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Posted September 24, 2004 by publisher in Cuba-US Trade

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By James Cox | USA TODAY

The Castro regime is using its checkbook as leverage to get U.S. firms, trade groups and politicians to sign formal pledges agreeing to work for changes to U.S. laws that restrict travel and trade with Cuba.

Cuba’s use of so-called advocacy agreements has prompted anti-Castro lawmakers to accuse signers of illegal lobbying. It also has forced at least one company to rethink its interest in selling to Cuba.

Last month, Sysco, the country’s largest food-service provider, notified Cuban authorities it was tearing up an agreement signed a week earlier by a Sysco executive attending a convention in Havana.

The original deal called for Cuba’s state-owned purchasing arm, Alimport, to buy Sysco products. For its part, the company agreed to act as an advocate for changes in the United States’ hard-line policies toward Cuba, including the 45-year-old economic embargo.

The embargo was loosened in 1992 to permit sales of U.S. medical products to Cuba and in 2000 to allow for cash-only sales of food and farm products. Through July, U.S. companies had sold $277 million in food and agricultural goods to Cuba, along with $500,000 worth of health care products.

The Bush administration has sought to tighten the economic noose on Cuba with tough new restrictions on travel and money transfers by Cuban exiles.

Sysco has sold $500,000 worth of canned tomatoes, ice cream and frozen produce to Cuba, spokeswoman Toni Spigelmyer says. The Houston-based company tore up its agreement with Alimport because the executive who signed it “wasn’t authorized to make a political statement,” she says.

Cuba has carefully spread its spending among scores of congressional districts in dozens of states to build political support for an end to the embargo.

Others that have signed advocacy agreements: the Indiana Farm Bureau; Tampa’s Port Manatee; economic development officials from Des Moines; and elected officials from Idaho, Montana, California, South Carolina and Kansas.

The agreements are “a corruption of the commercial process” and a setback for efforts to expand trade with Cuba, says John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, based in New York.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and her sister, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., signed to promote Cuba’s purchase of California farm products, says Loretta Sanchez. She says the pledge is non-binding.

“We’re trying to get our California products sold to Cuba. That’s what I do as a congresswoman,” Sanchez says. “I’ve already been vigorous and forceful in advocating a change in U.S. policy. ... The dissidents fighting the Castro regime want this embargo down.”

Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., and other hardliners in Congress say the agreements might violate U.S. law, either as embargo-busting contracts or as illegal lobbying agreements. “Effectively, (those who sign) become agents of a foreign government,” Deutsch says.

Last year, the State Department asked the Treasury, Commerce and Justice departments for opinions on the legality of the advocacy agreements. It has not received a formal reply.

Efforts to reach officials at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington were unsuccessful.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on September 25, 2004 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    We serve up Castro and the communists the supreme scapegoat, roasted and on a platter, by our continued economic embargo and travel restrictions.  Thus “we” are to blame for all the ills and woes on the island of Cuba, of which there are a great many. Wouldn’t it be an irony if in lobbying for greater access to our goods and services, the communists inadvertantly would be undermining their own hold on power. 

    Killing the scapegoat by simply opening our markets to Cuban purchase would be a win-win proposition for the U.S.. This is the message of the great majority of dissidents on the island. 

    But we know better? 

  2. Follow up post #2 added on October 02, 2004 by Gregory Biniowsky

    I agree with you that the embargo should be lifted and that its existence simply creats an opportunity to blame all problems in the island on the U.S. government. Where I differ with you is the belief that lifting the embargo would almost certainly undermine the government of Fidel Castro. Not all his popularity can be explained by the embargo boogyman. He has shown himself to be a brilliant chessmaster of both international and Cuban politics. Moreover, there is a very significant percentage of the population here in Cuba(of course not 99%, but nevertheless large) that continue to believe in him as their charismatic leader and in many of the egalitarian principals of the Revolution. This section of the population may want a certain degree of reforms, but under his leadership and without the adoption of a free-market economy as is promoted by the United States. From my observations, many Cubans who may disagree with specific policies of the Cuban government will nevertheless believe that Fidel sincerely cares about his people and that his heart is in the right place. I personally think that lifting the embargo would creat the breathing space for the Cuban government to experiment more vigorously with market socialism and thus find a balance between the economic efficiency and spaces for private initiative/innovation that are facilitated by the market, and the basic social welfare and security (education, health, low rates of crime) which are facilitated by socialist planning. As long as Cuba feels threatened by the U.S., the fortress mentality on the island will remain. Lifting it would allow the Cuban experiment a chance to grow and improve itself. This is my honest belief.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on November 16, 2004 by jLee

    Castro is a terror mongering dictator.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on April 02, 2005 by I-taoist with 213 total posts


    Thank you for your well reasoned and insightful comments.  I cannot disagree with your observations.  I too saw the personal loyalty to Castro in my time on the island.  I am not a Castro hater as some are.  I simply believe the evils of communism, as witnessed in Cuba, far exceed any benefit.  My motto spoken often there was “Dame libertad o dame nada.”  As you say, hopefully some balance between the extremes of a calloused capitalism and an overcontrolling socialism can be reached. 

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