From Heartland to Havana

A lopsided Cuban trade proposal aimed to help farmers falls short.

The Editorial Board

Minnesota Democrats Rep. Collin Peterson and Sen. Amy Klobuchar might seem like odd candidates to jump into the muddy waters of U.S.-Cuba relations. Yet together, theyâÄôve authored a pair of bills that would lift a decades-old travel ban to Cuba and poke holes in the U.S. trade embargo of that island nation.

But Peterson has made clear that this effort isnâÄôt about Cuba; itâÄôs about American farmers needing new markets. Peterson is the current chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and his 7th district covers a heavily agricultural swath of the state. OpenSecret.orgâÄôs list of his top campaign contributors also reads like a whoâÄôs-who of national and international agribusiness interests, with the multinational agricultural corporation, Monsanto, topping the bill.

Steve Suppan, a policy analyst for the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said in an e-mail that agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland have âÄúlong soughtâÄù exemptions from the Cuban embargo, which would eliminate the need for them to trade through third-country loopholes as they currently do. He argues this exemption, which would primarily move commodities whose production is âÄúhighly mechanized,âÄù is hardly the pro-farmer job-creation engine its authors suggest.

There are in fact excellent reasons âÄî economic, cultural and otherwise âÄî to open relations with an apparently reforming Cuba, which has been singled out as a communist pariah for too long. It is time to re-evaluate our gratuitous, Cold-War-era posture toward this close neighbor. To that end, lifting the travel ban is of undeniable importance, but this narrow proposal that comes from MinnesotaâÄôs congress-people reeking of special interests falls short of a productive solution.