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Posted June 07, 2003 by publisher in Cuba-US Trade

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By DENNY REHBERG | U.S. Representative | Opinion | [url=http://www.billingsgazette.com]http://www.billingsgazette.com[/url]

We have a problem: The people of Cuba need food. Montana has plenty of wheat to sell to Cuba. Yet, Cuba’s government continues to repress its citizens, as recent events will attest.

Earlier this year, I visited Cuba, setting in motion talks aimed at the sale of Montana agricultural products to the people of our island neighbor to the south. During my trip, I learned that Cuba buys millions of dollars worth of wheat from the likes of France, thanks to our country’s trade embargo against Castro’s government. I told Mr. Castro that Montana has better wheat than what he’s buying now. He agreed, expressing a willingness to buy Montana’s wheat because of its high quality, and because buying American could save his country up to 30 percent on transportation costs.

Castro’s crackdown

That was, of course, before Castro’s latest crackdown on his own citizens. After talking so enthusiastically about trade with Montana in January, Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde in March and ordered his government to round up and jail 75 so-called “dissidents,” now serving long prison terms. Later he ordered the execution of three souls who hijacked a ferry in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the United States.

Castro’s behavior would encourage even the most ardent optimist to lament that every silver lining has a cloud.

Leaders of Miami’s anti-Castro Cuban community have argued for years that any kind of trade with Cuba, even food and medicine, only serves to validate protest to Castro’s regime. His latest tirade, launching the arrest of dozens of dissidents, only proves how determined he is to thumb his nose at those of us who value liberty and human rights.

Ineffective embargo

Still, those hoping to keep Cuba isolated as a country are about 40 years too late. Today, the U.S. ban on trade and travel has little effect on Castro’s government, thanks to globalization and open trade with other nations. In fact, our agricultural products arrive daily in Havana—despite our self-imposed barriers. For that, you can thank Mexico, Canada and other “middle-man” countries, taking our profits by selling our products to Cuba.

Castro must laugh at our vain attempts to hurt him through trade. Already enjoying American products and U.S. cash, Cuba is hardly suffering from our embargo and travel ban, thanks to open trade with our “friends.”

Long ago, when a multilateral embargo might have counted for something, the rest of the world instead chose fast-cash-in-a-paper-bag.

So what do the people of Cuba think? Several dissidents I visited on my recent trip there, have called for the United States to end both its trade embargo and travel ban. They see trade and travel with our citizens as an opportunity to move Cuba’s government toward freedom. They told me that their country and their lifestyles would improve if we permit a flow of people, commerce and ideas. Ending this outdated policy, they and others say, would greatly amplify America’s voice of freedom in Cuba, while positively affecting Montana’s economy as well.

Some of my colleagues who come from Cuba disagree. They say it is America’s moral obligation to stand in solidarity with their jailed and executed colleagues, to keep up the U.S. embargo, even to the point of suspending the sale of food.

While I don’t profess to have all the answers, my own inclination is to continue pressing the case to sell Montana’s wheat to feed Cuba’s hungry. After all, when has food ever been an effective weapon for pressuring regime change? I say let’s go ahead and help feed the people of Cuba, reserving for political leverage diplomatic strategies other than food.

What do you think? Contact my office (888-232-2626) and let me know.

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