influence on an island 90 miles off our coast,” Crawford said.

Senator Jeff Flake, (Rep., AZ), a frequent critic of Trump and the author with 54 cosponsors of a bill to facilitate Americans travel to Cuba (S.127 Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act), stated that any policy change “that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people.” Therefore, Flake called for the Senate’s GOP leadership to allow a vote on this bill. Flake also warned that returning to a “get tough” policy hurts everyday Cubans whose livelihoods are increasingly rooted in travel and tourism.

Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), the author of a bill to end the embargo (S.472—Cuba Trade Act of 2017), said that “putting America first means exporting what we produce to countries across the globe.” He said he remains focused on finding ways to “increase trade with Cuba rather than cut off relationships that have the potential to create new jobs, bring in revenue and boost our national economy.”

Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR) said Trump’s policy moves the U.S. backward.” It would be more effective to continue an open line of communication and working relationship with a government in need of democratic assistance, instead of shutting them out,” Boozman said under the latter approach, “we not only trade goods, but ideas.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), the author of a bill to end the embargo (S.1286– Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2017), said the new policy was “a setback in U.S. – Cuba relations at a time when 73 percent of Americans want more engagement with Cuba, not less. These changes will disadvantage our businesses and undermine American tourism, which will also hurt the Cuban people. Earlier today I joined Minnesota officials and business leaders who are traveling to Cuba next week to send the message that America wants to continue doing business in Cuba. We need to build on the bipartisan momentum we have created by restoring relations with Cuba, not make it harder for Americans to travel and do business there.”

The five-day Minnesota trip referenced by Senator Klobuchar is being led by its Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, accompanied by various state government officials and leaders of agricultural groups. Their objectives are to build relationships with Cuba and promote Minnesota agricultural exports to the island.

In Cuba Lt. Gov. Smith said, “There is no denying the actions Trump took . . . [on June 16] are a real setback. But the important thing to me is that there is bipartisan support at the federal level for normalizing and modernizing our relationship.” In the meantime, she said she was glad to carry the message that there was still plenty of support for continuing to normalize relations. Minnesota’s government and businesses will continue to engage with Cuba in the areas they can, like agricultural trade. Cuba invited the Minnesota delegation to a trade show later in the year while Minnesota invited Cuban officials to visit.

Other Americans’ Reactions[4]

Many other Americans have expressed their opposition to the changes.

One is Rena Kraut, a substitute member of the Minnesota Orchestra, which visited Cuba in 2015.[5] She talked about the importance of encouraging Americans to visit Cuba and the “ability [of artists] to move the conversation to places corporations and politicians cannot or will not go, and to smooth the way for political change years before the document signings and handshakes.” Inspired by the Orchestra’s trip, she has founded Cayo, a non-profit that is organizing a youth orchestra for American and Cuban young people “to broaden horizons, provide youth with the highest level of artistic training, and shed light on that which can bring our neighboring countries together.”

Published letters to the Editor of the New York Times were generally critical of the change. Luis Suarez-Villa, professor emeritus at the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, said, “American policy toward Cuba has been hijacked by a clique of Cuban-American politicians who have sold their support in Congress to President Trump.” Suarez-Villa also berated the “punishing, 55-year-old embargo perpetrated by the world’s most powerful nation — accompanied by innumerable acts of economic sabotage, espionage, attempted assassination and military aggression.” Stephen Gillespie of San Francisco, California wrote, “Mr. Trump seems to hate oppressive regimes that convert private property into public goods for the benefit of the people, but he loves oppressive regimes that convert public goods into private property for the benefit of a few rich friends.”

Miriam Pensack, an editorial assistant at The Intercept and a former researcher at Columbia University’s Center for Science and Society, wrote, “Carried out under the unlikely banner, for Trump, of human rights and democracy, the shift is instead more likely to re-impose hardships on ordinary Cubans — the very same people Trump, Rubio, and Diaz-Balart claim to champion.”

William LeoGrande, who teaches government at American University and co-authored the book Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, observed, “When Americans go down there, a lot of them stay in private homes, they eat in private restaurants, they take private taxis, and they pay private tour guides that guide them around the city. That’s money directly into the hands of ordinary Cubans.” He added, ““It’s hard to believe that human rights are really anything more than just an excuse. This is really more a matter of political horse trading than it is a matter of foreign policy.”

A contrary view in the New York Times’ collection of letters came from Medford, New York’s Eugene Dunn, who stated, “Kudos to President Trump for demanding that Cuba finally turn over a parade of criminals who have sought sanctuary on the Communist island for decades. Finally we have a titanium-spined president who isn’t afraid to use America’s military and economic might as leverage over these tin-pot dictators who under previous administrations made us the laughingstock of the world.”

The Cuban-Americans at the president’s event in Little Havana are enthusiastic supporters of the new policy as are many other Republican voters in the U.S.

Editorialists’ Reactions[6]

 The New York Times’ editorial condemned the Trump Administration’s approach. The Times said it was “the latest chapter in a spiteful political crusade to overturn crucial elements of his predecessor’s legacy” and was likely to cause “Cuban-American relations . . . to revert to a more adversarial Cold War footing, undermining Washington’s standing in Latin America.” Moreover, Trump’s stated concern for Cuban human rights was especially galling from a “president [who] has been so disdainful of these rights . . . [and who has] embraced so lovingly authoritarians who abuse their people, like Vladimir Putin of Russia and the Saudi royal family.”

