Open trade with Cuba

Minnesota state lawmakers are calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and have proposed a bill that “respectfully urges the Congress of the United States to consider the removal of trade, financial, and travel restrictions relating to Cuba.” And they’re right; for humanitarian and business reasons Congress should remove trade sanctions against Cuba.

The Department of Agriculture reported that, if the United States completely normalized trade with Cuba, within five years the island nation could become a $1 billion dollar market for U.S. agricultural producers making it the second largest market in Latin America after Mexico. This is good business for Minnesota where agriculture is one of the largest industries and its exports rank among the highest of any U.S. state. It would also mean larger revenues for Minnesota farmers who have been struggling because of the depressed prices of agricultural goods.

Technically, under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, food and medicine can be exported to Cuba. However, the law prohibits financing purchases, requiring all purchases be made in cash, which essentially prohibits cash-strapped Cuba from buying U.S. goods. Also, Fidel Castro was insulted by the cash stipulation and refused to buy any U.S. goods. However, after Hurricane Michelle devastated Cuba’s food reserves, the United States offered humanitarian aid. Cuba politely declined but said one kind gesture deserved another and decided to replenish its reserves with U.S.-produced food. So on Jan. 24, history was made when Minneapolis-based Cargill delivered 20,000 tons of wheat, 19,000 tons of corn and 5,000 tons of crude vegetable oil to Cuba. It was the first trade between Cuba and the United States in more than 40 years. Yet this historic event will remain merely an anomaly unless Congress normalizes trade with Cuba, removing all trade sanctions.

Still some people in the United States, many of them Cuban refugees, don’t want any relations with Cuba. They say opening up trade with Cuba will benefit Castro, who has oppressed his own people, repeatedly refused open elections and doesn’t allow free speech. It’s true; Castro isn’t a person the United States wants to empower.

However, Castro doesn’t live day-to-day worrying that the frequent food shortages will rob his plate of food; the Cuban people do. Things are so bad for the 11 million Cubans right now that their estimated per capita income is only $1,500, which equates to little more than $4 per day. As a result, the United Nations voted 167-3 in favor of the United States opening trade to Cuba, hoping to raise living standards.

The time has come to remove an embargo that missed its intended target – Castro – and instead has been deflected onto the Cuban people and U.S. businesses.