Invective-filled political discourse between Cuba and the United States has not impeded steadily increasing trade, the topic of discussions that got under way here Tuesday on selling more U.S. food to the communist-ruled island.
More than 400 representatives of 172 companies and business associations from more than 30 U.S. states and Puerto Rico are attending the so-called “First Round of Cuba-U.S. Negotiations” that kicked off Tuesday in Havana.
Pedro Alvarez, president of Alimport - the Cuban government group that buys food and other farm products for the island - underlined Havana’s interest in augmenting its dealings with U.S. businesses.
He noted that the island is open to the participation of U.S. firms in key sectors, such as the oil industry.
Cuba “does not limit the participation of efficient, competitive and professional U.S. business people, either” in other industries, such as telecommunications, tourism, nickel mining and power generation, he added.
The Marxist regime is also interested in purchasing farming machinery and equipment, buses, equipment for port facilities, chemical fertilizers and raw materials, among others, as well as food and farm products.
During the event, Cuba and the United States are scheduled to sign contracts totaling $100 million, Alvarez said.
Washington authorized the sale of U.S. farm products to Cuba in December 2001 after Hurricane Michelle swept through the country.
Since then, Alvarez said, Alimport has purchased 2.9 million tons of farm products from 125 U.S. companies for a total of $715.9 million.
Cuba paid $640 million in cash for those purchases, the official added.
In 2003, Alimport paid U.S. companies $343.9 million, or double the amount of the previous year.
The financial and trade embargo Washington imposed on Cuba more than 40 years ago is still in place, however.
By 2004, Cuba expects to import some $1.2 billion in food and farm products from around the world, including $400 million from the United States.
Alvarez noted that 95 percent of the agricultural products Cuba imports from the United States are basic food staples for the Cuban people.
Mid-sized and large companies and official delegations from Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, Alabama, Vermont and Idaho, among others, are attending the event.
During the forum, Alvarez called for a normalization in Cuban-U.S. trade relations and blasted the effects of the embargo on the island.
Rep. C.L. Otter (Rep.-Idaho) said normalizing relations between Washington and Havana would bring “harmony, peace and calm” to the region.
During the event, which is scheduled to conclude on Friday, Havana plans to showcase the island’s business and investment opportunities for U.S. firms and highlight the advances of its Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.
The apparently good relationship between the U.S. business people and Cuban officials has not tempered the ongoing clash between Washington and Havana regarding the resolution proposed at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva condemning Cuba for rights abuses.
Havana accuses the United States of drafting the resolution and getting a third country - Honduras - to sponsor it in an effort to justify Washington’s embargo on trade with the communist-ruled island.