Ventura in Cuba

Gov. Jesse Ventura arrived in Cuba yesterday, despite pleas from the George W. Bush administration and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to cancel his visit. Ventura will be attending the U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition in Havana beginning today along with 288 American companies, and hopes to establish several new opportunities for Minnesota businesses by his return this weekend. Although the criticism he has received has been quite urgent, it also illustrates many of the inconsistencies of the United States’ embargo of Cuba.

Members of the Bush administration and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have criticized the trip as an opportunity for Cuban President Fidel Castro to use American businessmen as props to improve his image. Gov. Bush stated that by participating in the trip, attendees are ignoring the fact that Cubans do not enjoy the same freedoms as either Floridians or Minnesotans. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Otto Reich – who was born in Cuba – has even suggested that Ventura and other attendees might engage in “sexual tourism.” Although Ventura is a vocal opponent of the 40-year-old embargo of the small

communist nation, he correctly asserts that this criticism is “all about electoral votes in Florida.” Gov. Bush seems eager to appease the state’s large Cuban population, even as the state is sending the largest delegation to the exhibition, with 32 representatives. Ventura adds that he did not receive such criticism for his recent trade mission to China.

The exhibition will likely be worthwhile to participating businesses, which is only recently possible because of a change in the embargo terms allowing the limited sales of American food to Cuba. Since that time, Cuba has purchased $140 million in American products, such as rice, wheat, corn, beans, turkey, apples and eggs. Pedro Alvarez, the head of Alimport, a Cuban trade department, said if the embargo was lifted, Cuba would purchase $700 million of food annually from the United States, a figure that would significantly increase in the near future.

Only because of the trade exhibition, the first collection of American livestock has been sold to Cuba in 40 years, vendors from American products such as Milky Way candy bars, Pedigree dog food, Doublemint and Juicy Fruit chewing gum are expanding their markets and businesses from 33 states, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are sending representatives. Ending the dictatorship of Fidel Castro is, of course, more important than providing American businesses with an additional market. However, only through the mutual opening of these markets is his regime likely to change.