The editorial from the Los Angeles Times was similar. It stated that the new policy was “based on a disingenuous argument. The putative reason for the change is that Cuba still violates the human rights of its own people, including jailing dissidents and independent journalists. But hasn’t the Trump administration been moving the U.S. away from its focus on human rights around the world?” Instead, said the Los Angeles newspaper, “What’s really happening is that Trump has let the anti-Castro sect in Congress take the wheel on this issue, no doubt for cynical political reasons. Remember that Trump broke with his Republican rivals during the campaign and supported Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. Then he flipped and disparaged the policy as a bad deal, and pledged to undo it unless Cuba met fresh demands on human rights, including the ‘freeing of political prisoners.’”

An editorial from the Washington Post, however, gave the change a weak endorsement. It said, it was “little more than a policy tweak” and “a little more impatience about democracy [in Cuba with the Trump policy] isn’t such a bad thing.”

Although the Wall Street Journal has not offered an editorial on this change, its columnist on Latin American issues and a critic of normalization, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, welcomed Trump’s changes to U.S. policy regarding Cuba even though it was only “an important symbolic change . . . [whose] effects are likely to be minimal.” Instead she argues that Cuba needs a “high-profile truth project” to take “ an honest look at the historical record that acknowledges the regime’s many crimes against humanity.” She refers to the Cuba Archive Truth and Memory Project that has documented 934 executions mostly in the Escambray” Mountains, circa 1959-1964, in addition to 607 executions of political prisoners, most of whom are believed to have been captured in the Escambray. This Project is the work of the Free Society Project, Inc., a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization with a board of Cuban-Americans.

Minnesota’s leading newspaper, the StarTribune, opined that Trump was “unraveling years of work to build ties with a strategically placed neighbor. Instead, he’s choosing a misguided return to strict embargos on travel and trade that failed to achieve U.S. aims for more than half a century.” The editorial endorsed the efforts to promote Cuba normalization by Minnesota’s U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar (Dem.) and Representative Tom Emmer (Rep.) while commenting that Cuba “holds a strategic allure” for other nations “that could threaten American security.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, AP FACT CHECK: Not Much New in Trump’s Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017); Assoc. Press, Trump Rolls Back Some, Not All, Changes in US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017).

[2] Burnett, Travel Industry Scrambles After New Cuba Restrictions, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Reuters, Cuban Military’s Tentacles Reach Deep Into Economy, N.Y. Times (June 15, 2017); Harwell & O’Connell, With shift on Cuba, Trump could undercut his company’s hotel-industry rivals, Wash. Post (June 15, 2017); Sabatini, Trump’s Imminent Cuba Problem, N.Y. Times (June 15, 2017).

 

[3] Assoc. Press, Republicans Divided as Trump Reverses Some Obama Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017); Press Release: Emmer: President’s Misguided Cuba Directive Undercuts Human Rights & Threatens National Security (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Crawford Opposes Cuba Policy Shift (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Flake Statement on Renewed Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Sen. Moran Statement on Administration’s Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Boozman, Statement on President Trump’s Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Klobuchar Statement on Changes to Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Golden, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to lead Minnesota trade trip to Cuba, StarTribune (June 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, Minnesota lieutenant governor visits Cuba, StarTribune (June 20, 2017); Reuters, Minnesota Will Still Engage With Cuba Despite Trump Setback, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2017)

[4] Kraut, Trump Is Wrong to Pull Back from Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Letters to Editor, Trump’s reversal of U.S. Policy on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2017); Pensack, Trump To Reverse Obama Openings to Cuba Under the False Flag of Human Rights, The Intercept (June 16, 2017).

[5] Previous posts about the Minnesota Orchestra’s trip to Cuba are listed in the “Cuba & Minnesota” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[6] Editorial, A Cynical Reversal on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Editorial, Trump just reopened the Cold War with Cuba. His excuse is disingenuous, L.A. Times (June 16, 2017); Editorial, Don’t get too worked up over Trump’s Cuba shift, It’s just a policy tweak, Wash. Post (June 17, 2017); Editorial, Trump’s Cuba retreat hurts U.S. and Minnesota, StarTribune (June 19, 2017); O’Grady, Cubans Need a Truth Commission, W.S.J. (June 18, 2017).

Senator and Congressman Urge Increased U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba

Arkansas’ U.S. Senator John Boozman and Congressman Rick Crawford make a forceful argument in the Wall Street Journal for increased U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.[1] Here is what they stated.

“U.S. agriculture is struggling. Net farm income has fallen by half since 2013, and commodity prices across the board are below the cost of production. This is especially detrimental given the number of jobs agriculture provides our economy. Direct on-farm employment accounted for 2.6 million American jobs in 2015, and another 18.4 million jobs were supported by agriculture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

“The U.S. should consider expanding the agricultural market in its backyard: Cuba. Less than 100 miles south of Florida, Cuba imports nearly 80% of its food annually, from countries like Vietnam and New Zealand, including about 400,000 tons of rice. But being closer to Cuba geographically, the U.S. has the comparative advantage here and could provide cheaper, better-quality goods in hours instead of weeks.”

“But the Trump administration may be taking a step in the opposite direction. For the past several months, the White House has been reviewing its trade policy with Cuba, and a major announcement is expected Friday. Early reports foretell a rollback of Obama-era policies that relaxed U.S. restrictions on the island nation. While the move may appease Cold War-era hawks and the minority of Cuban-Americans who still support the embargo, the American business community, agriculture in particular, needs access to Cuba’s market.”

