Dec. 19, 2006, 10:13AM
US Lawmakers Promote Agriculture in Cuba
By SAM HANANEL Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — U.S. Reps. Jerry Moran and Jo Ann Emerson, back from a
weekend visit to Cuba, said the U.S. government should ease travel
restrictions and expand agricultural trade with the communist nation.
“It’s become clear to me that personal freedom follows economic
opportunity,” Moran said Monday. “The larger trading relationship we
have, the higher standard of living that Cuban people have, the more
demands they will make upon their government for change.”
Moran, R-Kan., and Emerson, R-Mo., were part of a 10-member bipartisan
congressional delegation that visited Cuba, the largest group of
lawmakers to travel there since the U.S. trade embargo began more than
40 years ago.
The lawmakers are trying to gain a better understanding of the political
situation in Cuba given the uncertainly surrounding Fidel Castro’s
health. They are also looking for ways to boost U.S. agricultural
exports to the communist nation, which would benefit Midwestern farmers.
“Every single person with whom we met said they want to have
negotiations to start building dialogue and communication between them
and Washington, which is a different tone than they’ve taken in the
past,” Emerson said.
The Bush administration has said it will not open talks with Cuba until
it becomes a Democracy. While Moran said he’s not a defender of Castro’s
regime, he asserts U.S. policy is misguided.
“There’s a growing recognition that what we’re doing is not working,”
Castro’s medical condition has been kept under wraps since he underwent
surgery for intestinal bleeding in July and temporarily ceded power to
his younger brother Raul Castro. He has not been seen publicly since
Cuban officials tried to convince the lawmakers that Castro will return
to power, but Moran said he suspects that is not true.
“My guess is sooner rather than later that Fidel Castro is no longer
going to be the leader of Cuba,” Moran said. “That gives us an
opportunity to try to increase our relationship and develop an influence
over the future Cuban government.”
The delegation was not allowed to meet with Raul Castro. Emerson
speculated the Cuban government did not want to signal that Fidel is no
longer in power.
The group arrived in Havana on Friday and met with Foreign Minister
Felipe Perez Roque, Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon and Basic
Industries Minister Yadira Garcia.
Moran and Emerson have long supported easing the trade embargo on Cuba.
Moran backed a law passed by Congress in 2000 that allowed for the
export of agricultural products, food and medicine to Cuba for the first
time since the embargo began. Cuba purchased about $1.4 billion worth of
agricultural commodities from U.S farmers from 2001 to 2005.
But the Bush administration last year imposed new restrictions that
require Cuba to pay for goods before they leave U.S. ports. That change
frustrated Cubans and caused trade to drop again. Moran and Emerson have
tried unsuccessfully to stop the U.S. Treasury Department from enforcing
the new rule.
Emerson said she is confident U.S. farmers will continue to be able to
sell their products to Cuba, but she wants to end the new Treasury
Department regulations, “so we can be on a level playing field
price-wise for our products.”