By Ruth Morris
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
June 29, 2007
Legislators on Thursday voted in favor of an amendment that could boost U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba by weakening demands the communist island pay for food deliveries before they leave port.
The amendment's passage marked the first time opponents of U.S.-Cuba policy have advanced their objectives since President Fidel Castro fell ill, fueling anticipation that U.S.-Cuba relations might warm. Analysts speculated Cuba might slowly open its economy under new leadership, and that the United States might ease its trade and travel restrictions to Cuba.
U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., offered the amendment to the Financial Services Appropriations bill, arguing that "the United States needs to have a presence in Cuba and our agricultural products are a way to accomplish that goal."
Cuban-American legislators who have long defended the U.S. embargo on Cuba called the Moran amendment "unimportant." They noted it has been introduced before, only to be stripped later under threat of a presidential veto.
Instead, they celebrated the fact that current sanctions did not come under broad attack, as in earlier sessions.
"For the first time since 1999, sanctions opponents have not dared to even present any anti-embargo or travel ban amendments to the Treasury Appropriations bill," said U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, "The unimportant Moran amendment will once again be stripped from the bill as it has been…since 2000."
Moran's amendment blocks funding that would help enforce a U.S. Treasury requirement that Cuba pay for its U.S. agricultural commodities in cash before the ships leave U.S. ports, rather than making payment upon delivery. The current policy began in 2005, when the Treasury Department published a rule clarifying the "cash payment in advance" requirement of a 2000 export act.
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba have declined by 15 percent since 2004, according to the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service. Among the steepest drop-offs, lumber exports have declined by 100 percent, rice by 38 percent, and dairy products by 55 percent.
"It is important that the U.S. have a consistent trade policy to be a reliable supplier," Moran said. "Otherwise, Cuba will purchase agriculture products elsewhere. We only hurt our American farmers by allowing this rule to persist."
Ruth Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5012.