“There is a better way forward that satisfies both parties without repealing the embargo or changing its structure: allow agricultural goods to be sold on credit through private financing. Currently the U.S. trades agricultural goods with Cuba, but there are restrictions that limit trade to cash-only transactions. Considering that nearly all international trade relies on credit, this policy puts American farmers on the sidelines while competitors like Brazil and China enjoy Cuba’s $2.4 billion market.”

“Two bills under consideration right now, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act in the House and the Agricultural Export Expansion Act in the Senate, would remove the credit restriction and allow private financing of agricultural exports.[2] President Trump’s secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, expressed his support for trade on credit with Cuba during his Senate confirmation hearing in March. Producers from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and other states would be the first to benefit directly from this change.”

“If there ever was a time for this bill to move, it is now. Agriculture is a crucial part of rural states’ economies. The most important thing that can be done now for American agriculture is to open new markets for U.S. products.”

“Following Fidel Castro’s death in November, President-elect Trump said, ‘Our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.’ He also has promised time and again to bring back American jobs and ‘make America great again.’”

“Allowing agricultural trade on credit would be a good compromise: Those who support the Cuba embargo should be able to get on board. The Trump administration would accomplish a bilateral trade deal that supplies the Cuban people with high-quality food. And all of this can be done while supporting rural American jobs—an undeniable victory for the Trump White House.”

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[1] Boozman & Crawford, Open Cuba’s Market to U.S. Farmers, W.S.J. (June 13, 2017).

[2] Congressman Crawford is the author of H.R.525—Cuba Agricultural Exports Act. Senator Boozman is a cosponsor of Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s bill: S.275—Agricultural Export Expansion act of 2017; Press Release: Boozman, Heitkamp Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Expand Ag Exports to Cuba, Support American Farmers & Jobs (Feb. 2, 2017).

 

Trump Administration Reportedly Planning Reversal of Some Aspects of U.S. Normalization of Cuba Relations   

Next Friday, June 16, in Miami, President Trump reportedly will announce certain changes in U.S. policies regarding Cuba. These changes will be the result of an overall review of such policies that has been conducted from the first days of this administration. Not surprisingly the review process has revealed conflicts between leaders of various federal departments favoring continuation of normalization, on the one hand, and political opponents of normalization from Florida, on the other hand. Supposedly the political cover for the rumored over turning at least some of the normalization is the U.S. desire to combat human rights problems on the island.[1]

While President Trump reportedly still has overall support from most Republicans in the Senate and House, on June 8, seven Republican Congressmen sent the president a letter urging continuation of normalization with Cuba. They were Representative Tom Emmer (MN), who is the Chair of the House Cuba Working Group, along with Jack Bergman (MI), James Comer (KY), Rick Crawford (AR), Darin LaHood (IL), Roger Marshall (KS), and Ted Poe (TX). The letter made the following points:

  • “Given Cuba’s proximity, it is a natural partner for strategic cooperation on issues of immediate concern. Since the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, the [U.S.] and Cuba have signed nine formal bilateral agreements that have improved efforts to combat human trafficking, illicit drug trade, fraud identification, and cybercrime. A rollback of Cuba policy would threaten these efforts and in turn, the safety of the American people.”
  • “More concerning, if we fail to engage politically and economically, our foreign competitors and potential adversaries will rush to fill the vacuum in our own backyard. For instance, Russia is already strengthening its ties with Cuba, supporting infrastructure investment and resuming oil shipments for the first time this century. China is also expanding its footprint in Cuba as well. China is now Cuba’s largest trading partner and heavily invested in providing telecommunications services, among other investments, on the island.”
  • “Reversing course would incentivize Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China. Allowing this to happen could have disastrous results for the security of the [U.S.]. Alternatively, we can counter the growing threat of foreign influence in our region by engaging with our island neighbor. We can empower the Cuban people by providing high quality American goods and supporting Cuba’s growing private sector through increased American travel.”
  • “We urge you to prioritize U.S. national security and not return to a policy of isolation that will only serve to embolden adversarial foreign power in the region.”

This letter was personally delivered to the White House on June 8 by Representative Emmer and three of the other signers of the letter. Afterwards Emmer told Reuters, “My hope is that when the administration is done with their review, they don’t let one or two voices overwhelm what is in the interest of the United States.”

For advocates of normalization, like this blog, this policy review reportedly has bad news and good news regarding U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. business with Cuban state or military enterprises, Americans travel to Cuba and U.S. “democracy promotion” programs on the island.

U.S. Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

Good news: severing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba seems very unlikely.

Business with Cuban State or Military Enterprises

Bad News. Reuters says the Administration is considering “tightening restrictions on U.S. firms doing business with Cuban state or military enterprises. Such a restriction could have far-reaching consequences for existing deals, such as the one last year by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to manage hotels in Cuba — one of which is owned by the military conglomerate Gaviota — and effectively freeze future ones, since the military in Cuba has a hand in virtually every element of the economy.”

Such restrictions would cost U.S. manufacturing and chemical companies through January 2021 (the end of the term for the Trump presidency) an estimated $929 million, adversely affecting 1,359 jobs. In addition, imposing new restrictions on U.S. agricultural and medical exports to Cuba, for the same time period, are estimated to cost the U.S. an additional $3.6 billion and 3,087 jobs.

On the other hand, there also is internal resistance in the Administration to making it more difficult for U.S. businesses and agricultural interests to do business with Cuba. Similar resistance exists in Congress as evident with various pending bills to end the U.S. embargo of the island, in whole or in part, as discussed in an earlier post.

Americans Travel to Cuba[2]

Bad News. There are rumors that the Administration may cut back on the ability of Americans to travel to the island. Again, however, there are pending bills in Congress that would prevent this.

