HAVANA (Reuters) - Agricultural chiefs from four U.S. farm states on Wednesday urged an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba after being feted by President Fidel Castro in ceremonies marking two years of resumed bilateral trade.
“Ending the embargo is simply the right thing to do,” said Iowa Agriculture Commissioner Patty Judge, who joined counterparts from Iowa, North Dakota and Alabama and 250 U.S. agribusiness, farm and shipping representatives at the ceremonies.
At a news conference on Wednesday the commissioners lauded their states’ growing trade with the Communist-run island and called for normal relations.
All trade was cut off after Castro’s 1959 revolution but Washington eased the embargo in 2000 to allow agricultural sales for cash. Cuba began buying American farm products in December 2001.
President Bush supports the embargo and has vowed to veto any further loosening of trade and travel restrictions.
Castro has lavished attention on his U.S. trading partners since then, angering Europeans and Canadians who complain they are losing out despite braving U.S. anger to trade with the Caribbean island for years.
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, who on Tuesday sat next to Castro, 77, at a lavish dinner, told reporters on Wednesday: “We chatted about family, history, Kennedy and other subjects until 3:00 a.m., but did not talk current politics.”
Castro met the Americans on Monday evening, spoke to them Tuesday afternoon, dined with them at his palace in the evening and made sure everyone had plenty of cigars. Sparks said Castro appeared in excellent heath.
Pedro Alvarez, chairman of Cuba’s state food importer Alimport, said his company had signed $84 million in contracts since Monday and hoped to sign a total of $125 million by the end of the week, bringing to more than $500 million purchases since December 2001.
The New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors trade between the two countries, said the Cuban figures included shipping and other costs.
The council reported sales to Cuba totaled $328 million, of which $185 million were this year.