Improving trade relations with Cuba

“For 60 years we have been embargoing Cuba and it has not served the people of Cuba or U.S. farmers well,” said Paul Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Cuba Working Group. “We think it is important to allow trade to Cuba.”

Johnson spoke on Aug. 28 at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill. Also speaking in favor of improving trade relations with Cuba was Mark Albertson, interim CEO of the Illinois Soybean Growers, and Rodney Gonzales, commercial attaché for the Cuban Embassy.

Cuba represents a $2 billion market, according to Johnson. “The U.S. is only receiving 10% of that,” he said.

Albertson said, “Every market matters -- at a time when we are struggling to build markets for our crops, opening Cuban markets to U.S. soybean growers would help.”

Albertson noted that Cuba imports 80% of their food.

“They are only 90 miles away and we should be able to sell more products to Cuba,” Albertson added.

Gonzales believes Cuba could be a valuable market for the U.S.

While the U.S. can sell agricultural products to Cuba, Cubans must pay cash upfront.

“If Congress would pass a bill to improve trade with Cuba, U.S. companies could use U.S. banks and establish credit terms like they do for other countries,” Albertson explained. “This year, a lot of our soybeans are sitting in bins. This would be the year to be selling product to Cuba. What’s the difference if we sold product to Cuba and gave them 30-, 60-, or 90-days to pay, we’re not getting anything for our soybeans sitting in the bins.”

Johnson said the bill before the Senate is SB-1447, the Ag Export Expansion Act of 2019. The same bill before the House is HR-1898, the Cuba Ag Exports Act.

“I think if we asked Congress if they wanted to end this embargo, the majority would say ‘yes.’ So, call your congresspeople and ask them to support the bill.”

Johnson said three U.S. representatives from Illinois already support the bill. They are Rep. Cheri Bustos, Rep. Rodney Davis and Rep. Darin LaHood.

Albertson said another advantage of buying products from Cuba is the ships that transport soybeans there now come back empty.

“The embargo prevents us from getting any two-way trade with Cuba, which adds to the cost of transporting soybeans there,” he said. “It would be nice if we could bring back shrimp, fruit or rice from Cuba.”

Gonzales said the quality of goods shipped from Cuba to the U.S. is higher than those from other countries.

“Because we are so close, our rice, for example, arrives much quicker than rice from other countries.”

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U.S. to Ban More Cuban Entities from Transactions

The U.S. government will expand the list announced almost a year ago of Cuban entities with which U.S. citizens are prohibited from making transactions, national security advisor John Bolton reported.

During a speech given in Miami, Florida, about the increased pressure from the Donald Trump administration on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, the adviser announced more than twenty new institutions subjected to that measure.

The aforementioned list was released on November 8, 2017 as part of additional limitations imposed by Washington on travel and trade with the neighboring nation, and included about 180 entities allegedly linked to the island's defence sector and national security.

That relationship includes the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, five business groups, 83 hotels, two travel agencies, five marinas, 10 stores of different types, among other organizations of various kinds.

According to Bolton, the Presidential Memorandum of National Security on strengthening U.S. policy toward Cuba, signed by Trump in June 2017, is just the beginning of his efforts to put pressure on this country.

Although Cuba has expressed its willingness to engage in a bilateral dialogue on a basis of respect, without conditioning or impositions, the adviser said they will only approach a Cuban government that 'is ready to undertake necessary and tangible reforms.'

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Cuban Workers' Confederation Condemns U.S. Blockade

The general secretary of the Cuban Workers’ Confederation (CTC), Ulises Guilarte, demanded on Tuesday, on behalf of the organization, the end of the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade.

In his speech at Havana's Revolution Square on the occasion of the International Workers' Day, Guilarte condemned the economic siege the U.S. government has imposed on Cuba for more than five decades.

“We demand an end to the genocidal blockade imposed on Cuba”, said the union leader, who also condemned the worsening of Washington's hostile policy toward Havana since President Donald Trump took office.

Guilarte also demanded that the United States return the illegally occupied territory by the naval base in Guantanamo, in eastern Cuba, against the will of the people and the government.

A detention center, which opened in 2002 and had about 800 inmates (only 41 prisoners remained there) is designated by international organizations as a place where torture and systematic human rights violations are committed.

Presided by Cuban leader Raul Castro and President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the parade on International Workers' Day in Havana brought together hundreds of thousands of Cubans of several generations.