Presumably, however, the Trump Administration would be hesitant to adopt measures that would be harmful to U.S. travel companies. U.S. cruise operators and airlines, for example, are estimated to lose around $712 million in annual revenues under enhanced travel restrictions with resulting risks to U.S. employment in these businesses. Especially at risk are jobs in south Florida involved in the cruise business. Through January 2021 (the period for the current term of the U.S. presidency), these costs are estimated at $3.5 billion, adversely affecting 10, 154 jobs.

These adverse effects were echoed at an early June aviation industry conference by Alexandre de Juniac, the Director General of the International Air Transport Association: “Restricting the network of aviation and access to Cuba would be bad news for aviation. Generally we welcome the extension of access to any country by plane.”

In addition, making it more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba would adversely affect the relative prosperity of the island’s emerging private enterprise sector, which acts as a counterweight to the state-owned enterprises and as a force for liberalization of various aspects of Cuban society and government. According to Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of businesses and others supporting normalization, Cuba’s private business sector currently accounts for 1/3 of Cuba’s workforce, has greatly expanded Cubans’ earning potential, has gained a larger share of the island’s food service industry, is providing almost 1/3 of all rooms available for rent in Cuba, and through tech entrepreneurs is helping to modernize the economy.[3]

Just recently some of the Cuban entrepreneurs have formed the Association of Businessmen to help, advice, train and represent the members of the private sector. The group applied in February for government recognition. The official deadline for a government response has passed without approval or rejection, thereby leaving the group in the peculiar status known in Cuba as “alegal” or a-legal, operating unmolested but vulnerable to a crackdown at any time.

U.S. “Democracy Promotion” Programs in Cuba

Good News. As noted in a prior post, the Administration’s proposed Fiscal 2018 State Department budget eliminates funding for the so-called covert “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

However, it also has been reported that the president is weighing an increase in funding for USAID programs that promote democracy in Cuba, initiatives that the Castro government has long condemned as covert efforts to overthrow it.

Cuban Human Rights[4]

A White House spokesman, Michael Short, recently observed, “As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal. It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba. We anticipate an announcement in the coming weeks.”

This issue also was highlighted in a recent article by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, which severely criticized the U.N. for electing human rights violators, like Cuba, to membership on the Human Rights Council. Cuba’s government, she said, “strictly controls the media and severely restricts the Cuban people’s access to the Internet. Political prisoners by the thousands sit in Cuban jails.” Therefore, she was proposing that “membership on the Council must be determined through competitive voting to keep the worst human rights abusers from obtaining seats.”

However, at a Council meeting in Geneva on June 6, Ambassador Haley did not mention Cuba in a short statement to emphasize the U.S. “strong conviction to the protection and promotion of human rights” and the importance of the Council’s “resolutions [that] can give hope to people who are fighting for justice, democracy, and human rights, and they can pave the way for accountability.”

Later that same day in Geneva at what she described as a Council “side-event,” she spoke about “Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela.” As the title of her remarks suggest, she focused on that country’s current abuses of human rights and democracy and complained about Venezuela’s being a [Council] member in good standing . . . [and using] that membership to block any meaningful discussion of its human rights violations. The . . . Council has no excuse. It cannot consider itself the world’s leading human rights organization and continue to ignore the violations and abuses that are occurring in Venezuela.” Although Cuba is a strong ally of Venezuela and frequently dismisses the latter’s critics, Ambassador Haley made not mention of Cuba in these remarks.

Cuba, however, returned to her remarks later the same day, June 6, at Geneva’s

Graduate Institute, where her focus was the Council’s failure “to act properly – when it fails to act at all – it undermines its own credibility and the cause of human rights. It leaves the most vulnerable to suffer and die. It fuels the cynical belief that countries cannot put aside self-interest and cooperate on behalf of human dignity. It re-enforces our growing suspicion that the Human Rights Council is not a good investment of our time, money, and national prestige.”[5]

One example of the Council’s failure, she said, was Cuba, where “the government continues to arrest and detain critics and human rights advocates. The government strictly controls the media and severely restricts the Cuban people’s access to the Internet. Political prisoners by the thousands continue to sit in Cuban jails. Yet Cuba has never been condemned by the . . . Council. It, too, is a member country.”

In addition, according to Haley, Cuba uses its membership in the Council as proof that it is a supporter of human rights, instead of a violator. The Cuban deputy foreign minister called Cuba’s 2016 re-election to the Human Rights Council, “irrefutable evidence of Cuba’s historic prestige in the promotion and protection of all human rights for Cubans.

Whatever the merits of the U.S. allegations about Cuban human rights, reversing any aspect of the current status of normalization, in this blogger’s opinion, will not cause Cuba to change its own policies and practices. Instead, any reversal may well harden Cuban resistance to change and provide opportunities for other countries, like Russia and China, to enhance their relations with Cuba. Finally such reversals are hypocritical in light of the recent U.S. embrace of Saudi Arabia with a poor human rights record.

Conclusion

A New York Times editorial summed up this controversy by criticizing the rumored return to the “hard-line sanctions-based approach [that] was in place for more than 50 years after the 1959 revolution and never produced what anti-Castro activists hoped would be the result, the ouster of Cuba’s Communist government in favor of democracy. Isolating Cuba has become increasingly indefensible.”[6]

In contrast, said the editorial, “Mr. Obama’s opening to Havana has enabled the freer flow of people, goods and information between the two countries, even as significant differences remain over human rights. It has produced bilateral agreements on health care cooperation, joint planning to mitigate oil spills, coordination on counternarcotics efforts and intelligence-sharing. In April, Google’s servers went live in Cuba and thus it became the first foreign internet company to host content in one of the most unplugged nations on earth. Mr. Obama’s approach also encouraged Latin American countries to be more receptive to the United States as a partner in regional problem-solving.”

