By John Hanna | Associated Press Writer
TOPEKA—Having visited Cuba recently, Kansas Agriculture Secretary Adrian Polansky said Wednesday he would like to return to the island nation to pursue trade agreements covering grain and other products.
Polanksy said the United States should make trade with Cuba easier to foster democracy there and build relationships for when aging dictator Fidel Castro is no longer in power.
And Barry Flinchbaugh, a Kansas State University agricultural economists who went with Polansky to Cuba, said five decades of effort to isolate the Castro regime have failed to dislodge it, meaning the United States should try another approach.
“They’re not accomplishing our purpose to any degree,” Flinchbaugh said. “Find me an embargo that works. They don’t work.”
Polansky, Flinchbaugh and 35 Kansas wheat growers spent six days in Cuba last week, touring farms and a cigar production factory and meeting with representatives of the Cuban government’s trade arm. The secretary and the economists discussed the trip Wednesday.
Polansky said Kansas is a natural trading partner, because the Cuban climate doesn’t allow farmers there to grow wheat. They prefer hard red winter wheat, which Kansas farmers produce.
“That’s one of the areas where there’s a perfect fit for Kansas, long-term,” Polansky said.
Generally, federal law restricts economic activities between Cuba and the United States, though a 2000 policy—championed by U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, a Republican who represents Kansas’ 1st District—allows exports of medicine and agricultural products.
Not all Kansans are enthusiastic about more trade with Cuba.
Wichita Mayor Carlos Mayans, who emigrated from Cuba as a teenager in 1962, said he is in favor of efforts to help the island’s people. The problem, he said, is that working through the Cuban government prevents goods from reaching ordinary citizens.
“You don’t know if the good you’re trying to do actually really reaches people,” Mayans said. “When you hear that people aren’t able to meet their basic needs, you need to ask who’s doing that. It’s not the ‘American imperialists.”’
But Flinchbaugh argued that the way to weaken Castro’s hold is to strengthen his people’s ties to Americans.
Flinchbaugh expressed frustration with federal restrictions, which he said get in the way of exporting even medicine and agricultural products.
For example, he and Polansky said, Kansas farmers are at a disadvantage because shipments to Cuba must go through only Gulfport, Miss., Jacksonville, Fla., or Norfolk, Va., rather than nearer ports in Houston or Galveston, Texas.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it more difficult to make it work,” Flinchbaugh said.