Alabama wondering what about Cuba trade in Trump era
BY MARY SELL
Agriculture officials and industry leaders in Alabama for years have
lobbied for expanded exports to communist Cuba, a country they see as a
promising market for this state’s poultry products.
Now they’re waiting to see what President Donald Trump’s recent, more
restrictive policy change with Cuba will mean for the millions of tons
of poultry that leave Mobile for the island nation every month.
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan last week said exports to
Cuba could be impacted by that country’s response to the president’s
“Particularly, with Raul Castro stepping down in early ’18,” McMillan
said. “We’re going to be anxious to see what the Cuban government’s
policy is going to be.
“. If something undesirable happens there, that would be on the Cuba
side,” he said. “We hope that doesn’t happen.”
Earlier this month, Trump said the United States would impose new limits
on U.S. travelers to the island and ban any payments to the
military-linked conglomerate that controls much of the island’s tourism
industry, The Associated Press reported. Trump also declared that: “The
harboring of criminals and fugitives will end. You have no choice. It
He said the United States would consider lifting those and other
restrictions only after Cuba returned fugitives and made a series of
other internal changes, including freeing political prisoners, allowing
freedom of assembly and holding free elections.
Cuba’s foreign minister later rejected the policy change, saying “we
will never negotiate under pressure or under threat” and would refuse
the return of U.S. fugitives who have received asylum in Cuba.
About 7 million tons of poultry are shipped from the Port of Mobile each
month to Cuba. But Cuba has other options for importing agriculture
products, McMillan said, including Mexico, South America and Canada.
“They have choices. Some of those choices may be more expensive. That
may be our advantage,” said McMillan, who has taken multiple trips to
Cuba and advocated for expanded agriculture exports.
There are human rights violations in China, but no one is cuttings off
trade there, McMillan said. “The bottom line, I think, is that the best
way to foment change down there is to continue trade with them.”
Armando de Quesada, of Hartselle, disagrees. He was 10 when he fled Cuba
in 1962. On this issue, he agrees with Trump.
“Any dollars that go to Cuba automatically go to the Castro regime,” de
Quesada said. “It’s not like here . over there, the government owns
everything. There’s no benefit to the Cuban people.”
Growth of private industry is limited, and de Quesada doesn’t think
opening relations between the two countries will effect change.
“I don’t think enriching them helps the cause of freedom,” he said. “It
doesn’t help the people.”
Agriculture shipments to Cuba weren’t part of former President Barack
Obama’s policy with the communist country. In 2000, Congress began
allowing a limited amount of agriculture exports to Cuba.
“We’ve been trading with them for some time,” said Johnny Adams,
executive director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association. While
Obama made it easier, it’s still cumbersome.
“We’re not allowed to give them credit. They have to pay us up front
through a third party,” Adams said. “Normalizing trade would make it a
Like McMillan, Adams has been to Cuba multiple times.
“We have the highest quality, most reasonably priced poultry in the
world, and we’re 90 miles away,” Adams said.
“Hopefully, everyone can sit down and work things out between the two
countries. We’ve enjoyed our relationship with the Cuban people and
would like to see it get better.”
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