All U.S. supporters of normalization need to express their opinions to the White House, the U.S. State Department and members of Congress.

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[1] Rumors of Upcoming Trump Administration Rollback of U.S. Normalization of Relations with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (May 25, 2017); Reuters, Trump Administration Nearing Completion of Cuba Policy Review: Sources, N.Y. Times (May 30, 2017); Davis, Trump Considers Rolling Back Obama’s Opening With Cuba, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2017); Mazzei, Gomez, Kumar & Ordońez, How Cuba policy, and its inevitable drama, ensnared Trump’s White House, Miami Herald (June 1, 2017); Trump Reversing Cuba Policy Would Cost $6.6 Billion, Over 12k Jobs, Engage Cuba (June 1, 2017); Reuters, Trump Expected to Unveil New Cuba Policy as Early as Next Friday: Sources, N.Y. Times (June 9, 2017); Mazzei, Trump to reveal Cuba policy in Miami Next Friday, Miami Herald (June 9, 2017); Reuters, Some Republican Lawmakers Urge Trump Not to Reverse Cuba Opening, N.Y. Times (June 9, 2017); Letter, Representative Tom Emmer and six other Republican Congressmen to President Trump (June 8, 2017);Werner, Many in GOP unshaken by Comey’s testimony against Trump, StarTribune (June 10, 2017).

[2] Reuters, U.S. Travel Sector to Suffer if Trump Reverses Cuba Detente: Report, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Glusac, How a Shift in U.S. Policy could Affect Travel to Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Assoc. Press, Cuban Entrepreneurs Start first Private Business Group, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Reuters, U.S.-Cuba Policy Looms at Aviation Industry Conference, N.Y. Times (June 7, 2017).

[3] 5 Facts About Cuba’s Private Sector, EngageCUBA (Feb. 24, 2017).

[4] Assoc. Press, Trump Faces Tough Task Unwinding Obama Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2017); Haley, The U.N. Human Rights Council whitewashes brutality, Wash. Post (June 2, 2017); Haley, Remarks at a Human Rights Council Side Event: “Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela (June 6, 2017); Haley, Remarks at the U.N. Human Rights Council (June 6, 2017); Cumming-Bruce, U.S. Stops short of Leaving U.N. Human Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 6, 2017).

[5] Haley, Remarks at the Graduate Institute of Geneva on “A Place for Conscience: the Future of the United States in the Human Rights Council,” (June 6, 2017).

[6] Editorial, Undoing All the Good Work on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 5, 2017).

New U.S. Senate Bills Embrace Normalization of Relations with Cuba

A prior post discussed the recent rumors that the Trump Administration, next month, is planning to reverse various aspects of the U.S. normalization of relations with Cuba that commenced on December 17, 2014.

In resistance to this threat, the U.S. Senate this week saw two new bipartisan bills embracing such normalization.

Protecting American Travel to Cuba [1]

On May 25 A bill to allow United States citizens and legal residents to travel between the United States and Cuba (S.1287) was offered by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) with 54 bipartisan co-sponsors (43 Democrats, 9 Republicans and 2 Independents). It would eliminate current restrictions on traveling to Cuba for tourist purposes completely and permanently deregulate U.S. travel to Cuba.

According to Senator Flake, “Recognizing the inherent right of Americans to travel to Cuba isn’t a concession to dictators, it is an expression of freedom. It is Americans who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban government. Lifting the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba can pave the way to meaningful change by increasing contact between Cubans and everyday Americans, and it is certain to have positive benefits for the island’s burgeoning entrepreneurial and private sector.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) , one of the leading cosponsors, added, “A bipartisan majority of the Senate agrees that the federal government should not be telling Americans where they can or cannot travel, especially to a tiny country just 90 miles from Florida.  The restrictions in law that our bill would strike down are a failed vestige of the Cold War.  The travel ban is neither justified nor in our national security or economic interests.  If we don’t engage, China and Russia will – in fact they already are.  While this bill doesn’t lift the embargo, it at least would restore to Americans the freedom to travel they are entitled to.”

The increased U.S. travel to Cuba over the last two years has contributed to economic growth and job creation in the U.S. travel and tourism sectors and provided significant economic support to Cuban entrepreneurs and small business owners. Removing all restrictions on traveling to Cuba would further strengthen Cuba’s growing private sector.

Expanded travel to Cuba is supported by 81% of the American public, including 71% of Republicans plus U.S. travel groups, over 100 U.S. agriculture groups, the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. national security experts and almost 100% of the Cuban people.

Ending the U.S. Embargo[2]

On May 25 A bill to lift the trade embargo on Cuba (S. 1286) was introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) with 13 cosponsors (9 Democrats, 3 Republicans and 1 Independent). It would pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allow Cubans greater access to American goods. The legislation repeals key provisions of previous laws that block Americans from doing business in Cuba, but does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government.

