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Easing Cuba embargo gives lawmakers food for thought

Cuba spends an estimated $1 billion on food imports each year, and U.S. farmers want their share  

September 27, 1999
Web posted at: 10:14 p.m. EDT (0214 GMT)

From Correspondent Pat Neal

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. farmers seeking new export markets want to do business with Cuba, which spends an estimated $1 billion on food imports each year.

But lawmakers who support trade sanctions against Cuba vow to hold up the entire agriculture spending bill if it includes a proposed amendment to allow food and medicine sales to the communist nation.

Farmers argue simple economics require them to seek new international customers.

"This is the largest record crop that we've had and the lowest farm prices in recent years and we really need export markets," said Matt Massaua of the USA Rice Federation."

VideoCNN's Pat Neal looks at the issue of food exports to Cuba
Windows Media 28K 80K

When Cuba, led by revolutionary Fidel Castro, nationalized U.S. properties about 40 years ago, the United States slapped on a stifling trade embargo. Today the sanctions remain, as does Castro.

Recently the Senate overwhelmingly passed a amendment to allow food and medicine sales to Cuba. But the provision is currently stalled in conference negotiations between the House and Senate.

Democrats in favor of the amendment accuse opponents of using food as a weapon.

"What's happening is you have a few right wing ideologues in the House aiming at Castro and hitting our farmers," said Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa.

Supporters of the embargo argue sanctions are the only way to have leverage on Castro. Unless the Cuba amendment is removed, they threaten to block the entire agricultural appropriations bill, which includes a bailout for farmers and hurricane relief for North Carolina.

Farmers say record crops and low prices raise a demand for new markets  

"We insist on the liberation of all political prisoners, the legalization of all political parties, labor unions and the press, the scheduling of free elections with international supervision by the Cuban government," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz- Balart, a Florida Republican.

President Bill Clinton supports sales to Cuba, administration sources said privately. Earlier this year the White House approved sales of food and medicine to other countries against which the United States has imposed sanctions including Iran, Libya and the Sudan.

But the president is barred by law from doing the same with Cuba.

U.S. farmers, Congressmen explore business potential in Cuba
August 31, 1999
Cuba to try 2 U.S. residents on immigrant smuggling charges
July 15, 1999
U.S. Chamber of Commerce delegation to visit Cuba Tuesday
July 12, 1999
Lawsuit against U.S. 'aggression' begins in Cuba
July 7, 1999
Border Patrol: Nabbed Cubans may be part of smuggling operation
June 30, 1999
Cubans get asylum after battling Coast Guard off Miami
June 30, 1999

CubaWeb - National web site of the Republic of Cuba
Cuba from the CIA World Factbook
U.S. State Department, Official Web Site
  • U.S.-Cuba Policy
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