Millions of Cubans also gathered in the capitals of all 15 Cuban provinces to ratify their commitment to defending the Revolution and socialism.

End the Cuba trade embargo and support US exports

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a “people-to-people” trip to Cuba, visiting not only Havana but smaller towns, such as Ceinfuegos and Trinidad. We met with Cubans from many walks of life, in their businesses, on their farms and in their homes.

The Cuban government has slowly opened their economy to private enterprise, especially in the visitor sector, and has lifted restrictions on technology and access to a world of information. The new influx of American visitors, eating at private restaurants, staying in bed-and-breakfasts booked on Airbnb and supporting artists and musicians is slowly changing the Cuban economy.

But as relations between the U.S. and Cuba are starting to thaw, the trade embargo remains, leaving U.S. companies on the outside as our competitors from abroad gain a foothold.

While the 1962 trade embargo appears to have trapped Cuba in the 1950s, it is a superficial view supported by the sight of old American cars and the few signs of post-1960 construction in city centers. Behind that old facade are modern products from countries from across the globe — Samsung refrigerators, LG flat-screen TVs, French and South Korean cars and smartphones. While Cuba trades with China, Canada, Europe and Brazil, there are no American cars on the road manufactured after 1961, no GE appliances, no parts for their fishing boats or construction materials. Our minor footprint is in the form of food products, like Tabasco sauce and Coke — though the Coke comes from Mexico, not Atlanta.

Meanwhile, there is an underground economy that imports products into the country on every flight from Miami. Mountains of shrink-wrapped products are included as “luggage” by Cubans traveling with U.S. visas. Ask a restaurant owner how he has Costco salt and pepper grinders on each table, and he will tell you it is the same way he has umbrellas from Home Depot: He pays a big surcharge to bring the items back from his regular visit to Florida.

While I am old enough to remember the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, most Cubans, like most Americans, are not. It is hard to explain how an island of 11 million people can still be seen as a threat to peace and stability in the region. In fact, we know it isn’t.

A Gallup poll in 2015 found that almost 60 percent of Americans support ending the trade embargo. As far back as 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — not exactly a bastion of liberalism — testified before Congress that “The U.S. embargo on Cuba is one of the biggest foreign policy failures of the past half century and should come to an end.”

The world economy has changed since the early 1960s, so we can never account for 70 percent of Cuban imports like we did before the embargo. However, we should see some new American cars on the streets of Havana amongst those from Europe and Asia, more agricultural goods and technology products.

Change is coming to Cuba, and America should recognize what’s good for business and be a trading partner in that process.

Cuba-U.S.: February 7, 1962

More than half a century later, ordinance 3447 signed by Kennedy has not lose all its strength in official circles of Washington; it has neither erased the political-moral isolation of those clinging to its loose ends.

On February 7, 1962 started the execution of the already virtually established North American blockade against Cuba.

On January 1, 1959 the tyranny of Fulgencio Batista was overthrown and hours later Fidel Castro Ruz forewarned: “The happiness is great, but perhaps from now on, everything will be more difficult”, said the revolutionary leader.

Where resides the core of the bilateral conflict that Washington government imposed –around that time - to frustrate the agrarian reformation and other domestic measures?

Firstly, the Revolution had shattered the neocolonial status given to Cuba since the military North American intervention of 1898.

A social justice program began shortly afterwards for millions of “ordinary people” and expelled from Cuban soil the military North American mission that supported tyrant Batista.

Some analysts characterize this singular period as something Washington called “the original sin” of the Cuban Revolution.

That explains that three weeks prior January 1, 1959, the word blockade against Cuba was already mentioned.

Such one-sided politics was further defined on February 3, 1962, when the U.S. President at the time, John F. Kennedy, passed ordinance number 3447 that established the “embargo” of trade with its former colony.

That document halted all imports to the northern country of all Cuban products, since when?

Starting at 12 a.m. February 7, 1962.

The document read: “I hereby order the Secretary of Commerce to keep banning all exports from the United States to Cuba…”

When was the blockade put into force?

When the former Cuban colony still greatly depended of its commerce with the powerful neighbor from the North, and a serious military crisis between both countries was looming.

On February 7, 1962 the already virtually established North American blockade against Cuba was set in motion.

More than half century later, ordinance 3447 signed by Kennedy it’s still strong in official spheres of Washington.