“For far too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined by the conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities for the future,” Senator Klobuchar said. “More than 50 years of isolating an island just 90 miles from our border has not secured our interests and has disadvantaged American business owners and farmers. This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people of both our countries by boosting American exports and creating opportunity for the Cuban people. We need to turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”

Senator Michael Enzi (Rep., WY), one of the cosponsors, said, “Over the last 50 years, our strategy of isolating Cuba hasn’t been very successful. This bipartisan legislation would lift the travel restriction to Cuba, providing new opportunities for American businesses, farmers and ranchers. But trade is very powerful. It can be more than just the flow of goods, but also the flow of ideas – ideas of freedom and democracy are the keys to positive change in any nation. It is time we moved on from the failed ideas of the past and tried a new approach to Cuba.”

Another cosponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy, added, “Decades after the end of the Cold War we continue to impose punitive sanctions against Cuba, a tiny island neighbor that poses no threat to us. After more than half a century, the embargo has achieved none of its objectives.  President Obama took a courageous and pragmatic step in opening diplomatic relations with Cuba.  It is now up to Congress to end the embargo, which is used by the Cuban government to justify its repressive policies, and by foreign companies to avoid competing with U.S. businesses that are shut out of the market.  Lifting the embargo will put more food on the plates of the Cuban people, allow them to access quality U.S. products, and spur reforms in Cuba’s economy, all while benefiting American companies.  I commend Senator Klobuchar for her steadfast leadership on this issue.”

Cuba relies on agriculture imports to feed the 11 million people who live on Cuba and the 3.5 million tourists who visit each year. This represents a $2 billion opportunity for American farmers annually. This bill would repeal the current legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, including the original 1961 authorization for establishing the trade embargo; subsequent laws that required enforcement of the embargo; and other restrictive statutes that prohibit transactions between U.S.-owned or controlled firms and Cuba, and limitations on direct shipping between U.S. and Cuban ports.

Conclusion

Now is the time for all U.S. supporters of normalization to engage in public advocacy of these policies and to urge their U.S. Senators and Representatives to oppose any rollback of normalization.

We also need to express our support of those who have introduced bills in this Session of Congress to end the embargo and to expand Americans’ freedom to travel to Cuba. In addition to the two previously mentioned bills, the following bills also deserve support:

  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2017 (S.275);
  • Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (S.472)(end the embargo);
  • Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC), Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.351);
  • Representative Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (H.R.442)(end the embargo);[3]
  • Representative Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND), Cuba DATA Act (H.R.498);
  • Representative Rick Crawford (Rep., AR), Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R.525); and
  • Representative Jose Serrano, (Dem., NY), Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.572), Baseball Diplomacy Act (H.R.573), Cuba Reconciliation Act (H.R.574).

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[1] S.1287: A bill to allow United States citizens and legal residents to travel between the United States and Cuba; Flake, Leahy Reintroduce Bill Restoring Freedom to Travel to Cuba (May 25, 2017); Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on The Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017 (May 25, 2017); 55 U.S. Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Life the Travel Ban on Cuba, Engage Cuba (May 25, 2017); Reuters, U.S. Lawmakers Reintroduce Bill to End Restrictions on Cuba Travel, N.Y. Times (May 25, 2017); Torres, More than 50 senators support eliminating restrictions on travel to Cuba, Miami Herald (May 26, 2017).

[2] S. 1286: A bill to lift the trade embargo on Cuba (May 25, 2017); Klobuchar, Enzi, Leahy Flake Lead Bipartisan Coalition to Introduce Major Legislation to lift Cuba Trade Embargo (May 25, 2017); Sens. Introduce Second Cuba Bill, Sending Clear Message to Trump, Engage Cuba (May 26, 2017).

[3] Representatives Emmer and Castor Introduce Bill To End Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentariese.com (Jan. 12, 2017).

Representatives Emmer and Castor Introduce Bill To End Embargo of Cuba

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Kathy Castor
Rep. Kathy Castor

On January 12, U.S. Representatives (Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), who is the Chair of the House’s Cuba Working Group, and Kathy Castor (Dem., FL) introduced a bill (H.R. 442)– the Cuba Trade Act—“to lift the Cuba embargo. This . . . [bill] would allow businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba, while prohibiting taxpayer funds to be used on promotion or development of this new market.” (This bill was first introduced in the prior Congress.)[1]

Representative Emmer said, “Over the past two years, the [U.S.] has taken steps away from a failed policy of isolation and towards normalizing relations with our neighbor just 90 miles off our Florida coast. In the 115th Congress we have a real opportunity to continue these efforts to strengthen our national security, open new markets, and empower the Cuban people with human rights and real economic reforms. It is time for the halls of Congress to reflect the views of more than 70% of the American people who favor ending the trade embargo, and we look forward to doing just that.”

Representative Castor issued a similar statement. She said, “The Cuba Trade Act would lift the outdated economic embargo, continue the normalization process and open new business opportunities to benefit the people of the United States and Cuba. My neighbors, business leaders, faith leaders and others in the Tampa community have been at the forefront of positive change in America’s relationship with the Cuban people. We must turn the page on the Cold War policies of the past and build new bridges for jobs and economic opportunities for both nations and continued improvements in human rights for the Cuban people.”

The bill has four Republican cosponsors (Mark Sanford (SC), Justin Amash (MI), “Rick” Crawford (AR) and Ted Poe (TX)) and four Democrat cosponsors (Donald Beaver (VA), Barbara Lee (CA), Mark Pocan (WI) and Jim McGovern (MA)).

Last month, Emmer, Castor and their colleagues of the bipartisan Cuba Working Group sent a letter to President-elect Trump to encourage continued U.S. engagement efforts with Cuba.

Thanks to these two representatives. Give them thanks and encourage their colleagues to join the fight to repeal.

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[1] Press Release, Emmer, Castor Re-introduce Cuba Trade Act (Jan. 12, 2017).

