Cuba: Trade Fair Shows Embargo Failing
Tuesday November 6, 9:13 am ET
By Will Weissert, Associated Press Writer
Despite Embargo, American Firms Among Hundreds Showing Products at Cuban
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba pledged to sign nearly $450 million in contracts
with hundreds of U.S. and international firms, kicking off the island's
largest annual trade event despite decades of economic sanctions.
Less than two weeks after President Bush asked lawmakers to renew a
45-year U.S. economic embargo against the Communist-run island, Cuban
officials touted their 25th annual trade fair as proof that the policy
"For Cuba, this is a demonstration that the genocidal, economic,
commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States for
nearly 50 years has failed to achieve its objective of isolating us from
other countries," Foreign Trade Minister Raul de la Nuez said at the
fair's opening ceremony.
Nearly 1,000 companies from 53 countries displayed products — from
Chilean wine to Arkansan chicken — at the gathering, which runs in
Havana until Saturday.
Cuba's top six trade partners are Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada, Italy
and Brazil, which together account for 70 percent of commerce the island
has with firms from 176 countries, de la Nuez said.
Foreign trade grew 12 percent in the first nine months of 2007 over the
year-ago period, de la Nuez said without providing specific figures.
Cuba inked deals worth $432 million at last year's trade fair.
The U.S. embargo, which took its current form in 1962, chokes most
commercial exchange with the island. But a law passed by the U.S.
Congress in 2000 now allows American food to be sold directly to Cuba
Ramiro Valdes, a former interior minister who now serves as minister of
communications, noted that while the embargo aims to "keep even one
dollar from entering Cuba … at each one of these fairs, there are more
people and more businesses working to neutralize it."
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman attended the fair on his fourth visit to
Cuba Monday, as commodities merchants agreed to sell $10 million-worth
of Nebraskan wheat to Cuba — bringing the total value of Nebraska farm
products sold there since 2005 to more than $70 million.
"Nebraska has been rewarded for our diligence in maintaining a strong
export relationship with Cuba," Heineman said in a statement posted on
Absent Monday was ailing leader Fidel Castro, who has strolled the fair
chatting up sales representatives in past years. Castro, 81, has not
been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery forced him to
cede power to his younger brother Raul more than 15 months ago.
A third brother — the 83-year-old Ramon Castro, a rancher who has never
served in government — said Monday that Fidel is well. "Everything is
fine. He is working a lot."
Ramon Castro attended the trade fair with John Parke Wright IV, director
of a Naples, Florida-based cattle, feed and equipment exporter.
Wright said U.S. businesses are preparing for a new president to change
U.S. policy toward the island after Bush leaves office in January 2009.
"We're getting ready for a new business plan," he said. "This is the
time to make contracts — right now."
Alabama State Port Authority representative Maria Conchita Mendez also
expected the embargo to end soon — regardless of who becomes the next
"There is more to Cuba than the politics," she said. "There's a lot of
economic opportunity here."