Lawmakers seek relaxed trade policy with Cuba
by: David J. Lynch
Washington — As Cuban President Fidel Castro remains sidelined by a
serious illness, some U.S. lawmakers say they will seek a relaxation of
the U.S. trade embargo on the island nation.
Previous such efforts faltered when Republicans controlled Capitol Hill.
And President Bush would be expected to veto any wholesale changes in
the longstanding prohibition on trading with Cuba. But with Democrats
now in charge, modest openings may be possible, said Rep. Jim McGovern,
"Things are better. … We can make some progress," McGovern says.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., says she wants to smooth agricultural
shipments to Cuba, permitted under current policy, by eliminating a
requirement for Cuba to pay cash in advance.
Cuban officials told the lawmakers they have allocated $543 million this
year for purchases of U.S. goods. Through November, U.S. exports to Cuba
— largely farm products such as wheat, corn, rice and poultry — were
running at an annual $353 million pace, according to the Census Bureau.
If the U.S. relaxed its pay-first policy, annual purchases could rise by
$1 billion, she said. "We need to open up trade," said Emerson, whose
district produces soybeans and corn.
McGovern and Emerson were among 10 members of Congress who visited Cuba
last month. They returned from meetings with Cuban officials convinced
that current U.S. policy is hurting American exporters and the Cuban
people while having no impact on Castro's government.
The U.S. slapped a trade embargo on Cuba in July 1963, aiming to hasten
the communist regime's collapse by isolating it economically and
depriving it of dollars. But Castro defied several U.S. assassination
attempts and an abortive invasion by U.S.-backed exiles. Almost 44 years
later, the dictator has outlasted eight U.S. presidents.
U.S. policy, McGovern says, "is dumb. It's self-defeating. It hasn't
In July, Castro handed power temporarily to his brother, Raul, 76, who
is now acting president. The ailing leader hasn't been seen in public
since, and most Cubans believe he will never resume governing, McGovern
The lawmakers, who spoke with reporters Tuesday, say they don't
anticipate immediate changes in Cuba's economy after Castro's death.
Cuban officials claim the economy, buoyed by subsidized oil from
Venezuela, is growing. And at least initially, Raul Castro will be
focused on consolidating his hold on power, not on widespread reforms.
Says McGovern: "It'll be the same menu, different waiter."