Another U.S. Event Promoting U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

On February 10, 2016, another U.S. event was held to promote U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. This one at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club was hosted by the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, whose launch a year ago was covered in a previous post. [1]

Now we look at an overview of its recent Annual Celebration Event followed by a re-posting of “Bipartisan Support for Ending the Embargo at a USACC Event” (Mar. 1, 2016) by Kaly Moot of the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), which reported on the event. 

Overview of the Event

The Coalition’s past and upcoming years were reviewed by its Chair, Devry Boughner Vorwerk, from member Cargill Incorporated of Minnesota, and its Vice Chair, Paul Johnson. Other members added comments in a discussion moderated by Anne Murray of Cargill; they were Kurt Shultz (U.S. Grains Council), Shawna Morris (National Milk Producers Federation), Chris Rosander (Sun-maid) and Ben Noble (USA Rice).

The Keynote  Address was provided by Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Members of Congress also made comments; they were U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (Dem.,MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND) and U.S. Representatives Cal Emmer, (Rep., MN.), Rick Crawford (Rep., AK), Ted Poe (Rep., TX), Rodney Davis (Rep., IL), Cheri Bustos (Dem., IL) and Jim McGovern (Dem., MA). [2]

State perspectives were provided by Todd Haymore (Virginia Secretary of Agriculture), Richard Fordyce (Missouri Commissioner of Agriculture) and Sid Miller (Texas Agriculture Commissioner). This discussion was moderated by Mark Albertson of member Illinois Soybean Association.

The Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., Josê Ramón Cabańas, offered the views of his government in a discussion that was moderated by Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute.

LAWG’s Coverage of the Event

In a time when bipartisanship in Washington seems harder and harder to come by, it might seem surprising to hear that Democrats from Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Dakota shared not only a stage but also a message with Republicans from Texas and Arkansas.

But that is exactly what happened at an Annual Celebration Event hosted by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), a coalition of U.S.-based agricultural organizations and companies committed to normalizing trade relations between the United States and Cuba. The wide range of speakers at their one-year anniversary event included industry experts, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the Cuban Ambassador to the United States, and both Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate.

Although the speakers represented very diverse perspectives, each one managed to agree on one key point: that the United States’ embargo on Cuba –which represents more than five decades of failed policy–must be lifted. Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, stressed the fact that Cuba cannot consider completely normalizing relations with the United States while the “bloqueo,” or economic sanctions, remain in place.

Cabañas called trade the “flesh and blood” of a normal relationship between countries and pointed out the fact that only one U.S. bank is authorized to do business with Cuba. However, Cabañas did praise the progress that has been made in the last year, especially with regard to what he called the most important accomplishment: the establishment of respectful dialogue between the U.S. and Cuban governments.

Other speakers offered a variety of reasons why the United States would benefit from full relations with Cuba and an end to the embargo, including increased agricultural trade, possibilities for free trade, advancement of national security interests, and the promotion of human rights.  

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) pointed out the rarity and power of the bipartisan effort, joking that it’s not often that he and Republican colleagues agree so closely on an issue. McGovern argued that a majority of American citizens and members of Congress, including Republicans, would like to see the end of the embargo. However, according to McGovern, efforts have been halted by a small but vocal minority of hard liners who promote the continuation of Cold War policies.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), a self-proclaimed incrementalist, called for doing what is immediately possible in this political environment, such as a bill that would permit private banks or individuals to use their own money to invest in trade with Cuba.

Many argued that the embargo had failed at removing Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro from power, and had instead impeded the United States from promoting human rights on the island through the tools of trade, engagement, and economic development.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, highlighted the wide variety of opportunities for trade and the mutual benefits for both countries, arguing that the embargo is unnecessary in this day and age, when normal trade relations could help improve diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.

U.S. industry experts, particularly those in the U.S. agriculture sector, similarly argued that the restrictions imposed by the embargo currently prevent them from competing in the Cuban market where they say their businesses have many natural advantages, including proximity to the island and quality of goods. According to industry representatives, opening trade between the United States and Cuba could lead to mutual benefits for U.S. companies and the Cuban people, as well as the potential to share information and learn from Cuba research.

In order to advance trade between the United States and Cuba, Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR) promoted the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (HR 3687), a bipartisan bill he introduced in the House to repeal restrictions on export financing and give producers access to Department of Agriculture marketing programs that help the United States compete in foreign markets. Congressman Crawford argued that the embargo has outlived its usefulness, punishing not the Cuban government but rather America’s agricultural producers (and other manufacturers) and the Cuban citizens.

While the speakers each presented different rationales for removing the embargo, as well as different strategies for doing so, all agreed that the embargo ought to be lifted.

Conclusion

I applaud the Coalition for its bipartisan, continuous efforts to seek an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba and a fuller reconciliation of the two countries.

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[1] Other posts discussed the March 2015 visit to Cuba by a Coalition delegation and its June 2015 letter to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee reiterating the group’s opposition “to any effort to restrict trade and travel with the nation of Cuba—including possible amendments to appropriations bills or the State Department reauthorization bill.” Any such restriction “would be detrimental to the U.S. agricultural industry and the future of U.S.-Cuba relations.”

[2] Previous posts discussed bills to end the embargo that have been authored by Senator Klobuchar and Representative Emmer. A more recent post reviewed the current status of these and other bills to end the embargo.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Visits Cuba

On November 11-13, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa Governor, visited Cuba.[1]

Vilsack in Cuba

In his meeting with Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, a Council of Ministers Vice President, they discussed international economic relations, the interest of the U.S. agriculture sector in the island and obstacles to trade between the two countries caused by the U.S. embargo (blockade). Vilsack and the U.S. delegation are on the left in the above photo; the Cuban delegation, on the right.