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Cuban embargo unlikely to end on Obama’s watch

President Obama may not have enough time remaining in his term to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba despite his executive orders ending the U.S. policy of isolating the island nation.

Diplomatic relations have been restored, trade and travel between the two countries have increased, and a bilateral pact on oil-spill cleanups is pending.

But the Obama policy of engagement may prove fleeting unless Congress lifts the longstanding embargo. The new U.S. relationship with Cuba is based on presidential executive orders that Obama’s successor can reverse.

However, Congress cannot consider ending the embargo unless the Castro brothers are no longer running Cuba and U.S.-certified claims against the Cuban government for nationalizing American-owned businesses and properties in the 1960s.

Fidel Castro resigned his post as president of Cuba in 2008, and his successor and brother Raul Castro has said he will resign by February 2018.

Settling U.S. claims against Cuba could take much longer, and with less than 250 days remaining in the Obama presidency, his administration may not have time to negotiate a U.S. claims settlement and further normalize relations with Cuba.

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Regional Solidarity Meeting Demands Lifting of U.S. Blockade of Cuba

A regional meeting for solidarity with Cuba was held over the weekend in Argentina, with participants demanding the lifting of Washington's economic, commercial and financial blockade against the Caribbean state.

The event, organized by solidarity groups and Cuba friends across Latin America, was attended by Hero of the Republic of Cuba Ramón Labañino, one of the five Cubans who served long, unfair prison terms in U.S. jails for fighting terrorism.

The meeting's final declaration demands an end to all U.S. terrorist and subversive actions against Cuba, as well as Washington's attempts to interfere in Cuba's internal affairs.

The solidarity activists also demanded the return of the portion of Cuban territory in Guantánamo illegally occupied by the U.S. Naval Base and due compensation for the economic damage that the blockade policy has inflicted on the Cuban economy.

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Indiscreet Editorial of Las Americas Newspaper?

Partially financed by the Cuban-Venezuelan far right-wing of Miami, it approached the current politics of Washington towards Havana.

It did it in an editorial where it suggests that its essential purpose is to impose a régime change.

Such writing was published on Thursday entitled “Obama, Castro and the Embargo.”

It affirms that the new meeting between “ruler” Castro and president Obama, now in New York, left to many mouths opened.

On one side, it adds, Cuba demanding among other matters the end of what the editorial calls embargo.

On the other hand, Obama defending to eliminate a policy that has failed in more than 50 years.

It is worth clarifying that it did pay off thanks to those who have promoted it in Washington and Miami: its huge diplomatic isolation in that topic.

The first voting of the UN General Assembly on the “blockade to Cuba” took place in 1992 and it would repeat with that message for 20 of its yearly sessions until 2014.

In that first year, 57 countries rejected it and about twelve months ago 188 did the same, while Washington, supported by Israel, remained as main supported.

A detail worth mentioning is that never during that UN period has used the term “embargo” to substitute the most exact term “blockade”.

Now it’s speculated that after the well known gradual approach between Cuba and United States, the White House could abstain in the coming voting of the United Nations on this issue.

Las Americas newspaper point out that apparently Obama and Raúl coincide, but there’s a great difference between them on how to achieve the same objective.

Seemingly the Cuban régime conquered in the last days, but Obama insists “that only his strategy has changed to take a future of progress and human rights to the people of Cuba”, adds the editorial.

It reads that it’s a politics where the régime from Havana attempts to keep the cave in darkness or with a dim light.

At the same time, according to the article, the United States shows Cubans that the world “is full of light and opportunities.”

How to assess the meaning of those words amid the everyday tragedy of so many millions of inhabitants in the planet?

Simply, like a slap to human intelligence, a mock to the doomed of the Earth.

Just that blundered criterion strips from all seriousness everything written up to that point and what comes afterwards.

Like when they insist in the version that Washington has given plenty to Cuba without receiving something in return, mistake, firstly they would have to lift the blockade.

Then it resorts to a more aggressive approach when it outlines that in the long run “there won't be anyone capable to contain the huge influence that the most powerful nation in the world through its “soft power.”

The Editorial Staff of Las Americas finished with a sentence that strips naked all that insinuates very clearly:

“There isn’t a strong rock for soft waves.”

Hence, the forewarned war circling above Cubans bare its fangs wider enveloped in silk.

And Las Americas Newspaper, unlike others, strips it naked, untimed, and brutally.

Will any official or propagandist spokesman from Washington dare to deny it? The ball is in their turf.

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