At a meeting with Cuban Agriculture Minister, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, Vilsack said the U.S. was “very anxious to establish a positive working relationship with Cuba and to work together cooperatively in a number of issues.” These included organic farming, agricultural cooperatives, the Cuban experience in biotechnology, confronting common pests and diseases and the impact of climate change. They also talked about Cuban procedures for fruit and vegetable export certification and field inspections.

The U.S. delegation also had a meeting with Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, and Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Director General of U.S. Affairs at the Foreign Ministry.

Vilsack visited an agricultural market in Havana and was impressed by the fact that the vegetables and fruits came from hundreds of farms scattered throughout the city. “Urban agriculture is something that Cuba has long practiced and the United States wants to learn,” he said.

On a visit to two cooperatives, near the city, a member of one of the coop’s board of directors expressed confidence that Cuba’s new relationship with the U.S. will make life on the farm easier. The coop director said, “We believe that this represents something that will bring us improvement in every sense: production, better equipment, new tractors.”Vilsack, in turn, observed that it “was very clear that the farmers are people who have deep love for the land and the work they do for the citizens of their country.” He noted that they expressed their concern over problems with machinery, irrigation systems and tools needed to plant and harvest and the impact of climate change. But, he said, their creativity and innovation to maintain production levels were impressive.

In a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Havana Vilsack said that lifting trade barriers with Cuba was a matter of “common sense” and promised to look for ways to relax existing measures. “We have work to do to identify those barriers, understanding and seeing what kinds of flexibilities may be to remove them or at least minimize them.” The Secretary also complimented Cuba’s reaction to the recent U.S. problems with avian flu. “Unlike other countries which decreed a general ban on importing U.S. poultry, Cuba “faced the problem regionally, looking state by state, which is the focus of international organizations and which is based on science.”

According to Vilsack, the U.S. stands to gain a significant portion of Cuba’s agricultural import market. That market is about $2 billion annually, with the U.S. holding about 16 percent. Before sanctions were put in place, the U.S. was responsible for nearly half. “There is no reason why if barriers can be reduced and eliminated that we wouldn’t be in a very competitive circumstance,” Vilsack stated that a number of U.S. agricultural products could be attractive in Cuba, including pork, corn, soybeans and poultry.

Important in this regard, said Vilsack, was the need for the U.S. to eliminate the ban on trade credit on U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. A bill to do just that, Vilsack mentioned, recently had been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Rick Crawford (Rep., AK).[2]

“Trade is a two-way street,” Vilsack said. “Consumers in the U.S. are interested in having a variety of products throughout the year and [U.S. agricultural] imports have reached record levels in recent years. One of the challenges we have when ending the embargo [blockade] is a container that comes with products to Cuba should return to the U.S. with Cuban products. This is common sense.” Such Cuban exports would be assisted by the U.S.’ having an office in Cuba for the Agriculture Department’s Foreign Agricultural Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service personnel to facilitate technical conversations and addressing any problems in Cuba’s meeting U.S. requirements.

Moreover, Vilsack noted that Cubans have embraced organic agriculture, one of the fastest-growing U.S. food segments. Cuba has a strong organic sector because it hasn’t had access to chemicals and pesticides. “They had no other alternative but to be organic.” Vilsack emphasized that this is an opportunity for Cuba because only 1 percent of America’s land mass is committed to organic production. “There is no question the demand is there.”

Vilsack was accompanied by Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon) and three Democratic members of the House of Representatives: Kurk Schrader (Oregon), Suzan Delbene (Washington); and Terri Sewell (Alabama) as well as other representatives from the Department of Agriculture and the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Jeffrey DeLau­rentis.

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[1] Cabrisas receives U.S. secretary of agriculture, Granma (Nov. 12, 2015); Gomez, USA wants to expand trade with Cuba, but maintain restrictions, Granma (Nov. 12, 2015); US Agriculture Secretary talks with his counterpart in Havana, CubadDebate (Nov. 12, 2015); Gomez, Lifting the blockade is a matter of common sense, Granma (Nov. 12, 2015); Assoc. Press, US Agriculture Secretary Visits Cuba to Build Trade Momentum, N.Y. Times (Nov. 13, 2015); Minister of Foreign Affairs received the Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, Granma (Nov. 13, 2015); Doering, Vilsack: Cuba a great opportunity for U.S. agriculture, Des Moines Register (Nov. 13, 2015); Vilsack: Permanent USDA presence needed in Cuba, Farm Futures (Nov. 16, 2015).

[2] On October 6, 2015, Representative Rick Crawford introduced H.R. 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, on behalf on himself and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (Rep., TX) and Representative Ted Poe (Rep., TX) with 11 other Republican and 2 Democratic cosponsors. Crawford said this bill “would repeal restrictions on export financing and give producers access to Department of Agriculture marketing programs that help the US compete in foreign markets. Further, this legislation enables limited American investment in Cuban agribusinesses, as long as US regulators certify the entity is privately-owned and not controlled by the Government of Cuba, or its agents.” Crawford concluded, “ I believe that agriculture trading partnerships with Cuba will help build a foundation of goodwill and cooperation that will open the door to long-sought reforms in the same the way that American influence has brought reform to other communist states.” (Crawford, Crawford Introduces Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (Oct. 6, 2015); Poe, Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (Oct. 7, 2015).